How Many Words in a Christian Book?

How Many Words Make a Book?
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How Many Words Make a Book?

Diary of Leo Tolstoy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

New Christian writers often ask how many words their book should contain. That answer is not as easy as it used to be. Times are changing and people are busier and attention spans seem to be shorter. The old norms no longer apply.

Word Count as it Used to Be

The epic War and Peace (1869) by Russian author Leo Tolstoy is 565,146 words in the English edition.

American author John Steinbeck used 179,148 words to craft the classic Grapes of Wrath (1939).

The Di Vinci Code (2003) by Dan Brown is 138,380 words.

Christian Book Word Count

Christian fiction is lightweight by comparison. The grandfather of modern Christian fiction, In His Steps by Charles M. Sheldon, is 82,233 words long.

The Left Behind Series (original books, not including the prequel, 1995-2007) by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins started strongly but weakened, along with the plots, over time. The first volume (Left Behind) had 109,519 words. Over time, the word count diminished and Volume 8 (The Mark) contained only 85,341 words, and the last volume, number 16 (Kingdom Come), dwindled to 77,776 words.

The popular book The Noticer (2009) by Andy Andrews barely breaks the novel barrier at 40,454 words without the Reader’s Guide that was added to pad the book. Historically, fiction of 40,000 or fewer words is considered a novella, not a novel.

Christian Romance Novels

We generally expect romance novels to be around 100,000 words long.

Among Christian writers, Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love (2007) is 138,216 words. Love’s Abiding Joy (2003) by Janette Oke, aimed at a younger audience perhaps, is half that length at 65,668 words.

Christian Nonfiction

The range is wide open when it comes to nonfiction books in the Christian world. Rick Warren’s first big publishing success, The Purpose Driven Church (1995) was composed of 103,208 words.

The perennial favorite by Gary Chapman, The Five Love Languages (1995), comes in at only 46,145 words.

General Guide

Publishers ultimately decide what length is proper for a particular book. However, here are some guidelines you will find helpful.

Nonfiction book – 25,000- 150,000 words
Fiction – Novella – 18,000-40,000
Fiction – Novel – 40,000 – 150,000
Young Adult books – 25,000 – 75,000
Children’s books – 250 – 1000

How long should your book be? You want to keep within the guidelines because that meets both publisher and reader expectations. But remember what Ralph Waldo Emerson said about life in general: “It is not length of life, but depth of life.” The same idea applies to books.

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10 Responses

  1. Jason T. Menegio says:

    I have recently resurrected my writing, which I found to have missed tremendously. It just seems that life has the tendency to distract us from the things that really matter; that which produces life, happiness, joy, inspiration, etc…. I’ve been working on what started as a group of devotionals, but found—according to some publishers—that my word counts far exceeded what they were looking for (300-700). In turn, I decided they are more at length for articles or blogs running on average of about 1,200. Perhaps one day in the very distant future, they can develop into a nonfiction inspirational book or set of devotionals.

  2. I’m pushing to finish my contemporary Christian fiction novel first draft and was told 80,000 words max. I am currently close to 71K with four chapters to go which will take me over 80K. Your article says up to 150K which is great. So, I am okay with how things are progressing?

    • Donald L. Hughes says:

      Word count is never fixed. There are only word count ranges. However, shorter novels are preferred by most readers these days. Closer to 80,000 is best. Every page of a 150,000-word novel must be riveting to hold reader interest. Readers no longer tolerate novels that do not rapidly move the plot forward. Famous writer Elmore Leonard said, “Leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” Today, writers are wise to revise the first draft to make it a shorter, more dynamic book.

  3. Barbara Davis says:

    I am writing a Christian living book that I thought might be completed. The word count is comparatively small to what these guidelines state reaching just under 10,000. I am sending it to a friend for some editing and review. I guess she will let me know if the theme is carried through and on point enough. This is good information. 🙂

  4. Karen Sonnier says:

    I am writing and it about me and God and Jesus protecting me I only have 4000 words right now how many more is needed for publication

    • Donald L. Hughes says:

      Karen, it depends on where you are going to publish your story. If a blog post it could be 1,200-1,500 words. But as a nonfiction book, you’d want at least 40,000-50,000 words. Your 4,000 words might be a short story, but there are fewer opportunities for publication of such stories. Blessings on your efforts.

  5. Kat says:

    I am working on a book about my experience with losing a 9 year old cat to lymphoma. This blog helped me quite a bit. I know fiction works on average come in at 60,000 but I really had no idea about non fiction. I’m going to write about my experience and not worry too much about the word count. However I will try to bring it in around 60,000.

  6. Jessica says:

    Thank you! I was flipping out because my book, which might be about half over, maybe more so, I don’t know, is only 18000. I thought it had to be 40,000! But its for Young Adults, which I am. So I think 20-some thousand will be in reach. YAY!

  7. Grace says:

    Your blog is really helpful, I am trying to complete a christian book that will also have a Fantasy twist- like not harry potter , it will be realistic christian fantasy(if that even makes sense)
    i needed to know how many words equal a book- this was really helpful.

  8. Interesting post! I wonder if the trend is the same for all books–that the general trend is shorter.

    Victorian novels were short too, but they came in collections of three. So what we consider to be one volume today was actually published in shorter chunks.

    Dickens published serially as well.

    Maybe it is time to return to serial publication–a trio of 3 40,000 word novellas makes a book?

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