In this post we’re discussing story lengths, from micro-fiction to novels and up, and the best way to market your manuscript based on its word count.
Word counts for different types of stories vary depending where you look, so give each type (except the smallest two) a variance of a few thousand words.
Micro-Fiction (up to 100 words): These are extremely short stories that require the skill of weaving character and plot together under an extremely tight word limit.
If you can conquer this story type, you can use it in variety of ways. For instance, you could include one in your newsletter (because you do have a newsletter, right?) or on your website to entice readers. Some magazine and online publishers do print micro-fiction. They love them because they don’t take up much room and they don’t pay much.
Flash Fiction (100 to 1,000 words): Writing flash fiction teaches you to be concise and to pack in all of the story elements into a small space. It’s a helpful exercise to get the cobwebs out when you first sit down to write before you start working on your main project. Or you may find them as a productive way to keep your writing muscles engaged when you are short on time.
If you have a blog, you could post flash fiction once a week (or so) to keep readers interested and coming back to your site. A variety of publications also look for flash fiction. Print publications like these stories because they fit on one page.
Short Story (1,000 to 7,500 words): This is the sweet spot. The short story is short enough that it demands brevity and long enough that you can still use description to explore scene and character details, though it typically involves only one plot line and has fewer characters than a novel.
There is a big market for short stories, too, so it’s a quicker way to get multiple works published and put your name out in the public eye.
Novelette (7,500 to 20,000): There are times when your story can end up being too long to be a short story and not long enough to be a novella. The novelette, by itself, is difficult to sell, but you can pair it with something else. Right now, one of my clients is publishing a novella as an e-book and is using a novelette as a “bonus story.” This helps readers feel like they are getting a big value when they are determining whether to purchase your main story.
Novella (20,000 to 40,000 words): This is the perfect length for an e-book. Lots of readers aren’t necessarily interested in “full-length” books—they could be short on time or don’t have the attention span for a longer story, or maybe they’re a voracious reader who likes to read story after story after story and isn’t necessarily concerned about length.
This is also a good length for nonfiction e-books, such as how-to books and “calling card” industry-specific books.
Novel (40,000 to 110,000): When most people think of a book, this is the length they envision. Novels typically have multiple plot lines, a larger cast of characters and more detailed character arcs than with smaller lengths, and a more fully described and wider range of settings.
A story is a novel if it is any length within these word counts. But within this range is a more standard range book publishers look for. That’s 60,000 to 90,000 words. Below that and readers may feel like they didn’t get their money’s worth. Above it and they may be less likely to finish it.
Epic (110,000 and up): Epics are more difficult to sell, especially if you are a first-time or relatively unknown author. This is because readers have to invest more time and money into the book. But sometimes stories just can’t fit in the novel range. This happens a lot with fantasy and science-fiction books that include lengthy worldbuilding descriptions. Readers of these two genres are also more willing to read longer books because they are used to this.
Erin Servais is a book editor, sensitivity reader, and author coach focusing on women author-entrepreneurs. To learn more about her and her services, click here or email her at Erin@dotanddashllc.com. You can check out her blog about grammar and language here: Grammar Party.