Well, it depends who you ask, really. The first draft of my novel was only 25 000 words. I know, not much of anything. But I thought I was done and that it could be considered a novella. I submitted it to a few publishers, a handful of agents, and, shocker, no one bit.
But one editor saw in it the bones for a good story, and she took the time to give me excellent and insightful feedback. And with her constructive criticism, I brought my manuscript up to over 45 000 words.
Now, if you do a little Google search, which I did, a novella is a story with a word count sitting anywhere between 10 000 to 40 000 words (according to http://www.masterclass.com). There is even such a thing as a novelette, a fictional story with a word count between 7 500 and 17 000 words. Now, good luck finding a publisher for a novelette!
Many sites consider a manuscript over 40 000 words to be a novel. A short one, mind you, but still, a novel. So I’m golden, right? Wrong. You see, my novel can fit in either of the two following categories: thriller or horror, but sometimes these categories are considered the same. Any publisher or literary agent worth their salt would tell you a novel in either of these two categories must be no shorter than 70 000 words and no more than 90 000 words. The Write Life happens to agree: How Many Words Are in a Novel? Plus Word Counts for 17 Other Types of Books (thewritelife.com) However, many other sites place horror novels in a category of their own, with such novels having a target word count between 40 000 to 80 000 words.
The sad thing is 40 000 words novels are hardly picked up because they are not considered marketable, especially for first-time authors. Many publishers won’t even take a look at a manuscript that is shorter than 50 000 words. And, again, I know what you are thinking. “Why, Tania, the solution is quite simple. Just write another 5 000 words, and you’re good. Voilà!” I wish!
The solution, I’m afraid, is far from being simple because my story is done! I can’t just add another 5 000 words just to fill out some quota! I started writing this story back in 2009 and left it in the oubliette for almost a decade. A few years ago, I picked it up again, worked on it, and reworked it and now it is what I humbly believe to be a good story.
This is the main reason why my novel will probably never get picked up by any publisher before my deadline of October 2021. And no, I don’t feel like working again on it to try and push it past the 50 000 word count threshold. Writing a story is a lot like following a recipe. Once you’re done, you’re done. There is no need to add anything extra because you might change the flavour, consistency, and appearance, and you might end up with something unappetizing.
But a word of advice for those just starting out to write their novel. Aim for that word count for the genre you are writing. Your life will be easier. Trust me.