I intended to follow that up the next week with more information about the subject, with definitions of these classifications, and a word count breakdown by genre.
However, I became distracted by the issue of copyright and pirates books. Instead, I wrote Help Authors Protect Copyright and asked concerned readers and writers to send an email letter to their elected representatives about supporting copyright.
Word Count Recap
Adult Trade Fiction
Micro-Fiction: about 100 words
Flash Fiction: 100--1,000 words
Short Story: 1,000--7,500 words
Novelette: 7,500--20,000 words
Novella: 20,000--50,000 words
Epic Novel: 110,000+ words
Middle Grade: 25,000--40,000
Young Adult (YA): 45,000--80,000 (genre dependent)
Word Count and YA
Ever since Harry Potter in Juvenile Fiction and Twilight in Young Adult, these two, sometimes viewed almost as one--a hybrid combining elements of both, with the intention of attracting older juvenile readers and younger YA readers--have been smoking hot with readers and writers.
Because of this "hot" factor, YA, and I'm talking big book, mainstream YA, usually fantasy or paranormal, sometimes runs as long as 120,000 words. With print publishing, editors don't like to see books of that length because anything above 100,000 words, which is what most presses are set at, increase costs.
So word length in this segment of YA truly depends on the story. If you can spin a tale as delightful as J. K. Rowling, then don't sacrifice word length because you think it's got to come in at 100K.
Best practice if you're a newbie is to shoot for 80,000 to 100,000.
Word Count and Romance
In romance, with an established category house like Harlequin, word count is very specific because of how their presses are set. The different category romance lines have different word counts. These can be found in the guidelines at their website. Generally, category romance books are 55,000 to 75,000 words.
Books that are called Single Title Romance and Paranormal Romance are usually 85,000 to 100,000 words. The longer lengths are usually represented by established authors because of the higher production investment. If you're a first timer, they generally feel that shorter is safer. Again, it all depends on the book.
Word Count and Mystery
In the mystery genre, there are many publishers who offer a mystery line, much as Harlequin offers category romances. For example, Berkley has their Prime Crime; Harlequin has Worldwide Mystery.
Most mystery houses publish a set number of mystery books each month, i.e. Avalon, Five Star, Berkley Prime Crime, etc. These are often cozy mysteries, or PI, or police procedurals, or whatever the sub-genre might be. Generally, they run 65,000 to 90,000 words.
The popular blending of paranormal and mystery; mystery and hobby; and crime fiction and thrillers run about 75,000 to 90,000.
Word Count and Horror
With so many paranormal books, true horror has kind of taken a back seat. However, grab a book with horror on the spine, and you'll see the difference. These books are about the same length as single title romance and paranormal, weighing in at 80,000 to 100,000 words.
Word Count and Western
If you want to support a genre that truly needs it, buy a western. The western genre has been dying for the last 30 years. Now, it probably has the least rack space. Romance writers with their western historical romance books have filled the gap for a lot of western fans, but there are true western novels available. = 80k to 100k (Keep in mind that almost no editors are buying Westerns these days.)
Westerns come in many flavors from Classic to Contemporary to Revisionist and even to Horror Western. Western Writers of America has a great listing of some of the best of all the western sub-genres.
If you look at Kindle, you'll see the only listing for Western is under Kindle > Genre Fiction > Western > with only two final selections: Louis L'Amour and Pioneer. There's so much more! Maybe this should be the next hot genre? All it would take would be one stunning novel.
Word Count and Big Books
These are the James Patterson, Nora Roberts, Stephen King, and others written by "star" authors. Basically, they can be any length the author chooses, but generally speaking, they're in that single title word count range of 80,000 to 100,000.
So is Chick lit, whenever it's published by whatever is the nom du jour. The same is true for Mainstream, Thrillers, just about all Commercial fiction, and Literary novels although these have been decreasing a bit in word length over the last few years as has most commercial fiction.
Word Count and Science Fiction/Fantasy
If you write long, this should be your genre. Lots of sub-genres from which to choose. These editors like long books. Most of them will look at books as long as 120,000 words and up. Again, if you're established, then you have more leeway. Generally, 80,000 to 100,000.
Word Count and Ebooks
You might think that if you're writing and publishing ebooks that word count doesn't matter. Wrong! Don't lose sight of a very important fact: reader expectations. Readers know how long books should be. They know how long it takes them to read a typical mystery, romance, horror, science fiction, or whatever.
If they're reading a science fiction, and they finish it in one night, they're going to howl. They feel cheated because the book didn't last the usual 3 nights or whatever. Same with a romance novel. If a reader finishes it in an hour, they know it wasn't a full-length book. They feel cheated, and they may well take their ire out in the form of a nasty review.
Know what lengths "normal" print books are and aim for that range with your ebooks.
A smart writer must know past publishing standards because those have a bearing on satisfying reader expectations.