How Long is Your Book?
The question of “how long your manuscript should be” is sometimes hard to answer because different publishers have different guidelines. I’m going to give you some information here, but first I want you to know WHY this is important.
It’s pretty simple: If your book falls within the standard preferred word-count range, it’s one less reason for it to be rejected. It takes the question of “length” completely off the table as an issue. Now the decisions can be made based on your writing and whether your book is a fit for that publishing house. (And that’s what you want, right?)
If you are outside the normal range, it’s one more obstacle on your road to publication. That will also affect whether agents will want to represent it. The more obstacles to publication, the harder it will be to say “yes” to representation. If you’re writing outside the standard length guidelines, there’s more pressure for your work to be SO GOOD that we (agents & editors) will want to fight for it.
Full-length fiction: 80,000 to 100,000 words is by far the best range to stay within. Some pubs will look at manuscripts from 70,000 to 110,000 words, rarely outside of that.
a A “novel” is usually defined as 50,000 words to 110,000 words.
a Over 110,000 is generally referred to as an epic or a saga.
a A novella is defined as 20,000 to 50,000 words (but please don’t pitch me a novella because I don’t represent them.) Most pubs are not doing novellas except for select Christmas stories.
a Heartsongs Presents: 50,000 words. (I don’t represent these either.)
Be aware: These definitions can change depending on who you’re talking to! Also, the price point changes when it gets much over 100,000 words, and this is a big deal for publishers. They try to avoid it.
Having said all this, most of the editors I’ve spoken with said they look at the writing first. If they love the novel but it falls outside their normal length (within reason), the editor will fight for it and try to make it work. (Same with agents.)
By the way, these guidelines aren’t specific to CBA. I am hearing the exact same things from general market agents.
NON FICTION GUIDELINES:
The range is wider, depending on the topic. I recommend 50,000 to 70,000 words as the best range. You could go as low as 45,000 and as high as 80,000, but I wouldn’t suggest going too far outside of this range except for special cases (i.e. gift books & devotionals will be fewer words; intense theological treatises may be much longer).
PS: C.J. Darlington did a review of CBA novels about a year ago, and lists some word counts. Click here.