Infographic: Readers like it long

A question that comes up often in writing groups is “how long should my novel be?”

There are various guidelines that define how many words should be in a novel by genre, and lots of stories about publishers who will not print anything over 120 000. You can understand why – that’s a lot of paper, ink and binding if you’re uncertain the thing will sell.

As my NanoNovel is now at 140 000 and growing, I decided to look into the length of the best sellers of all time.

Method: Nielson released a list based on the point of sales data from over 31 500 bookshops in the UK and I picked out the top 30 of those. I found out wordcount mostly through Google and Wikipedia, so the numbers are rough but serve as an indication.

Here’s what I found:

word-counts

According to the Nielson list, The Da Vinci Code has sold over  5 094 805 copies. A Thousand Splendid Suns, coming in at number 30, has sold 1 583 992. Both of these books are over 120 000 words long. In fact 18/30 on the list are.

Here they are listed by length:

word-counts-by-size

What’s more, the five authors who appear most frequently on this list consistently write over 140 000. Here they are by average word count for books on this list.

word-counts-per-author

So I guess the lesson is write what the story needs, no more no less.

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