Novel Writing: Word Count Matters Not Chapter Count

Word count is a tricky thing when writing a novel. Most publishers have rules that govern word count. Always check with the publisher you plan to pitch your novel to or at least check their website for guides or notes on word count. Make sure your word count fits with the genre you are writing for instead of just hoping you’ll get lucky. When in doubt, see above, do your homework and ask questions or check websites.

On the other hand, chapter count does not matter. Chapters can range from a page to several pages. Personally, I do not like books full of one and two page chapters. I feel rushed when reading them, but that’s just me. Most publishers won’t care about how many chapters are in your novel only that it is written well and the word count is in the ballpark with their guidelines and the book’s genre.

As a general rule, but not written in stone, word counts typically look like this:

  • 60,000 to 75,000 – your novel may be too short
  • 80,000 to 100,000 – your novel is probably safe in this range
  • 110,000 and above – your novel is too long
  • 150,000 and above – you’ve written two novels

Ok, those numbers are very general and your publisher may have different ideas about word count. Do I need to mention doing your homework and checking the publisher’s website again? As I stated above, these numbers are only a guide because some genres tend to accept higher word counts while some are content with lower word counts.

For example:

  • Westerns can run shorter and fall into the 60,000 and up word count range
  • Science Fiction and Fantasy can easily hit the 110,000 word count and be ok
  • Novels for teens and preteens will often be shorter than westerns

The key is always going to be research and checking the market and publisher websites. If a publisher wants a novel in a particular genre to be between 85,000 and 100,000 words, either edit your novel to fit their needs or hunt another market for your novel. Never submit a novel that is clearly outside of a publisher’s wants and needs hoping to slip by or get lucky. You’re just wasting their time and your time.

So forget about how many chapters are in your novel. Focus on word count based on the genre and publisher guidelines. Don’t forget writing quality and editing- you won’t get far without either.

What do you think is a good word count range for a novel in a particular genre? Let me know in the comments.

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John McDuffie is a writer and blogger that specializes in marketing, graphic design and the freelance lifestyle. He works hard to stay on top of the latest trends in freelancing, marketing and graphic design.

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