To think I wrote about chapter length before indicting novel length.
There are several different length consideration age groups: baby, picture, chapter books, middle grade, young adult, adult, graphic novel.
A baby book can contain no words. It is meant for babies to play with, eat, and just gain comfort and connection to books. They’re typically in cloth, cardboard, or plastic. They are not typical books. And the word count will be less than a hundred words (outside a note to parents).
Picture books are similar to baby books, but are out to teach the same age group about words and the act of using a book. So it’s the lowest “book” age group that looks like a book and acts like a book with cover and paper pages. The number of words can be low or high, but always on the shorter end. A thousand words is long for a picture book. Dr. Seuss has longer picture books that lean closer to chapter books. Piggie and Gerald are short on words many coming in less than a hundred words per book. Picture books fall into two broad categories: fiction and non-fiction. Fiction books offer a story. Non-fiction teaches basics like colors, animals, letters, etc.
Chapter books are a few thousand words long. They are set into chapters and are meant to be a more complex- even if simplistic- story for elementary level students. Chapter books really fall into fiction. This age level non-fiction is normally still picture books. Chapter book still have pictures, but they are black and white versus colored like most picture books are. They lean more toward sketches explaining the story a little more every few pages. Some chapter books have a picture on every page, but it doesn’t take up more than half the page when it does. Or it will be one full page picture and one full page text.
Middle Grade Chapter books are similar to the Elementary level chapter books, but with less pictures per text. The text is normally smaller. The lengths are starting to hit 10k words. It’s a more complex story. The age range is upper elementary and middle school students.
Young Adult hits between middle school and high school students. Normally it puts teenagers as the main character. It shouldn’t have more than one picture per chapter. The text is pretty much the same size as adult books. It can follow adult genre word counts. Young Adult is the first time the books are truly separated by genre. There are clear genre divides. The stories lean more on coming of age, puberty, emotional highs, and becoming an adult. Word counts depend on genre but hit between 40k and 90k words.
Adult books covers everyone else. The topics lean on having experience in life. There is a down to earth complexity to the work. The length range between 50k to 150k words. It depends on genre for the expectation.
That’s all for “novel” lengths, aka a complete book on its own.
There are different length categories for adult books; four big ones are flash fiction, short story, novella, novel.
Flash fiction should be less than a thousand words. Most put it to less than 500 words. Or a page print out. These can be classified as short story as well. But there is a special place in literature for flash fiction or super short stories.
Short stories are complete stories without being long enough to support a print book without adding a bunch of extra stuff. That would mean anything up to about 30k words in an adult book. It’s not a hard and fast rule.
Novellas can support a paperback on its own, but it would do better doubling up. These are really great for large print. They cover 30 to 50k words. Novellas can pretend to be novels and they do work as individual books.
Novels are the full length feature. Think of it this way: short stories are the half hour tv program; flash fiction are the ads between; novellas are the short movies or shows that cover two episodes; novels are full length movies.
How many words are used in each one? How many scenes? Think of the different options for age groups.
Some places to see genre length expectations:
Or you can search for it just as I did.
Nothing about length is a hard or fast rule. Nanowrimo picks 50k since it’s the low end for novels. There are “novels” that are less than 50k. People call them novels, so they are novels. It’s that simple. Our definitions change as time moves on.
A good book is a good book. A good story is a good story. Length and word count doesn’t matter as much as a completely told story.