Manuscriptus Gigantus

Good morning. Welcome to Friday. So prepare for a lot of jokes about things being big, or small, or just good enough. Yes, it’s time to talk about your manuscript’s length. We can do this. Maybe without too much snickering.

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Whenever we talk size, and then make a move to clutch our pearls because we feel our hard work is under attack or is automatically termed inadequate by people who haven’t experienced it, it’s important to remember that size is subjective within an objective range.

It’s given as a range because no one can agree on a single length, a uniform measurement that everyone adheres to. And this is because you can’t ask a writer to produce every book the same way. Even when you give word counts, not everyone writes exactly to the limit. Sometimes they don’t want to, other times they don’t have to. We compensate for this by using ranges. Here then, are the ranges I’d expect and tell people to use:

Picture Books
I talk to a lot of authors who want to make books for kids, either their own, or their kids’ kids, or just young kids in general. And it’s a nice market, frankly. The art does the majority of the idea delivery, but the accompanying words give moms and dads something to sound out so that future generations can be exposed to the awesome idea that reading is a good part of life and is totally okay to do.

Your magic number is 32 pages. That’s become a rough standard. Now on those pages you may have 1 line, you may multiple lines, so if we’re talking word count, aim for under 500 total words.

Early/Easy Readers
These are the books that, not surprisingly, easy to read. They’re based on a level system, with the higher levels having more words, and each level increasing by 200 words. So if your level 1 book has 100 (most level 1s have either 100 or 200 words), your level 2 will have 300. (100 + 200)There’s a plus or minus here of around 30 words. (Though no one’s going to flip out if your level 3 book has 509 words.)

The Short Stuff
“Short stuff” refers to the group of less than 45k fiction, and there’s a lot of variations and definitions, so I’ll break this down and define things as needed.

Microfiction is a complete story that ranges from 140 characters (Twitterfiction) to 200 words.
Flash fiction is a complete story of 201 to 1000 words.
A short short story is a complete story of 1001 to 4000 words.
A long short story is complete story of 4001 to 8000 words.

A novelette is a complete story of 8001 to 17,500 words
A novella is a complete story of 17,501 words to 45k.

When I say a “complete story” I mean it has all the stuff you’d expect in a full novel, just in a smaller package, and that it all works. It’s not just a chunk of a draft (you wouldn’t take the first 18 chapters of your MS and call it a novella, it’s not a complete story)

Young Adult
Here’s a fertile workspace for authors. And as a result, there’s a lot of variation in the MS size. Likewise, the average MS is coming in larger than ever before, so expect this range to increase over the next two to three years.

It’s a safe bet to have your YA at 55k to 70k but it’s becoming more common that YA weighs in around 75k, with a ceiling somewhere near 80k-81k (though many people take the upper end there to mean the MS is bloating, so mind your mileage.

I’ve been asked if there’s a basement level on YA, and I’d say 45k. Some blogs and people will say 40k, but 45k feels better .

New Adult
Another fertile space for authors, New Adult arose from the expanding reader pool that weren’t tweens, but not yet comfortable diving into the literary classics that secondary education keeps insisting are the only “true novels.” Like Young Adult, these labels then absorb other genre labels, so you can for example have “New Adult Paranormal Romance” or “Young Adult Crime Thriller” without being completely laughed at. They range from 60k to 85k.

The Adult Novels
Here we get to the sweet spot. It’s important to remember that there are far more genre than I could easily list out here, so I’m just going to list the ones I come most into contact with.

Science Fiction and Fantasy novels (not counting the epic novels) run from 90k to 120k. The “epic novels” (think supersized versions) take that upper number up to 175k, but they also call for increased scrutiny, especially from first-time authors who want to use “epic” to disguise MS bloat or an inability to /disinterest in trimming down their work.

Westerns (which are coming back, thanks to the current political climate romanticizing past America) run from 50k to 80k.

Mysteries and Thrillers (different than Crime fiction, which is below) run from 70k to 90k.

Crime and Noir fiction run from 90k to 100k, thanks to a strong resurgence in the last 20 years across multiple media. There’s also a lot of crossover into urban fantasy here.

Romance is a huge genre with a lot of very popular off-shoots, more than I could easily account for. This diversity leads the range to be 40k to 100k, with Regency, Inspirational, Romantic Suspense, and Supernatural Romance ranging from 40 to 80k typically.

Horror as a genre is often left broad, because things that scare us are numerous, whether we’re talking splatterfest books of the 1970s or the more cerebral stories of impending tentacled horror. The typical MS spans 80k to 100k.

Memoir, Biography, Autobiography
Jumping the fence to non-fiction (I’ve never handled the comedic alt-autobiography where you’ve got the fictive history of a not-real person, but I’d consider that comedy which could be 60k to 90k), the range opens up to practically Romance lengths, anywhere from 50k to 110k usually.

There are a lot of numbers here, so I’ve put them together in handy downloadable chart form. Download your copy here.

As we wrap this up, it’s important to remember that these are guidelines, and that a novel can easily not fall into these categories as a standout. But as a range, it sets an expectation for author and reader (whomever that is) alike.

Come in over range, like way over range, and you’ll give the reader the impression you’ve written a bloated MS that you can’t possible pare down. Come in under range and you’ll give the reader the impression you’re nervous and that the MS is starved for anything other than a bare story skeleton with only enough info as to tell the plot in the simplest terms.

Let’s all celebrate that we talked about length without too much giggling, and at no time in the last 1133 words did I mention anything about motions on oceans. Go us.

See you next week. Have a great weekend writing and doing stuff.