by Eric Wharton
How long should your story be?
One common question asked by many writers is: how long should my story be? The simplest answer is: as long as it takes to tell the whole story. However, there are certain word lengths that editors prefer to see when submitting work. Remember, these are just guidelines. Publishers will vary what they will or will not accept. Always be sure to check with the publisher first before submitting a manuscript.
Adult Story Length
Micro-Fiction (up to 300 words)
This very abbreviated story is often difficult to write, and even harder to write well, but the markets for micro fiction are becoming increasingly more popular. Publishers love them, as they take up almost no room and don't cost them their budgets. Pay rates are often low, but for so few words, the rate per word averages quite high.
Flash Fiction (300–1,000 words)
This is the type of short-short story you would expect to find in a glossy magazine, often used to fill one page of quick romance (or quick humor, in men's magazines) Very popular, quick and easy to write, and easier to sell!
Short Story (1,000–7,500 words)
The standard short story, usually found in periodicals or anthology collections. Most genre magazines will features works at this length.
Novellette (7,500–20,000 words)
Often a novellette-length work is difficult to sell to a publisher. It is considered too long for most publishers to insert comfortably into a magazine, yet too short for a novel. Generally, authors will piece together three or four novellette-length works into a compilation novel.
Novella (20,000–50,000 words)
Although most print publishers will balk at printing a novel this short, this is almost perfect for the electronic publishing market length. The online audience doesn't always have the time or the patience to sit through a 100,000 word novel. Alternatively, this is an acceptable length for a short work of non-fiction.
Most print publishers prefer a minimum word count of around 70,000 words for a first novel, and some even hesitate for any work shorter than 80,000. Yet any piece of fiction climbing over the 110,000 word mark also tends to give editors some pause. They need to be sure they can produce a product that won't over-extend their budget, but still be enticing enough to readers to be saleable. Imagine paying good money for a book less than a quarter-inch thick?
Epics and Sequels (Over 110,000 words)
If your story extends too far over the 110,000 mark, perhaps consider where you could either condense the story to only include relevant details, or lengthen it to span out into a sequel, or perhaps even a trilogy. (Unless, of course, you're Stephen King - then it doesn't matter what length your manuscript is - a publisher is a little more lenient with an established author who has a well-established readership)
Children’s Story Length
This is a broad classification of children's book. In these books, illustrations play a significant role in telling the story. There are several sub-categories of picture books.
Baby Books—for infants and young toddlers. They include lullabies, nursery rhymes, finger-plays, or wordless books. The length and format varies with the content.
Toddler books—simple stories for ages 1–3. They are generally under 300 words and the content is familiar to a child's everyday life.
Concept books—teach colors, numbers, shapes, and so on. They are short books that average about 12 pages in length. Formats include:
Board books (sturdy paper-over board construction)
Novelty books (make sounds, have different textures, and so on)
Story Books—contain simple stories. There are no sub-plots or complicated twists and the one main character conforms to a typical child's emotions, concerns, and outlook. They are designed for ages 4–8 in which Illustrations (on every page or every other page) play as much importance as the text in telling the story. There are two sub-categories based on age range.
Early picture books are designed for the lower end of the age range and contain under 1,000 words.
Traditional picture books are 32 pages long and contain up to 1,500 words (picture books may sometimes exceed 1,500 words, but are designed for the upper end of the age range).
Nonfiction picture books can go up to age 10 and can contain up to 2,000 words.
Also called "easy-to-read," these books are for children just starting to read on their own (ages 6–8). They have color illustrations on every page like a picture book, but the format is more "grown-up." They have a smaller trim size and are sometimes broken into short chapters. The length varies by publisher, but in general books are 32–64 pages long and can contain 200–1,500 words of text, occasionally going up to 2,000 words. The stories are told mainly through action and dialogue and in simple sentences (one idea per sentence and averaging 2–5 sentences per page).
Sometimes called "early chapter books," they are for ages 6–9 and bridge the gap between Easy Readers and Chapter Books. Though written like Easy Readers in style, transition books are longer—about 12,000 words broken into 10–15 chapters—and have a smaller trim size with black-and-white illustrations every few pages.
For ages 7–10, these books are 18,000–24,000 words broken into 10–15 chapters. Stories are meatier than transition books, though they still contain a lot of action. The sentences can be a bit more complex, but paragraphs are still short (2–4 sentences is average). Chapters often end in the middle of a scene to keep the reader turning the pages.
For ages 8–12, lengths suddenly get much longer (40,000–60,000 words), stories get more complex (sub-plots involving secondary characters are woven through the story), and themes get more sophisticated. Children get hooked on characters at this age, which explains the popularity of series with 20 or more books involving the same characters. Fiction genres include contemporary, historical, science fiction, and fantasy. Nonfiction includes biographies, science, history, and multicultural topics.
For ages 12 and up. Plots can be complex with several major characters, though one character should emerge as the focus of the book. Themes should be relevant to the problems and struggles of today's teenagers, regardless of the genre. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton defined young adult when it was first published in 1967.
A new age category (10-14) is emerging within this classification. These books are slightly shorter than the 12 and up category and topics are appropriate for children who have outgrown middle grade but aren't yet ready for fiction themes or who aren't studying the nonfiction subjects of high school readers.
Masterson, Lee. "How Long Should Your Story Be?" http://www.fictionfactor.com/articles/wordcount.html
Backes, Laura. "Understanding Children Writing Genres," http://www.fictionfactor.com/children/kidsgenres.html