This is a question that comes up fairly often when working with early writers. It is a deceptively simple question that’s historically had very little data to help answer it.
A common and generally unhelpful answer is, “As long as it needs to be.” It’s an answer that is not only hard to implement, but I believe it is also built on the somewhat flawed assumption that if you have to tell an author how long the book is supposed to be, they’re asking the wrong questions. Another common reference you’ll hear is that the average novel is roughly 100,000 words long, which is sometimes even true. In reality, book length is dependent on the genre you’re writing in. 100,000 words is about right for Literary Fiction, but is substantially off for Romance, and totally wrong for Humor.
Given the data that we work with every day, I wanted to contribute some concrete, objective data points to the conversation.
Below is a self-contained graphic (in case it needed to be printed) containing the average length of a book in several common genres contained in the 85,000+ titles in the Book Genome Project, such as Literary Fiction, Science Fiction, Romance, Fantasy, and Biography. These are objective data points regarding the average length of books on the market today, as represented by the Genome database.
So there you have it. Of the 16,284 Romance titles in our corpus, the average length is 76,000 words. Fantasy is the longest genre, on average, with 122,000 words per book.
First Person vs. Third Person Perspective:
We also pulled up a breakdown of those same genres by perspective, as you can see in the graphic, as well. This is another interesting writing style difference. The data we use is not really binary, but most books tend to be either overwhelmingly 1st person, or overwhelmingly 3rd person. Rarely do they fall in the middle (though it is possible).
In general, third person (he said/she said) is a more common form of perspective than first person (I said). Across the entire corpus (regardless of genre) 69% of the titles in our corpus were mostly or entirely third person, with only about 31% being first person. What is most interesting to me, though, is that there appears to be a strong genre preference/bias. Autobiographies & Biographies, for example, understandably contain more 1st person titles than any other genre.
The first person Romance title appears to be particularly rare, for example.
On a final thought, I’ll reiterate that this is NOT a statement of what length or perspective a book should be written in. We’re not making any qualitative statements in this data, only quantitative. It’s clear that more books in our database are written in third person perspective than in first person perspective, but we consider this more a statement of a genre’s expectation than anything else. If a Fantasy fan picks up a novel at random, it’s a fair expectation that it will be in 3rd person more often than 1st.
That said, as an author, it doesn’t hurt to be cognitively aware that your 1st person, 150,000 word Romance epic is going to be breaking the mold of what most Romance readers are used to. Way to think different.
Aaron – Founder and CEO