Throwback Thursday: Word Counts…and What’s a Novelette?

Happy Thursday! Thanks again to all of you who left comments yesterday about free/cheap books–it’s given me some food for thought as I ponder ways to get my books in front of more readers. It also helped me differentiate between a limited-time price cut and a “perma-free” book. I also will take advantage of a limited-time daily deal, for example–I bought the whole Song of Ice and Fire series on a bundled daily deal….and I’ve read every blasted ten-thousand words of it. LOL.

I was digging around in my blog archives and thought I’d start pulling some old material to update–below is a blog from 2009 about the length of books. I was still waiting (and would be waiting for about 2-1/2 more years) for ROYAL STREET to come out and wrote more blogs about writing craft in those days. At the time i wrote this, in mid-December, I was struggling with a new novel I had written that I knew needed to be at least 90,000 words long; that’s the “sweet spot” for adult novels. I mean, I was STRUGGLING. I wrote “the end” and it was 52,000 words. Anyone guess which novel this ended up being? I’ll tell you at the end.

So…What differentiates a short-short from a short story from a novelette from a novel? We’re seeing a lot more short digital books these days and it can be helpful to understand how the industry defines them….


At least in fiction, it does. Writers spend a lot of time staring at the small writing in the bottom left corner of our Microsoft Word documents. Word count. In general:

Less than 1,000 words=short short

1,000-5,000 words=short story

5,000-10,000 words= novelette

10,000-25,000 words=novella

50,000 words and up=novel

So, you might ask, what is that black hole between 25,000 words and 50,000? Hell if I know.

Otherwise, you’re in rewrite hell. Which is the real estate I am currently occupying with my work in progress.

It was 52,000 words when I wrote “The End,” so I added a couple of chapters. Now, it’s 62,000 words.

My great swampy middle, as novelist Jim Butcher calls it, needs more swamp. I hate swamp. The journalist in me feels creating swamp is just wrong. We pare sentences down to bare bones and edit things within an inch of their very existence.

So now I’m creating another subplot and trying to weave it into the swamp. Is it enough to add at least 18,000 words? Probably not. I hate swamps.

* * * * *

So, what was that troublesome book? It became REDEMPTION, first in the Penton Legacy series, and finally clocked in at about 96,000 words!

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About Suzanne Johnson

Author of urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and suspense. As Suzanne Johnson, she is the author of the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series (Royal Street; River Road: Elysian Fields, Pirate's Alley, Belle Chasse, Frenchmen Street (March 2018). Writing as Susannah Sandlin, she is the author of the Penton Legacy series (Redemption; Absolution; Omega; Storm Force; Allegiance; ILLUMINATION); The Collectors series (Lovely, Dark, and Deep; Deadly, Calm, and Cold); and the Wilds of the Bayou series (Wild Man's Curse; Black Diamond).

4 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday: Word Counts…and What’s a Novelette?

  1. I think it is helpful that there is a word count guideline but i really have never been too interested in how many words in a book that I buy. If you write it, I will buy it. The words, “The End”, always come too early.

  2. LOL, thanks, Roger! I almost always hit that 90k mark with novels, although BLACK DIAMOND came in a bit shorter. I have the biggest problem with novellas….which I’m trying to write now.

  3. usefull to know those ” categories” but honestly when i love an author or story i don’t check teh number of words