When Does Size Matter, and When Is Smaller Better? She Won’t Tell You, but I Will. Let’s Talk Novel Word Count!

Craig Allan TeichBooks and Writing, Self-PublsihingLeave a Comment

Does Size Matter Big Razor

The purpose of this article is to help novelists get a handle on the question of book length, and the impact that manuscript size can have on getting published and selling books. So the question is, does size matter?

When I first took up the “pen” and started writing my first novel (about 14 years ago; never finished that one), one of my first questions was “How long does a novel need to be?” I was curious to the answer primarily because I wanted to have a sense for how much work lay ahead. Now I do understand, and I understood even back then green as a cucumber, that novels come in many lengths from Animal Farm at 29,966 words to War and Peace at 544,406 words. But outliers aside, if you’re a modern novelist aspiring (and perspiring) to become a successful published author, then it makes only good sense to write your first novel(s) to fit a length that today’s readers / agents / publishers find reasonable.

Word Count Safe Zones . . . Ignore at Your Own Risk

From my research, I’d say that the word count safety zone is 50,000 words minimum to 120,000 words maximum. Now I can already hear the comments challenging this statement, so let me just address the penalty flag throwers right now:

  1. This is just my personal estimate and is no way the final word (pun unintentional) on the matter;
  2. An argument could be made to make this range more restrictive, say 60,000 to 100,000;
  3. An argument could be made to make this range more liberal, say 30,000 to 150,000;
  4. One could fall back to the old chestnut that your book should be as long as is needed to tell the story, and not one word longer (reasonable advice if you’re name is Stephen King or J.K. Rowling);
  5. Concerns about word count is for sell-out authors who don’t care about craft (oh, please!).

So, now let’s take a look at the word counts for some novels most of us are familiar…

