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Page Counts and Word Counts by Literary Genre

Many websites give rough estimates of the number of pages or words in novels of various literary genres, but accurate, data-based statistics are difficult to find. Here's a breakdown of some stats I calculated for eight of the top literary genres, based on the analysis of thousands of published novels.

How many words in a novel?

number of words in a novel by genre

Here's the same data in tabular form:

GenreNumber of words (interquartile range)
western63k-110k
literary fiction67k-134k
science fiction69k-138k
thrillers77k-127k
mystery and crime78k-127k
romance86k-127k
fantasy85k-155k
historical100k-188k

How many pages in a novel?

GenreNumber of pages (interquartile range)
western230-384
literary fiction244-454
science fiction253-465
thrillers279-432
mystery and crime283-432
romance309-432
fantasy304-512
historical352-600

Average number of words per printed page: 293.

How to interpret the data?

The quoted values are the "Interquartile range". This means that the "middle" or "typical" 50% of books in the genre fall into this range.

Typical word counts vary greatly among different literary genres, from short, sharp westerns to sprawling historical novels. Some genres (fantasy, historical, science fiction and literary fiction) cover a broad range of word count values, and historical novels in particular can be extremely long. Romance, thrillers, westerns and crime fiction have a narrower range of values, reflecting the stricter word-count conventions that often apply to these genres.

Of course, many classics in each genre don't follow convention. For example, at 418k words, Gone with the Wind falls well outside the typical range of values for a romance novel. Nevertheless, these statistics provide a good guideline of the word-count range to aim for, especially for a first novel. Publishers tend to be less willing to take a risk on an atypical word count when it comes from an unknown author!

Where does the data come from?

Page counts were obtained from the Goodreads website. For each genre, I took the first ≈400 novels from reader-voted lists of the top novels in that genre,1 e.g. The Best Fantasy Books, All Time Favorite Romance Novels, etc.

Notes: I removed entries that were not single novels, such as anthologies, poetry collections, or entire series of books collected in one volume/one Goodreads entry. I also removed books listed as having 0 pages.

Total number of novels included in the study: 3200

So far so good! However, when discussing unpublished manuscripts, English-speaking writers and editors usually count words and not pages, so I also wanted to look at the number of words per novel. It's not easy to get hold of hard data on that. In general, publishers are reluctant to release this information.

To convert from page counts to word counts, we need to know how many words per page each book has. In practice, the number of words per page in a printed book varies according to the length of the book. For very long books, publishers tend to use smaller typeface and a higher number of words per page in order to reduce the total number of pages in the book. This keeps printing costs down, and it means the reader doesn't have to lug around an enormous printed tome. Meanwhile, shorter books tend to have larger typeface and a lower number of words per page. Moreover, different editions of the same book can have completely different words-per-page values.

Because of this variation in the number of words per page across published novels, I didn't want to use an average value (such as the oft-quoted industry standard of 300 words per page) to convert from page counts to word counts. This would have lead to inaccurate word counts. Instead, I pieced together exact word counts for ≈100 novels and crossed this with the Goodreads data. I then constructed a mathematical model based on this data, allowing me to predict the words-per-page conversion factor for each individual book in the 3200-book dataset.

For more information on the technical side of things, see my more detailed blog entry.

Notes and footnotes

1. #

  • 'romance': 'https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/12362.All_Time_Favorite_Romance_Novels',
  • 'science fiction': 'https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/19341.Best_Science_Fiction',
  • 'fantasy': 'https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/728.The_Best_Fantasy_Books',
  • 'western': 'https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/1243.Best_Westerns',
  • 'literary fiction': 'https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/1425.Best_Literary_Fiction_',
  • 'thrillers': 'https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/1112.Best_Thrillers',
  • 'mystery and crime': 'https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/11.Best_Crime_Mystery_Books',
  • 'historical': 'https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/15.Best_Historical_Fiction',

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