Author Speak for Readers: Book Lengths

Sometimes readers get confused by the terminology authors use to describe the length of their book. Authors measure books in word count, not page count because page count can be manipulated by changing the font, font size or margins (as any college student can tell you).

The general rule is that one standard page in a mass market print book holds 250 words. That is a rough estimate, but to give the non-authors reading this post a general idea, I’ll use that as a standard of measure when calculating word count to page count.

Author Speak: Book Lengths

mass market = This term refers to the physical size of the book, not the number of pages or its distribution (though it used to indicate the distribution as well). This is the standard book size to which everyone is familiar.

trade paperback = This term refers to the larger 6×9 (or thereabouts) titles usually put out by small press publishers when they take their books to print.

Note: Mass Market costs less to the reader, but more for the publisher to produce because the print run (number of books created) has to be high, like up in the thousands. Trade paperback costs less for the publisher, but more for the reader because the print run is shorter.

Before I start the next section, I have to say that these numbers are ROUGH estimates and will cross each other. There is no set rule anywhere about word counts. It changes from one publisher to the next, though they all try to stay in the same ballpark.

Short Story = Between 1000 to 15,000 words (4 to 60 pages) – In high school, my English teacher described a short story as any book that could be read in one sitting. For a person like me who will devote an 8hr day to reading a novel cover to cover, that definition just isn’t accurate any longer.

Novella = 10,000 to 50,000 words (40 to 200 pages) – Why such a big overlap with Short Story? Who knows. It might be partially due to the slowly fading category of Novelette (mentioned below).

Novel = 45,000 to 100,000+ (180 to 400+ pages) – I would note here the average novel (standard size) is usually between 80,000 to 100,000 words. When publishers (especially Big6) are looking for a Novel, they are targeting that range.

There is also the term Novelette, which fits between Short Story and Novella, but no one in my acquaintance uses it so I think the word is dropping out of the vernacular… so far as Romance is concerned.

You know the counts, now here’s the significance. Many authors (myself included) report our writing progress on blogs and social networks. In an ideal 8hr day (no interruptions and the words are flowing), an author can put down between 5000 to 10,000 words. Again, it depends on the author. Some will do less. Some will do a lot more.

But the majority of us have real life with which to contend, so a daily (or however often) word count of 1000 to 3000+ words is doing well. I aim for 5000 words but am happy if I can hit 3000 words. If I hit 8000 words, I’m overjoyed and probably starving and dehydrated because I didn’t stop writing to nourish myself.

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