How Many Words Make a Book?

New writers often ask how many words their book should contain. That answer is not as easy as it used to be. Times are changing and people are busier and attention spans seem to be shorter. The old norms no longer apply.

Diary of Leo Tolstoy

Diary of Leo Tolstoy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The epic War and Peace (1869) by Russian author Leo Tolstoy is 565,146 words in the English edition. American author John Steinbeck used 179,148 words to craft the classic Grapes of Wrath (1939). The Di Vinci Code (2003) by Dan Brown is 138,380 words.

Christian fiction is light-weight by comparison. The grandfather of modern Christian fiction, In His Steps by Charles M. Sheldon, is 82,233 words long. The Left Behind Series (original books, not including prequel, 1995-2007) by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins started out strong, and the first volume (Left Behind) had 109,519 words. Over time, the word count diminished and Volume 8 (The Mark) contained only 85,341 words, and the last volume, number 16 (Kingdom Come), dwindled to 77,776 words.

The recently released The Noticer (2009) by Andy Andrews barley breaks the novel barrier at 40,454 words without the Reader’s Guide that was added to pad the book. Historically, books 40,000 words or less have been considered novellas, not novels.

Romance novels are generally expected to be around 100,000 words long. Among Christian writers, Francine River’s Redeeming Love (2007) is 138,216 words. Love’s Abiding Joy (2003) by Janette Oke, aimed at a younger audience perhaps, is half that length at 65,668 words.

The range is wide open when it comes to non-fiction books in the Christian world. Rick Warren’s first big publishing success, The Purpose Driven Church (1995) was composed of 103,208 words. The perennial favorite by Gary Chapman, the Five Love Languages (1995), comes in at only 46,145 words.

Publishers ultimately decide what length is proper for a particular book. However, here are some guidelines you will find helpful.

Nonfiction book – 25,000- 150,000 words
Fiction – Novella – 18,000-40,000
Fiction – Novel – 40,000 – 150,000
Young Adult books – 25,000 – 75,000
Children’s books – 250 – 1000

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It is not length of life, but depth of life.” The same idea applies to books.

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6 Responses

  1. Kat says:

    I am working on a book about my experience with losing a 9 year old cat to lymphoma. This blog helped me quite a bit. I know fiction works on average come in at 60,000 but I really had no idea about non fiction. I’m going to write about my experience and not worry too much about the word count. However I will try to bring it in around 60,000.

  2. Jessica says:

    Thank you! I was flipping out because my book, which might be about half over, maybe more so, I don’t know, is only 18000. I thought it had to be 40,000! But its for Young Adults, which I am. So I think 20-some thousand will be in reach. YAY!

  3. Grace says:

    Your blog is really helpful, I am trying to complete a christian book that will also have a Fantasy twist- like not harry potter , it will be realistic christian fantasy(if that even makes sense)
    i needed to know how many words equal a book- this was really helpful.

  4. Interesting post! I wonder if the trend is the same for all books–that the general trend is shorter.

    Victorian novels were short too, but they came in collections of three. So what we consider to be one volume today was actually published in shorter chunks.

    Dickens published serially as well.

    Maybe it is time to return to serial publication–a trio of 3 40,000 word novellas makes a book?

  1. July 8, 2012

    … [Trackback]…

    […] There you will find 18761 more Infos: […]…

  2. May 20, 2014

    […] words. Most novels we’re reading are between 75,000 words and 400,000 words. Just skimming this article, you’ll see that The Da Vinci code is 138,000, the Left Behind books were between 77,000 and […]

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