How Many Words in a Story?
Welcome to Writing Smarter Radio. This is Deb, and today we’re going to talk about the length of your book. We’re not talking short stories, but the length of a longer book. Think, you know, novel novella, whatever…
One of the things to consider is that people’s attention spans have changed. And based on research they have found, after analyzing a lot of books, I believe it was on
UnScribed (it was actually Scribe Media) (And I’ll have to link to the results for you) that nonfiction books have dropped by almost 150 to 200 pages. Now, that’s an average…they looked at a whole bunch of different, popular bestselling books to go by. Let’s look at what happened, because this is going to correlate into nonfiction and fiction.
When we look at how books were published in the past, if a book wasn’t long enough, it almost wasn’t worth the paper to print it on and sell it at a price they could make money on or make it worthy for the companies to do.
Back in the day, when we were mostly getting our books from libraries and bookstores, books tended to have an average length. And that was set by the publishers. So, think of it like a gate, publishing, and the gatekeepers had certain rules. But it was really because they had to balance what they were doing with keeping themselves in business. And how much time was involved in shipping, printing, how long the book was, how well the books would sell, how much window of time, what window of time did they have to really make that money back. There were a lot of different factors that went into this.
Whereas today, we’re doing a lot of digital reading. Now, do you remember when things like the Kindle and other e-readers first came out? People were kind of blown away by this. Suddenly, we weren’t carrying stacks of books. I remember when I went on vacation. In the past half of my suitcase was usually books or magazines I’d bring with me because I was an avid reader. And I needed that reading material with me.
Today I have hundreds of books on a Kindle app on my iPad. It’s different. There’s no preset determination. But one thing that comes up when it comes to the length of a book is perceived value. So, we’re going to look at perceived value along with length of story and dig into a little deeper.
Think about if you were buying a book, and it was going to take you X amount of days to read it—you wanted some source of value, you know, you’re going to learn something from it or you’re going to be entertained. But, you want it to have some kind of value, so you might not want to have paid $24.95 for a book that was 40 pages. When it was bigger, wider, or fatter maybe you felt like you’re getting more out of it, because it got expensive to buy books.
Today, a lot of that value is perceived based on the information you get from it, but you’re not visually seeing how big that book is anymore. That kind of changed things.
Now there are people who would only buy a book if it was over 200 pages. They wanted a big, fat, chunky book that make them feel like they had a lot of entertainment value for it. It’s kind of like how you can go to the movies, they give you these massive containers of popcorn or these giant jugs of soda, because they’re charging you so much.
And if it was a little dinky thing, you might be you know, a little upset. It doesn’t really cost them much more to give you a big container versus a small one. Because really, you’re paying for the bag and the container, the actual things they’re putting in the bag and container don’t really cost that much. Popcorn and soda is not that expensive. But the cups and the bags, they have to be branded and created.
It’s the same thing with books. So perceived value.
Today, attention spans are getting shorter. For me personally, I can’t do long books anymore the way I used to. If a book is over 300 or 400 words, I end up skipping it or I have to break it down into chunks, because I just don’t have the time, ability, or desire to get that invested for that long, which is kind of funny. I’m a writer. Kind of weird, right?
I remember reading this book and I was really enjoying It, so it’s not that I didn’t enjoy it…
I was like, oh my goodness, is this thing ever going to end?! (just over 400 pages)
And yet, when you’re enjoying it, it’s not supposed to be like that, right? In my brain, I just didn’t have the patience to go through that because I already knew there were other books I was trying to get through. And that’s just how our brains have changed.
Not everybody’s like that. There is somebody out there who wants to read only a long book, they feel like the story can’t go in depth enough, if there’s not enough material. They don’t want a 100-page book, a novella with what’s that in their eyes, you haven’t delved into the story deep enough, long enough, with enough detail to really drag them in.
That’s the really cool thing about audience. There’s somebody for everybody. There’s a book for everybody, there’s an audience. There are people who want long books, and there’s people who want short books, there’s moms who are busy and want a quick, short book they can read on a lunch break… or they want to read a chapter when their kids are down for a nap. There’s no right or wrong answer.
That’s the really cool thing about how books have changed over time. One of the things I absolutely hate, and you will see this everywhere, because it’s the answer people say, because it’s the easy answer, I think, how long should a book be?
And the answer they usually give is — as long as it needs to be.
Oh, I hate that. Okay, I understand it, but I still hate it. That’s okay, right? We all have opinions.
When you want an answer, you’re looking for something a little more concise. You’re looking to see what other people are doing. You’re looking to see if there’s an average, because you’re starting out. And you just want to know, are you in the right ballpark? What are you aiming for? How much time is this going to take? Right?
Okay, so the easiest way to do this is to say if you want to write a novel, you look at some of the different groups out there like Romance Writers of America, they have a RITA award. And to them a novel is anything over 40,000 words, where if you do NaNoWriMo, to them, it’s 50,000 words.
And a lot of things like Science Fiction associations, or Mystery Writers, they may be 40,000 to 50,000 words. So basically, if you’re writing a novel, you want it to be somewhere over 40,000 words.
Think about the genre that you’re working in… What are the expectations? Where do you want to be? When it comes to a novella. It’s basically shorter than a novel. And then there’s this phrase called novelette. Most readers don’t know what that is, don’t use the expression, but you’ll hear it all the time in writing groups. Sometimes we forget that readers don’t think like writers do. So, they’re not looking up all these different bits of terminology or weird words to describe the length of a book.
They think I want a short book, or I want this or I want a long book, or I want a book that has…
When you are creating a book, and you want to know how long it should be, first figure out, are you trying to write a novel length book, aim for somewhere over 40,000 words. If you’re looking to write a novella, which I love novellas, they’re right in my sweet spot. When I’m writing for some reason, my brain says 25,000 to 30,000 words is where I like to be. Now I’ve written novels, and I’ve written short stories, but novellas are my sweet spot. That’s where I like to be. And that’s not right. And that’s not wrong. There are people who just don’t want to bother with a novella. They prefer a novel. And that’s totally cool, too. But you’re going find that you will have a natural pattern.
I have friends who can only write long, they’re like, oh, how do you write short? I can’t get my book under 100,000 words. Great, then that’s how you work. So, you’ll figure out your own patterns. Just have a general idea of what you want. Where do you want to be, because then you can break down your chapters to make it easier to make a path to get where you’re headed.
With that in mind, how long should your book be? If you’re looking to write a novel, aim for somewhere over 40,000 words, if you’re looking for something a little shorter, maybe novella length, aim for somewhere between 20 to 30,000 or up to 40,000 words.
Shorter stories? Keep in mind Amazon, if you are looking to publish there, they have a set standard. I think that they have (now it may have changed over the years, and I haven’t researched this in a long time because I haven’t written them for a long time), but they wanted stories to be at least I think over 3000 words. If you were going to do a short story, there is actually limitation with them at least. You can look that up on KDP, Kindle Direct Publishing, and they’ll give you an idea of how short a short is in their eyes.
How long should your book be? How long of a book do you want? How long of a book do you want to write? Do what feels good for you because there is a reader for every length of book. And there’s an audience for every length of book, figure out the audience you want to tap into. Figure out what’s average in the genre you want to write. Start there, and you’re good to go.
Thanks for joining me. This is Deb from Writing Smarter Radio. If you enjoyed this, please consider leaving a review. I’d really appreciate it. Talk to you soon. Bye-bye.