Word Count Guidelines

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Apr 14 2020

Word count matters. As much as we would like to think we will happily read 250,000-word books or plunk down $16 for a 25,000-word book (really a novella), the truth is we tend not to. We, as readers, feel most comfortable reading books within the range we’re used to–the length of time it takes to read 80,000-100,000 words.

It’s true, agents will reject a book based on word count, but not just because we’re too lazy to read long books. It’s our experience that leads us to those rejections and in our experience, a debut author writing 300,000 words hasn’t yet mastered the art of editing.

Knowing word count requirements for your genre not only helps you write a stronger query, but it’s part of learning the business. You need to know word count in the same way you need to know where commas belong and what genre is.

Reaching out to the Agents of BookEnds, I’ve come up with a word count cheat sheet. Use it and use it well. 

  • Picture Books: 0-1000 words; ideal length around 600 words
  • Chapter Books: 5,000-15,000 words; ideal length around 10,000 words
  • Middle Grade: 35,000-65,000 words, ideally 35,000 words
  • Contemporary YA: 60,000-85,000 words, ideal length 80,000 words
  • YA SFF: 70,000-100,000 words, ideal length 90,000 words
  • (Most) Adult Fiction (ie: romance, mystery, suspense, thriller, upmarket, literary, and women’s fiction): 80,000-100,000 words
  • Category Romance: 50,000 words (might vary by line)
  • Adult SFF: 100,000-120,000 words 
  • Cozy Mystery: 70,000-85,000 words
  • Historical Fiction 80,000-120,000 words

***this post was originally published March 2019.

For more information on word count, check out this video on the BookEnds YouTube channel!

12 responses to “Word Count Guidelines”

  1. Avatar Neal Goldstein says:

    Thanks, but what about non fiction word counts?

  2. Avatar Donna Joppie says:

    Thank you for the information. Mastering the art of editing is a process.

  3. […] you’re not sure how long your novel should be, here’s a word count cheat sheet from Jessica Faust at Bookends, a literary agency. Some of the numbers may surprise […]

  4. How to Write a Query Letter (and Helpful Resources!) – A.N. Payton says:

    […] Bookends Literary Agency Blog […]

  5. Avatar Alan says:

    What about horror? (

  6. Avatar Carolyn says:

    Don’t forget about YA historical fiction! 🙂

  7. Avatar Rudy Pyatt says:

    I remember the pulpy action novels of my youth being closer to 50 thousand to 60 thousand words or about 200 pages (something like a typical The Executioner title). Are adult novels at that length still viable, especially for a series?

  8. […] Caveat: Even though a 50,000-word document can be a full manuscript, it depends on what genre you’re writing. For example, it’d work for middle grade fiction, but other genres will veer shorter or longer. My literary agency, BookEnds, has a nice set of word count guidelines here. […]

  9. Avatar Autumn Parks says:

    I love your videos! I listen to them while I work on illustrating my books. I am working on creating some picture books and children’s graphic novels. What word count do you recommend for graphic novels? The one I am working on right now is geared towards elementary school-age.

  10. Avatar Shelley Kingrey says:

    What is the preferred word count for Speculative fiction?