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My friend is a literary agent who mostly works with YA novels, but she told me recently that I should aim for about 75,000 words for my book, which I'm currently speccing out as a romance novel or maybe chick-lit, depending on how the genre-bending shakes out. (Her numbers are 250 words per page, and about 250 pages.)

However, going by the books I've enjoyed most, single-title romances tend to be 350 words per page and 350-375 pages. This comes out to over 100,000 words per book!

I know category romances (Harlequins, Mills & Boon books) are much shorter -- usually about 150 pages and about 50,000 words long -- but are single-title books really that short? To put it another way: what's the accepted wordcount range for a single-title romance novel?

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    I suspect you may be mixing up manuscript pages - the industry standard format is double-spaced, one-inch margins, weighing in at about 250 words a page - and pages in a book, which come out various word counts, depending on how the book is typeset. – Neil Fein Oct 12 '12 at 3:06
  • @NeilFein Oh, hey, that's totally possible! But it still doesn't explain the discrepancy between 250x250 and 350x375 in print! Even allowing for 350x350, for blank pages, chapter endings/beginnings, etc, that's still substantially higher a wordcount. – Aarthi Oct 12 '12 at 4:00
  • Yep, that's why I didn't answer the question; I'll leave this to those more knowledgable in the wars of romance novels to answer more definitively. But my best guess: While 100,000 words is on the long side for a novel, it's hardly unheard of. 75,000 is a good length for any novel. My knowledge of romances is limited to what my wife has lying around the house, but not many of them seem to be thick enough to hit 100,000 words. – Neil Fein Oct 12 '12 at 5:27
  • You seem to have lots of interesting friends ;P – user3348 Oct 15 '12 at 10:46
  • The whole business about page counts comes from the days when manuscripts were prepared on typewriters and counting individual words would have been laborious. Therefore word counts were estimated based on a standard manuscript page using the standard format of double spaced typed pages with one inch margins, which was calculated at about 250 words per page. It has nothing to do with the number of pages in a published book. Today we write in word processors that can count words. Go by the word processor's word count and ignore page counts altogether. – Mark Baker Jul 2 '17 at 12:56
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Your novel should be as long as it needs to be. Not shorter, not longer. Too vague? Well, that's writing ;)

Honestly I think we already answered this question, but I can't find it. To summarize out of my head:

  • A novel starts around 50,000 words. That's a widely accepted figure no matter what genre you write in.
  • Write, don't care about word limits. If you think all the time "Oh, I have to add something here, do that to reach [enter arbitrary word limit here]" then you only will achieve one thing: messing up your story
  • Check the market. If you really want to know what's the general word length of a romance novel, look at what's published. Do not stop at the books you enjoyed. Assuming that word count has anything to do with it, is a sure road to a writing disaster.
  • If a literary agent tells you to aim for 75,000 words, it is very likely that she told you a mean value (surprise: 75,000 is in the middle between 50,000 and 100,000).

So the ultimate answer to your question is:

The accepted word count range for a single-title romance novel is whatever your readers buy.

  • +1 for "Your novel should be as long as it needs to be." I think that's exactly the point. – Alenanno Oct 12 '12 at 15:14
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    This is not an answer to my question. Regardless of how long my book wants to be, there's still an industry-standard range of wordcount/pagenumbers given how (as I mentioned in my question text) most of the novels I've most enjoyed ran long. This is a platitude, not a response to what I asked. – Aarthi Oct 13 '12 at 4:25
  • @Aarthi, you are wrong, there is no standard range. If it sells, it sells, if it doesn't, it doesn't. I tried to show you, that you ask the wrong question. If you think you have to meet an arbitrary word count, then you are on a road of suffering. Your choice. My answer stands. – John Smithers Oct 13 '12 at 10:53
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    I think John Smithers gave you a thoughtful and thorough answer Aarthi. You should consider what he is saying. Tell your story without fillers, and if it is a novel or novella and you tell it well then you have a chance at success. If you are so stuck on an exact number, you have a long way to go as a mature writer. Good Luck. – user6867 Feb 3 '14 at 0:57
  • @JohnSmithers Publishing is a commercial enterprise. They know very well the economics of word counts for each genre -- what they cost to produce and where the sweet spot is in terms of sales. Exceptional works and the works of well known authors may be accepted outside these ranges because they are confident of exceptional sales, but ordinary middle of the road genre work is going to be a very tough sell outside the prescribed word ranges. – Mark Baker Jul 2 '17 at 13:00
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Publishing is a risky business. Publishers lose money on a lot of the titles they publish and new authors are a much greater risk than established ones. The longer a book, the more it costs to produce, and therefore the greater the loss if it does not sell. Therefore publishers look for books from first authors that fit into fairly narrow page range limits that they know have the best chance of selling in their genre while keeping the risks lower.

These length vary by genre and may vary over time as well. Lots of agents and organizations like Writer's digest publish the lengths are are currently selling best in every genre. It is best to consult the specific market you want to sell to to find out what they are taking at the moment.

Can you sell outside these ranges? Certainly you can, but in that case there needs to be some factor that offsets the risk you are asking the publisher to take, such as a work of exceptional quality or already having an established name or platform that will guarantee a certain level of sales.

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