Genre novels – what are they and how long are they?

Publishers and agents like to categorise novels into genre. Partly so they know which shelf to put your book on at the library/bookshop. Genre refers to the type of story you’re writing. Here are some of the most popular genres and some very ballpark figures on how long they are.

  • Romance: quite a broad spectrum, ranging from Mills & Boon category romance (Approx 55,000 words) to more mainstream romance. (Approx 90,000).
  • Thriller: covers crime, psychological, cosy, political. (Approx 90.000).
  • Historical: Period stories. (Can be 120,000 plus).
  • Sagas: Multigenerational stories. (Can be 120,000 plus).
  • Fantasy/Sci fi: Includes other worlds, past, present and future. (Can be 120,000 plus).
  • Timeslip: (Can be 120,000 plus).
  • Erotica: Includes all genres, from mainstream to niche. (55,000 plus).
  • Literary: (practically any length – depending on publisher).
  • Commercial Women’s Fiction: a catch all for anything that doesn’t come under another category. (80,000 plus).

I should also mention children’s and YA which isn’t a genre exactly but is a law unto itself. Length depends on age group and publisher.

The above list is not exhaustive. It’s simply meant as a very general guide. Publishers will usually state what lengths and genre types they are interested in receiving.

Digital publishing means that there is a great deal more flexibility than there used to be because the cost of printing doesn’t govern the length of a novel. Many publishers today will consider novels from 55,000 upwards and this was once thought to be too short (except for category romance).

It’s usually easier to sell a novel that fits into a genre because publishers see the market as being more defined. Readers of sci-fi like to read sci-fi. Readers of crime like to read crime. However there are, of course, elements of romance in most of the other categories. It’s hard to avoid as it’s so much a part of the human condition!

A true cross genre novel, for example, a psychological thriller cross fantasy tends to be much harder to sell.

Also, interestingly, although publishers don’t want to buy them, it’s very often a cross genre novel that will become an out of left field bestseller. Fifty Shades of Grey was (in my opinion) category romance plus bondage! Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke was historical plus magic/fantasy.

As writers it’s probably better to know our genre and try to stay somewhere within it. However, I also think that we should write what we feel most passionate about and not follow too many rules. Phew! Did I mention it was complicated!

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2 Responses to Genre novels – what are they and how long are they?

  1. Hi Della – here’s a voice from the past! A very helpful guide, this, but I didn’t know my genre had been re-categorised as Thrillers. It’s always been “Crime” before, which encompassed thrillers and all the others – and thank you for spelling “cosy” properly.

    • Della Galton says:

      oh blimey, Lesley, yes thanks for pointing that one out. I should have put them separately really. I blame lack of space! I should have put comic novels too. I’m sure someone is going to point that one out. 🙂 Lovely to virtually see you by the way. Are you going to any conferences this year? Might we meet?

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