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