History & Culture

Genre Novels – Word Counting Rules, Subgenres, and Guidelines for Getting Your Book Published

Wondering “How long is my book? How long should my book be? What genre is my book or novel?” Keep reading. If you’ve written a novel, use this article to make sure your book meets the basic guidelines of literary agents and book publishers. Your book is more likely to be published if it follows the “rules” of your genre (whether romance, thriller, western, fantasy, young adult, historical, or horror).

Disclaimer: Please note that the information below is an overview of guidelines. For best results, always research specific information about your project.

The rules of fantasy genre novels Fantasy is generally about building a world (creating alternate worlds). Avoid clichés in your characterization and let your main themes be strong yet subtle. Always research publisher guidelines: One publisher has caveats such as “no time machines, please.”

Fantasy novels can have between 80,000 and 150,000 words (approximately). Fantasy novels can be a little longer than other novels, and they are sometimes serialized.

Fantasy sub-genres include: high, fantasy of manners, alternate history, dark, historical, steampunk, urban, wuxia, and more.

The rules of romance genre novels A romance usually emphasizes the heroine’s perspective and the reader should be drawn into the love story. Romances end with a kind of happily ever after.

How long does a novel last? A standalone novel is normally between 80,000 and 100,000 words. A category novel (such as the one published by Harlequin) is generally shorter, and each “print” has its own criteria. Before you start writing, make sure you know which print you are targeting.

Subgenres of romance include: women’s fiction, regency, historical, fantasy/science fiction, contemporary, Christian, time travel, paranormal, erotica, and more.

The Rules of Historical Fiction Genre NovelsResearch and attention to detail are paramount in historical fiction. Characters must behave in accordance with the times. Plots can be “big” (with lots of strong characters and tackling large or complex problems). Some historians are part of a saga (a series of books that span generations within a family or many characters).

How long is a historical novel? A standalone historical book can contain 85,000 to 100,000 words. Publishing a book longer than 100,000 words is difficult (especially for beginners), but historical novels are sometimes longer.

The rules of mystery genre novels Pay special attention to plot and pacing in this genre. Introduce the murder or crime early and examine the methods by which the crime was committed. Investigate forensics, criminal justice, and detective proceedings to lend credibility.

How long does a mystery novel last? Mysteries vary in length. Standalone mysteries (which may have some overlap with thrillers) can contain between 75,000 and 100,000 words. Cozy mysteries, like those in a series, are often on the short side.

Mystery sub-genres include: crime, hard-boiled, true crime, sociable, amateur detective, supernatural, police procedural, and more.

The rules of thriller genre novels The emphasis in thrillers is on strong characters, action and fast pace. Thrillers often show obvious antagonists and protagonists. Thrillers can be graphic and grainy or somewhat tamer. The focus is always on tension.

How long is a thriller novel? Thriller novels generally contain between 90,000 and 100,000 words (loosely), but they can also be slightly longer.

Thriller sub-genres include: conspiracy, crime, action, politics, disaster, erotica, eco, legal, and more.

The rules of horror genre novels Fears and phobias play on the emotions of the reader in this genre. There is often a supernatural and paranormal element, but as always steer clear of clichés.

Horror novels vary in length and are generally between 80,000 and 100,000 words.

Sub-genres of horror include: ghost, erotic, psychological, body horror, weird menace, occult detective, and more.

The Rules of Young Adult (YA) Genre Novels Young adult (YA) fiction focuses on boys and girls between the ages of 12-18. The tone, style and content of YA novels changes depending on the specific age of the target audience. The genre can tackle G-rated issues or it can be very sharp.

In general, YA books are between 40,000 and 75,000 words, depending on the target age group.

“Edgy” YA tackles controversial or difficult topics. Furthermore, sub-genres of YA are the same as sub-genres of adult fiction.

The Rules of Western Genre Novels Westerns must be placed west of the Mississippi River before the year 1900. Historical details must be accurate. Westerns are very specific and specialized, but make sure you don’t rely on clichés!

How long is a western book? Westerns tend to be on the short side, somewhere between 45,000 and 75,000 words (loosely).

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