How Many Pages Should a Book Be?

One of the most frequent questions people making books ask is “How many pages should my book be?” The answer is, it depends on what kind of book you are making. Different books require different strategies when it comes to page count, word count, limits, and other elements that can affect those numbers such as paper type and materials. Let’s take a look at some popular book genres to see how each one measures up.

open book

Word count for novels

Let’s start with you writers out there. Instead of talking about page count, we can filter this through the concept of word count. There are exceptions to every rule, but a few common genres fall under the same guidelines for a book’s word count.

As a general rule, book genres like fiction, nonfiction, mystery, and romance will fall into the 80,000 to 90,000 word count range. Is there wiggle room? Sure! However, keep in mind that wiggle room on the short end, because books in the 70,000 to 80,000 word range might be viewed as too short. Although it could also mean you did a solid editing job and the book is finely tuned for delivery.

The same rules apply to the long end. If your book comes in with a higher than normal word count, something in the range of 90,000 to 100,000 words, it could be viewed as too long or poorly edited. Or it could mean that your one book might actually be better as two books. (Who doesn’t love a series?) And what about books with 110,000 or 120,000 words or more? In some cases, this means the book is simply too long and could actually cost too much to produce, although certain genres are given leeway in this regard (think fantasy books and epics).
In theory, the best thing to do is to concentrate on however many words or pages your book needs. That’s it. However, erring too far on the low end or the high end is going to reduce the chances of your book being considered. So try to keep your book’s word count in mind without completely allowing it to impact or alter your narrative or story.

Word count for mystery and romance novels

The sweet spot for mystery, romance, suspense, and horror novels is 70,000 to 90,000 words (200+ pages), because these books typically need to be page-turners. You want to keep readers engaged without giving away too much along the way. That range should give you enough space to set up a premise, establish character motives, and develop a suspenseful plot with surprising twists and clues—all essential qualities of a great mystery, romance, or thriller.

For new and emerging authors, it’s best to stick to the average book length until you get more writing and publishing experience under your belt. Cut it too short and your readers may feel like they’re missing something. Draw the story out too long and you might lose them. The more you write, the better you’ll get at finding the right formula for your work and learning which rules to bend. Mystery writer Agatha Christie is one of the best-selling novelists of all time, as the author of 66 detective novels—and many of her books are just 40,000 to 60,000 words long. Bottom line: experienced authors know their genre well and learn how to make page counts work to their advantage.

Word count for science fiction and fantasy

If you’re writing a science fiction or fantasy novel, your book could fall anywhere between 50,000 to 150,000 words—though 90,000 to 100,000 words (300 pages) is a good target. Books in the science fiction and fantasy genre encompass a broad range of page lengths because there are so many variations in plot structure, series format, and audience. For example, Ray Bradbury’s sci-fi classic Fahrenheit 451 is a fairly compact gem at around 46,000 words, while Stephen King’s dark fantasy The Stand runs a whopping 500,000 words.

Age and reader experience is certainly a factor. The average young adult fantasy book clocks in under 90,000 words, which is 300 pages or less. Many popular titles are even closer to 70,000 words. This is an ideal book length to capture the imagination of school-age readers, without becoming too tedious or cumbersome.

On the flip side, books in an adult epic fantasy series often reach up to 200,000 words. This sub-genre includes stories with extremely long plots that revolve around detailed world building, a large cast of characters, and a complex quest or adventure—all the territory of expert storytellers, like George R. R. Martin (A Game of Thrones) and J. R. R. Tolkien (The Lord of the Rings).

Page count for illustrated books

Now let’s talk about the photographers, designers, illustrators, and artists out there—those who are interested in creating an illustrated book. Illustrated books, in many ways, are entirely different from “written” books, although many of them also contain written sections. Some of these passages are brief and the word count is much less than those of a novel. They tend to come in the form of an essay, forward, preface, or dedication, while others have full body passages used in combination with the illustrations, oftentimes broken into chapters.

Historically, illustrated books have been much more expensive to produce, so things like page count become critical in keeping a book under budget. So how long should your illustrated book be? The best answer is a reflection of that for written books which is “just long enough to tell your story.” Editing your illustrated book is a critical part of the process. Editing ensures that you are only showing the most essential illustrations—those required to guide the reader through the narrative adventure you want them to take.

The length or page count of your illustrated book also depends on a variety of other factors including the physical form of the book itself. Material choices are critical as many illustrated books are viewed as art objects as much as books. Choices like cover type, paper type, the number of books you are printing, and customizations all combine to form an equation of book success or failure.

For example, you might desire a hardcover book, but you only have forty pages of illustrations. If you create this book it might feel like too much cover and not enough book. Opting for a softcover instead might not only allow for balance in how the book looks and feels, but also help you stay under budget. Another way to balance out the parts is to choose a suitable paper type. High-end, archival, fine-art papers tend to be thicker than standard papers, so even with a lower page count, you might actually get a thicker book that balances well with your subsequent material choices, while keeping your project under budget.

books stacked together

Page count for children’s books

Then there’s the colorful world of children’s books. No, you’re not imagining it—a lot of kids’ books are exactly 32 pages. That’s because these illustrated stories are usually produced in page-count multiples of eight. So, you’ll also find plenty of books with 24, 40, or 48 pages, and the occasional picture book with as few as 8 or 16 pages.

Of course this genre is unique because the drawings and imagery are so central, there’s usually only one or two lines of text per page. The shorter the book, the more this writers’ maxim applies: every word counts. You want to create a simple storyline with one or two primary characters, so storyboarding and editing your text carefully is key.

Understanding the importance of book length, page count, and setting a page limit will not only help you structure your story, but it can also make your book more appealing to readers. Like other genres, there are industry standards for children’s books, so adhering to the guidelines will help your book be more competitive in the ever-growing market of kid lit. If you’re counting words, aim for 500 to 600 words in a 32-page book. Anything over 1,000 words and the book might be a tough sell.

Final thoughts

There are a few more things that need to be said. First, self-publishing doesn’t mean you have to do everything by yourself. If you are uncertain about something, get a second opinion. And if you aren’t skilled in a particular area like editing or design, then think about hiring someone for their professional services who does possess those skills.

Finally, enjoy the process. Writing, photographing, or creating books (or self-publishing books) can be a complex process. But putting a book out into the world can be a life-changing experience. Books have been tied to human DNA since the invention of the printing press, and this reality shows no signs of slowing down. Happy bookmakers tend to be productive bookmakers, so don’t forget to have fun. It just might be the most important part.

Ready to make your own book? Layout your pages quickly and easily with our free desktop tool, BookWright. Start today!

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