A List of Novels and Their Word Count

  • The Mouse and the Motorcycle – 22,416 Words
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – 30,644 Words
  • Old Yeller – 35,968 Words
  • Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – 36,363 Words
  • Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury – 46,118 Words
  • The Great Gatsby – 47,094 Words
  • The Red Badge of Courage – 47,180 Words
  • The Outsiders – 48,523 Words
  • Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut – 49,459 Words
  • The Hours – 54,243 Words
  • As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner – 56,695 Words
  • A Separate Peace, by John Knowles – 56,787 Words
  • The Wind in the Willows – 58,428 Words
  • Black Beauty – 59,635 Words
  • Lord of the Flies, by William Golding – 59,900 Words
  • All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Remarque – 61,922 Words
  • Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf – 63,422 Words
  • The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne – 63,604 Words
  • Brave New World – 63,766 Words
  • The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury – 64,768 Words
  • The Color Purple – 66,556 Words
  • Treasure Island – 66,950 Words
  • The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway – 67,707 Words
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – 69,066 Words
  • Woman Warrior, by Maxine Hong Kingston – 70,957 Words
  • White Fang – 72,071 Words
  • The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger – 73,404 Words
  • Harry Potter: Philosopher’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling – 77,325 Words
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde – 78,462 Words
  • The Secret Garden – 80,398 Words
  • The English Patient – 82,370 Words
  • Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl – 82,762 Words
  • Harry Potter: Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling – 84,799 Words
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera – 85,199 Words
  • Pere Goriot, by Honore de Balzac – 87,846 Words
  • Persuasion, by Jane Austen – 87,978 Words
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell – 88,942 Words
  • 1984 – 88,942 Words
  • The Joy Luck Club – 91,419 Words
  • Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison – 92,400 Words
  • The Hobbit – 95,022 Words
  • Anne of Green Gables – 97,364 Words
  • To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee – 99,121 Words
  • All the Pretty Horses – 99,277 Words
  • Welcome to the Monkey House, by Kurt Vonnegut – 99,560 Words
  • Ender’s Game – 100,609 Words
  • Harry Potter: Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling – 106,821 Words
  • Gullivers Travels – 107,349 Words
  • Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte – 107,945 Words
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain – 109,571 Words
  • McTeague, by Frank Norris – 112,737 Words
  • The Golden Compass – 112,815 Words
  • Walden, by Henry David Thoreau – 114,634 Words
  • The Tenth Circle – 114,779 Words
  • Sense and Sensibility – 119,394 Words
  • My Sister’s Keeper – 119,529 Words
  • Atonement – 123,378 Words
  • Life on the Mississippi, by Mark Twain – 127,776 Words
  • The Yearling – 128,886 Words
  • The Return of the King – 134,462 Words
  • Schindler’s List – 134,710 Words
  • A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens – 135,420 Words
  • Moll Flanders, by Daniel Defoe – 138,087 Words
  • Snow Falling on Cedars – 138,098 Words
  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – 138,138 Words
  • The Two Towers – 143,436 Words
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude – 144,523 Words
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith – 145,092 Words
  • Cold Sassy Tree – 145,265 Words
  • Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper – 145,469 Words
  • The Last of the Mohicans – 145,469 Words
  • Emma – 155,887 Words
  • Oliver Twist – 155,960 Words
  • Watership Down – 156,154 Words
  • Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood – 157,665 Words
  • Cold Mountain – 161,511 Words
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe – 166,622 Words
  • White Teeth – 169,389 Words
  • Harry Potter: Half Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling – 169,441 Words
  • The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinback – 169,481 Words
  • Catch-22, by Joseph Heller – 174,269 Words
  • The Fellowship of the Ring – 177,227 Words
  • Great Expectations – 183,349 Words
  • Little Women (Books 1&2) – 183,833 Words
  • Jane Eyre – 183,858 Words
  • Memoirs of a Geisha – 186,418 Words
  • Harry Potter: Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling – 190,858 Words
  • Harry Potter: Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling – 198,227 Words
  • A House for Mr. Biswas – 198,901 Words
  • Moby Dick – 206,052 Words
  • Midnight’s Children – 208,773 Words
  • Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky – 211,591 Words
  • Crime & Punishment – 211,591 Words
  • East of Eden, by John Steinback – 225,395 Words
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany – 236,061 Words
  • Harry Potter: Order of the Phoenix, by J.K. Rowling – 257,154 Words
  • The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand – 311,596 Words
  • Middlemarch, by George Eliot – 316,059 Words
  • Anna Karenina – 349,736 Words
  • The Brothers Karamazov – 364,153 Words
  • Gone with the Wind – 418,053 Words
  • The Lord of the Rings – 455,125 Words
  • Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand – 561,996 Words
  • War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy – 587,287 Words
  • A Suitable Boy – 591,554 Words

A Few Observations

The list is provided simply as something to reflect upon, not as a data set for rigorous analysis. The selection of the books is primarily because these are books that most readers and writers are familiar. That said, here’s a little analysis:

  • The Average Word Count for the List is 143,414
  • The Median Word Count is 114,634
  • The Average Word Count when eliminating the top and bottom ten is 124,268

The only other observations that I’d make is that this list, by definition, includes some of literature’s most successful endeavors, and includes a fair number of sequels to successful books, most notably the Harry Potter series which saw each successive book longer than the last with the exception of the final installment which did not surpass book 6’s staggering 257,154 words. Therefore, the average word count is going to skew bigger than would an average of your more modest, popular, beach-read novels, especially those by first-time authors.

But even with all that said, both the median word count and the average less the outliers are modest: 114,634 and 124,268 respectively. So, final advice, to myself and aspiring novelists: Until you are established as a super-successful publishing phenom, keep your tomes in the 50,000 to 120,000 word count range. Do this, and not only will you keep your workload to a manageable level, but you won’t risk scaring off agent, publisher, or reader.


That said, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

Wishing you health, happiness, peace, and love,

Craig Allan Teich


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