Before the advent of ebooks, modern fiction writers concerned themselves chiefly with two lengths: long (novels) and short (short stories).
With the advent of digital publishing, the terms novella and novelette have taken on a new significance.
In the 17th century, the word novel referred to a book-length story shorter than a romance. Indeed, the English word novel derives from an Italian word for a short story: novella, a term Boccaccio used in reference to the short stories collected in the Decameron. At first, novel and novella were used interchangeably in English to describe a short fictitious narrative. Nowadays, a novel is longer than a novella:
novel noun: an invented prose narrative of considerable length and a certain complexity that deals imaginatively with human experience through a connected sequence of events involving a group of persons in a specific setting.
How long is “considerable length”?
On average, a printed novel contains about 80,000 words. For some genres, like mystery, the minimum may go as low as 40,000 in the guidelines for some contests, but 60,000 is probably a more marketable length.
In the old days, writers estimated word count by figuring 250 words per page. According to this way of calculating, a 70,000-word book corresponds to about 175 printed pages; one with 125,000 words, 312 pages. Now, word processors keep a running total for the writer.
NOTE: A printed paperback may have as many as 400 words per page, depending upon font size and book dimensions.
Length matters in a book that has a spine to which pages must be attached. Print publishers rarely accept books that are excessively short or excessively long. Digital publishing, on the other hand, is not constrained by size.
Although popular wisdom suggests that people who read ebooks prefer them short, Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, analyzed a thousand of his best-selling books “across all genres and categories” and discovered that the top fifty sellers published via Smashwords average 106,000 words in length.
Some readers love long novels; others don’t. Novelists who publish digitally can help readers find what they are looking for by categorizing their works according to length:
novel: 60,000 words and above
novella: 20,000 to 50,000 words
novelette: 7,500 to 20,000 words
Here are five recent fiction titles and the number of pages they have in paperback:
Sycamore Row, John Grisham (642 pages)
The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd paperback (384 pages)
Concealed in Death, Nora Roberts/J. D. Robb (384 pages)
Reviva,l Stephen King (416 pages)
The Burning Room, Michael Connelly (400 pages)