Friday, March 12, 2010

Different Lengths

This is going to be an information based post about the different lengths in the industry with a few examples added. None of them are set in stone so you can quote me but there will be times this might be incorrect. Remember the numbers aren't exact.

First, overall story lengths. What makes something a short story, novella or a novel? That is the length, for the most part. So, here are some lengths to consider:

Flash Fiction - Under 1,000 words / Less than 5 pages in general
The smallest I've seen is 55 words and that's for a contest on and there is one online magazine that doesn only 55 word stories.
Example: Hunted by Dawn Embers (yep, me) from
Moonless night brings silence from hidden predators. Sight is limited to lily pads of light on sidewalk as sound echoes through graven trees.

She walks to her car with keys in hand but they won't save her.

The sun shall rise in the morning to expose a set of keys left on the gray sidewalk.
Exactly 55 words and that is all.

Short story - A bit more open to inerpretation. 1,000-7,500ish / 4-25 pages type of range
The short story tends to have one main plot point and not too many minor plots. The idea is to have the whole story within that short length and not give the feeling that there is much more to the story that isn't there yet. Any genre can be used for a short story. Anthologies tend to look for short stories or flash fiction as they allow the publication of many authors on a theme set. Magazines and online sources also have a preference for the shorter versions for rather obvious reasons.
Sci-Fi Anthology, volume 5
Aesop's Fables

Novelette - 7,500-17,500 / 25-60 pages roughly
The lesser known one. Some will have it go from short story to novella and skip this one.
In fact, this is one I don't know much about and isn't going to be common in some of the big name genres, such as fantasy. Romance is one that is known for the shorter lengths, for novellas in particular but might include the novelette. These used to be the mainstream, however, years ago in the fantasy, ya and sci-fi genres. Take a lit class and/or buy some classic authors books from the past and you'll notice the number of smaller books you'll get.
A Colder War by Charles Stross
Amazon search -

Novella - 17,500-40,000 (some view top at 50,000) / 60-130 pages-ish
Close to novel length but on the very short end. Common in romance, or at least that is the most known form. Used to be more common lengths for other genres but times are changing that. This has more than a short story with main plot and side plots but doesn't have enough to make a full novel, or the author doesn't want to add more to make it a novel. Some stories are just meant to be novellas and not full length novels.
Need I say more? lol

Novel - 50,000+ but not often to exceed 125,000. / roughly 133+ pages
There is some dispute over length. Source claims 40,000 as the minimum but I won't go with that here. This one is the most genre specific. While most can have short stories and flash fiction, the genres vary in what length they prefer for novels. Romance isn't keen on 100k novels, for that is a little too long for the genre. For that genre 50,000 might work but for, say fantasy, that would not be enough for most publishers. First time authors and those that have published before will also have different requirements. It's rare that a publishing will take the risk of a 125,000+ novel from a new author, while one that already is published might be able to sway such a count. So, it varies greatly.

Now, what is there besides novel? Well, I'm going to name one that people shouldn't forget when writing epic stories. That is: Series. If your story goes well over 150,000 words then you can still sell it. All you have to do is find a good place to divide the book into a series.  Some people do short stories series but that's rare. Most series are novellas or novels, with maybe a few novelettes. They can be epic series like Robert Jordan's one (don't leave comments on this series because everyone has their own opinions and in this post it doesn't matter) or the more common form of series, the trilogy. There are two book series and even four book, so it varies. And the word lengths for the books will vary but the overall count for the tale is epic!
look on barnes and noble or amazon and you'll see plenty

Remember, these aren't hard and fast rules. Look at the publisher's/agent's requirements to determine what they view the lengths and what they want.