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This topic contains 1 reply, has 2 voices, and was last updated by  Peter M. Ball 2 years, 11 months ago.

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    Sue McKerlie

    Good afternoon,

    I’m reading lots about word counts for first books. I am putting together a narrative non-fiction novel and am wondering what an acceptable word count would be for this kind of first book? I realise that is quite a broad question, just looking for an estimate or even an exact amount if there is one!

    Many thanks


    Peter M. Ball

    Generally speaking, you’re probably in the safe zone if you hover between 80,000 and 100,000 words – that’s roughly the length of most 300+ page books that you see in paperback format. This may vary a little between genres – narrative non-fiction covers a lot of ground – but a quick rule of thumb is to grab a bunch of similar books, check the number of pages they take, and multiply that by both 300 and 350. Odds are, the book will usually sit somewhere between those two numbers.

    That said, the publishing industry is in a deeply weird place at the moment when it comes to average word count. For years, it was accepted wisdom that books 65,000 words or less didn’t sell in certain genres, since you’d see them lined up on the shelf and they’d look short. If you want to see what this looks like in practice, head to the literary fiction section of your local book store or library and compare the spine of The Great Gatsby to the books around it.

    The rise of digital publishing means that what a book looks like on the shelf is no longer an issue – all you’re seeing is the cover when you buy online – which means there’s a rising number of people experimenting with shorter forms like novellas or short novels.

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