Myth vs. Fact: How Long Should Your Book Be?

By: Mary Anna Rodabaugh in Book Writing and Editing
on September 14th, 2021

When it comes to writing a book, the word count can play an important role in your book writing journey. The word count can serve as a milestone to track your progress or keep you on a tight writing schedule. It can give you a rough idea of how long your book will be when fully printed and published. It can serve as a guide. But many writers take the word count to heart, sometimes sacrificing flowing prose for the sake of word stuffing or pinnacle moment deletions. Let’s take a look at a few myths and facts of ubiquitous word count beliefs.

Myth: My memoir must be within 80,000 to 100,000 words, or it will not sell.

Fact: The 80,000 to 100,000 word count is a rough average word count you can work toward achieving, but it is by no means a hard or fast requirement for a successful manuscript. In fact, there are plenty of successful memoirs out there in the 50,000 to 60,000 word range. Given that people’s attention spans seem to be shrinking a lot these days thanks to the instantaneous world we live in, shorter works may even be more appealing to readers than longer narratives. The truth is your memoir’s success has nothing to do with its word count and everything to do with the stories inside and the manner in which you tell them.

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Myth: A high word count means the writer failed to edit the book.

Fact: This is not always the case. Sure, a high word count could mean the writer did not edit down the manuscript as scrupulously as they could, but it could also mean that the way the stories are told and unfold lend themselves to more verbiage than other works. We’ve all heard the phrase, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” Well, you can’t judge the quality of a novel by its word count. Keep that in mind as you work on your manuscript.

Myth: The word count recommendations are mostly the same across genres.

Fact: This couldn’t be further from the truth. Now, it is a given that children’s books and young adult books are going to be on the shorter side of the word count spectrum. However, a sci-fi thriller is going to have a different word count range than a narrative non-fiction or self-help/how-to book. The best way to see what the range is for your genre is to do a little reputable research. Check out blogs from literary agents or view articles from Writer’s Digest to see the range that has been deemed most appropriate for your genre.

“Writers should write to get the heart of their story out in a cohesive and comprehensive manner.”

Myth: There is no such thing as too short of a book.

Fact: Coffee table books, novellas, and collections of poetry aside, there absolutely is a thing as “too short” when it comes to writing a book. You never want to leave your readers unsatisfied (unless you’re writing a series with cliffhangers). Also, when it comes to the marketability of your book, you want it to feel sturdy. Think of your favorite books on your own bookshelf. There is a stark difference between a solid novel and a pamphlet, right?

Myth: Writers should write to word count.

Fact: Writers should never write to word count unless they are participating in a contest, submitting an article with specific parameters, or have a literary agent request a specific word count. In all other instances, writers should write to get the heart of their story out in a cohesive and comprehensive manner. Edit, edit, and edit some more. Trim the fat of your manuscript so only the words that matter are left behind for the readers to find. The goal should always be telling a great story, not cramming in as many words as you can because some internet article told you that your romance novel needed to be a specific number of words.