Genre Novels – Word Count Rules, Subgenres, and Guidelines For Getting Your Book Published


Wondering “How long is my book? How long should my book be? What genre is my book or novel?” Keep reading. If you have written a novel, use this article to be sure that your book meets the basic guidelines of literary agents and book publishers. You will be more likely to be published if your book follows the “rules” of your genre (whether romance, thriller, Western, fantasy, young adult, historical, or horror).

Disclaimer: Keep in mind that the information below is an overview of guidelines. For the best results always research specific information about your project.

The Rules Of Fantasy Genre Novels Fantasy is generally about world building (creating alternative worlds). Avoid clichés in your characterization, and let your major themes be strong yet subtle. Always research publisher guidelines: One publishing house states caveats such as “no time machines, please.”

 Fantasy novels can contain between 80,000 and 150,000 words (approximately). Fantasy novels can be a little longer than other novels, and they are sometimes serialized.

Subgenres of fantasy include: high, fantasy of manners, alternate history, dark, historical, steampunk, urban, wuxia, and more.

The Rules Of Romance Genre Novels A romance usually emphasizes the heroine’s perspective, and the reader should be drawn into the love story. Romances end with a happily ever after of some kind.

How long is a romance novel? A stand-alone romance novel is normally between 80,000 and 100,000 words. A category romance novel (like those published by Harlequin) is generally shorter, and each “imprint” will have its own criteria. Be sure you know what imprint you’re targeting before you start writing.

Subgenres of romance include: women’s fiction, Regency, historical, fantasy/science fiction, contemporary, Christian, time travel, paranormal, erotica, and more.

The Rules Of Historical Fiction Genre NovelsResearch and attention to detail are of top importance in historical fiction. Characters must behave in accordance with the times. Plots can be “big” (featuring many strong characters and tackling big or complex issues). Some historicals are part of a saga (a series of books that covers generations within a family or many characters).

How long is a historical novel? A stand-alone historical book may be 85,000 to 100,000 words. Publishing a book longer than 100,000 words is difficult (especially for first-timers), but historical novels are sometimes longer.

The Rules Of Mystery Genre Novels Pay special attention to plot and pacing in this genre. Introduce the murder or the crime early, and research the methods by which the crime was committed. Research forensics, criminal justice, and detective procedures to lend credibility.


How long is a mystery novel? Mysteries vary in length. Stand-alone mysteries (which may have some overlap with thrillers) may be between 75,000 and 100,000 words. Cozy mysteries, like those in a series, are often on the shorter side.

Subgenres of mystery include: crime, hardboiled, true crime, cozy, amateur sleuth, supernatural, police procedural, and more.

The Rules Of Thriller Genre Novels Emphasis in thrillers is on strong characters, action, and fast pacing. Thrillers often show clear antagonists and protagonists. Thrillers can be graphic and gritty or somewhat tamer. Focus is always on suspense. 

How long is a thriller novel? Thriller novels generally run between 90,000 to 100,000 words (loosely), but they can be a little longer as well.

Subgenres of thrillers include: conspiracy, crime, action, political, disaster, erotica, eco, legal, and more.

The Rules Of Horror Genre Novels Fears and phobias play into the reader’s emotions in this genre. There is often a supernatural and paranormal element, but as always, steer clear of clichés.

Horror novels vary in length and are generally between 80,000 and 100,000 words.

Subgenres of horror include: ghost, erotic, psychological, body horror, weird menace, occult detective, and more.

The Rules Of Young Adult (YA) Genre Novels Young adult (YA) fiction targets boys and girls between the ages of 12-18. The tone, style, and content of YA novels changes depending on the specific age of the target audience. The genre can tackle G-rated issues or it can be very edgy.

 Generally, YA books run between 40,000 and 75,000 words, depending on the target age group.

“Edgy” YA tackles controversial or difficult topics. Otherwise, subgenres of YA are the same as subgenres of adult fiction.

The Rules Of Western Genre Novels Westerns should be set west of the Mississippi River and before the year 1900. Historical details must be accurate. Westerns are very specific and specialized, but be sure that you’re not relying on clichés!

How long is a Western book? Westerns tend to be on the shorter side, anywhere from 45,000 to 75,000 words (loosely).

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Ronnie Smith


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