How Long is Long Enough?

While revising today, I noticed that Genie Memories had fallen under the 60,000 word count (59,606 to be precise).   This event spurred to life two of my Moose (Meese?) – the Irrational Moose and the Wise Moose.  These two had a chat that went a bit like this :

Irrational Moose : Ah, GOD!

Wise Moose : What? What is it?

IM : The book!  It’s so short!

WM : So?

IM : So?  SO?!?!  It’s short!  REAL novels are between 80,000 and 120,000 words!  No one will ever want to read something that short!

WM : I think you’re overreacting.  It’s really not that bad.

IM : Am I?  Am I?!  No agent will pick it up!  No publisher!  Readers don’t want short books.  They want mega-tomes!  Look at Harry Potter or the Wheel of Time or the Lord of the Rings!

WM : Look, we’ve still got stuff to add.  Some Genie Profiles, those nifty LINK’ed Into History bits that tie in that one character, and —

IM : Would you like fries with that?  Mega Size for just 39 cents?

WM : … what are you doing?

IM : Practicing my future career!

WM : *smacks the hell out of Irrational Moose*  Stop that.  And stop using up all the exclamation points.  You only get so many.

Melodrama aside, the Irrational Moose seems to share the same misconception that many people do regarding the length of a book.  So let’s set the record straight on that with this statement :

A Book is as long as it needs to be to tell the Story.

Seriously.  I’m not joking here.  Ask an Editor or Agent or Writer and they will tell you this exact same thing.  It doesn’t matter if the book is a million words long or a thousand.  If it tells the story, then it’s long enough.  Word count really does not matter.

Okay, there’s a couple of caveats to that. In some cases, words will have to be added because the story is not finished or doesn’t make sense (us writers sometimes think we know when the story ends but it’s not uncommon for us to be wrong).  Other times, you’ll have to remove words because they are not useful to the story, cause confusion, or are just useless (extra words = extra paper = extra cost).

Some genres do have sweet spots.  Fantasy tends to be along the lines of 80,000 to 120,000 (or longer).  Science Fiction tends to be shorter but generally in the same range.  I’m not familiar with Drama or Romance but I’m sure they have their own sweet spots.  But all of these, without a doubt, can, have been, and will be disregarded for a good story.  Remember that.  The Story is always King.

Want proof?  Over at Absolute Write, there is a thread about Published Word Counts in Sci-Fi Novels.

  • Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien – 454,000 words
  • Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan – 3,000,000+ words
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – 46,000 words
  • Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick – 61,237 (basis for Blade Runner film)
  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickets – 29,100
  • Old Man’s War by John Scalzi – 90,566 words

All of these are highly regarded novels and they go all across the board in terms of word count.

So … yeah, Irrational Moose is just being Irrational.  And wasteful when it comes to exclamation marks.  I mean, dude, we only have so many.   (<- Supposed to be exclamation mark but we ran out.)


(Want to see for yourself?  Go to and look up your favorite book.  Scroll down to the Inside This Book section and click the Text Stats link.  For example, here’s Heroes Die by Matthew Woodring Stover)

Inside This Book

Text Stats