A common question that comes up with people thinking of self publishing a book is “how long should my self published book be?” The answer should be simple, but it’s really not. Different types of books have different average word counts and even in the publishing world authors break the rules all the time. These are the most common minimum word counts for self published books to give you an idea of how long your book should be.
Minimum word count for self published books
Some authors might find it challenging to hit the minimum word counts while others might want to shorten their books to make them easier to read. Like with everything there’s exceptions to rules so these should just be used as general guidelines for minimum and maximum word counts for self published books.
The genre you choose and your target audience is also going to affect your word count. A kid’s picture book might only have a few words per page while a science fiction or fantasy novel can easily top 120,000 or more words.
How long should my short story be?
Short stories are popular among self publishers. You can write them relatively quickly, tell a small story, and publish them online for little or no cost. These bite sized tales are commonly steamy romance eBooks or practical how-tos, but you can find them in almost every genre.
A short story is usually between 1,000 and 30,000 words. To narrow it down, a regular short story is 1,000 to 8,000 words long and a long short story is between 8,000 and 30,000 words. If you’re self publishing a short story eBook try for a minimum of 3,000 words.
With short stories you can aim for a certain reading time. For example, one hour or 15 minute short stories are popular. You could also publish multiple short stories as an anthology or collection. For example, author James Patterson publishes a series of bite sized stories called “BookShots” that appeal to busy readers. They can be read in just a few hours and are pretty successful.
Usually short stories are sold at a lower price than a full length book.
How long is a novella?
Novellas are the step between short story and novel. They’re shorter in length than full books but usually quicker and easy to read, so they appeal to certain groups. A lot of popular novels are actually novellas, like a ‘Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens.
Novellas written for adults are between 30,000 and 50,000 words long.
Minimum word count for a novel
The length a novel should be varies depending on who you ask. These are the word counts you should aim for if you’re writing a standard fiction story, with some exceptions.
A novel is usually between 50,000 and 120,000 words.First time authors should aim to write about 75,000 to 120,000 words, but again these are just guidelines. A young adult novel should be on the shorter side (about 60,000 words on average) and a more adult story could come out on the higher end.
Science fiction and fantasy are exceptions to the ‘rule’ because they usually require more descriptive detail. You know what a Ferrari looks like without needing much explanation, but something like an alien spaceship needs describing in detail. Historical fiction can also push the higher end of the range.
Harlequin romances are usually around 50,000 words. Romance and chick-lit in general can be on the lower end of the range.
Common book lengths when writing for kids
If you’re writing a book for kids you’ll have to adjust the length accordingly. Middle grade and teen fiction is usually shorter than adult novels with the word count increasing with each grade level. For example, a novel aimed at third graders will be much shorter than one written for grade eight.
Picture books should be age appropriate and there’s no typical word counts. Look at how long ‘the Cat and the Hat’ is, but how few words are in ‘Goodnight Moon’. On average, picture books are 32 pages long.
For middle grade fiction aim for between 15,000 and 30,000 words. It’s important to write books in this age group with the reading level and maturity of the kids in mind. They might not have the attention span for long books. On the other hand, a great story is as long as it needs to be.
Young adult fiction is very similar to adult fiction and usually fall between 50,000 and 80,000 words. Again, certain types of stories can go above and below these numbers.
Minimum word count for self published non-fiction books
This really varies depending on the type of book you’re trying to publish. Obviously you wouldn’t aim for a specific word count in a cookbook, for example. On the other hand, an autobiography might be written similar to a novel in length. Here’s some popular non-fiction types with some word count guidelines:
Biographies can be anywhere from 50,000 words to 200,000. If you’re not famous and are writing an autobiography stick on the lower end so people won’t be turned off by length. On the other hand, detailed biographies of historical figures can easily sell in their niche even when lengthy.
Self help books are usually around 50,000 – 100,000 words. Again, this depends on your expertise and the content, but this is a good number if you want something that’s easy to digest. ‘How to Lose Friends and Influence People’, for example, is about 100,000 words long.
On average, non fiction books are around 50,000 – 75,000 words long. The length you choose should also depend on your goals. Are you trying to make yourself the authority on a subject? Do you achieve your book’s value in less or more words?
How long should my book be?
The great thing about self-publishing is that you don’t have to follow a publisher’s arbitrary rules! It’s up to sell the book so you can release it with however many words you choose.
The bottom line is your book should be as long as it needs to be. It’s important to keep in mind whether you can hold the reader’s attention when looking at maximum word count. The minimum word count for a self published book varies based on the type of book you’re writing, the audience, and whether adding more will ruin your story.