How long is a novel, book, chapter or synopsis? & other questions


How long is a novel? How long is a book?

A short novel is 60,000 words long. A really dazzling literary debut could be a tad shorter than that, but golly gosh, you'd need to dazzle.

A novel of average length is anywhere between 75 – 120,000 words. Romantic fiction tends to be at the shorter end of this spectrum. Most thrillers will be at the longer end.

If your book is more than 120-150,000 words, then it's on the longer side, but nothing to worry about. Just check that you have pruned your word count as rigorously as you can.

Any book in the range of 150-180,000 words is a long one, and needs to work hard to justify its length.

Anything over 180,000 words is really testing the patience of agents and may well make it harder to place.

Anything over 200,000 words is almost certainly suicidally long.

Of course, all this applies to adult fiction. Children’s novels must be shorter than this: it would be very hard to sell any children’s novel of more than 100,000 words. A teen novel could creep over this, but not by much, please. The best way to check if your particular kids' novel is the right length is to buy suitable comparisons and check approximate word counts. Do not use the Harry Potter novels as a comparison! They don't count, unless your name is Rowling.

If your MS is non-fiction, then true life memoir normally runs to 70-90,000 words. Humour and gift books are often short (70,000 words or less.) More meaty works on more serious subject can weigh in at 200,000 words or more . .  but in those cases, you probably need a serious academic platform or similar to persuade a publisher to commit to your cause.

How long is a chapter in a novel or book?

A typical chapter for a typical novel might be around 3,000 words, but the figure is highly variable.

The author of this particular advice page is a novelist whose average chapter lengths are often more like 1500 words, and yet he's sold a book or two in his time. We also know writers who like chapters of 10 or even 15,000 words.

And, of course, you don't need chapters at all.

In short: don't worry about this question, it just doesn't matter. Do whatever feels right for your book.

How long is a novel synopsis?

Again, this is variable and a few agents do advise quite quirky lengths. But you can't really go wrong if you aim for 500-800 words and, for sure, keep the thing to less than 1,000 words.

Agents asking for a 1 page synopsis are being unrealistic. Anyone who wants more than 1000 words doesn't know what a synopsis is.

How long is a non-fiction book proposal?

Again, it depends on the project.

In pretty much all cases of such proposals, you will need to provide about 2-5,000 words of introductory material that would include

  • a kind of salesplan for the book (why your book is needed, why the current market doesn't satisfy that need, what the key comparison texts are. Also any relevant demographic / online activity / other sales data.)
  • A description of your expertise ('authority')
  • A description of social/online/real-world platform. [NB: most agents will expect impressive credentials either as regards your expertise or as regards your platform . . .  and ideally both!]
  • A manifesto for the book - quite likely the introduction as it would appear in the final book.
  • a detailed outline of what you intend to write about

In most cases, you will also need to provide:

  • About 10,000 words of sample text, essentially to prove that you can write accessibly, intelligently and well.

Where the text is narrow and subject-specific ('How to Groom your Poodle'), you probably don't need to provide all 10,000 words if your authority is obvious. This author once sold two books on the basis of a proposal only and without including any sample material at all.

What are my chances of success?

In a word: small.

A leading agent will probably receive 2000 manuscripts a year, and take on a maximum of 2 new authors – giving authors a success rate of rather less than 0.1%. The good news is leading agents do generally expect to be successful in selling the work of new clients. In other words, the toughest hurdle is getting an agent. If you clear that obstacle, you have an excellent chance of finding a publisher.

Less well known agents will take on more clients than this – but they are also liable to be less successful in securing a publishing deal. In this game, there are no easy options.

One thing is for sure, though: you do need to make sure you send your work to enough agents. Don’t send it to one or two. Send it to ten or twelve. For more tips on finding agents, see How to find an Agent.

Also, bear in mind that focusing on the odds is somewhat misleading. Manuscripts aren't rejected because their winning number doesn't come up in a lottery. They are rejected because they're not strong enough to sell in a competitive market. So - make your manuscript good enough (perhaps with help from us) and you won't face that problem.


How long does everything take?

Hard to answer. Some books are taken on by an agent very quickly indeed (2-3 weeks). Other times the search can easily take a year. Writing an excellent, well-presented manuscript and making multiple submissions is the best way to avoid taking for ever.

Once you have an agent, getting a publisher can be very fast - a matter of 3-4 weeks - but can be much slower too (say a year). The better & more commercial the book, the faster the sales process is likely to be.

Finally, once you have a book deal, then expect 1 year - 18 months for the book to be on the shelves. Sounds ludicrously long, but it's true. Some books might get onto the shelves in just six  months, but that would be very fast indeed - not something we've ever come across ourselves.


How much do authors earn?

Very little! The latest data from the ALCS suggests that the median professional author (that is, writers who make 70% or more of their income from writing) earned just £11,000 in 2013. That's way below a meaningful living wage. What's more, that income has been declining steadily since 2000 and there are no signs of a turnaround just yet.

If that's depressing, then remember that some writers have done quite well for themselves. More to the point, perhaps, writing is (or should be) fabulously enjoyable. It's not work, it's a game - and we get paid to play it.