How Long is a Short Story or Novella? (Updated for 2023)
In book publishing, the average length of a novel will be influenced by its genre (sci-fi epics are much longer than romance novels, for example). Those averages are a reflection of publishing norms rather than any hard-and-fast rule. But with novellas, novelettes, short stories, word counts are crucial as they’re the only defining features of these formats.
In this post, we’ll show you how long a novella, novelette, and short story are — and reveal the word counts for popular examples of all three. But if all you're after is a quick answer, here they are:
- Novella: 17,500 – 40,000 words
- Novelette: 7,700 – 17,500 words
- Short Story: Less than 7,500 words
Why is word count so important?
‘Too long’ and ‘too short’ are rarely criticisms of a story's length but a comment on how well-written the piece is. There are 150,000-word epics that readers will effortlessly breeze through, and we’ve certainly read our fair share of short stories that seemingly drag on forever.
In writing a story, recommended word counts only really come into play when you’re weighing up your publishing options. For example, literary magazines typically have strict limits to the length of short stories they will print. After all, they have a limited number of pages for each issue (and their editors only have so many hours in the week to edit manuscripts).
Publishers can be fussy about word count
Novellas are usually sold at a lower price point than novels. This (combined with the fact that a 30,000-word book and an 80,000-word one cost roughly the same to edit, design, and market) means that editors at major presses are generally reluctant to take on novellas — and even less likely to seek out novelettes. The exception, of course, would be those written by established writers with an existing readership. For this reason, authors with traditional publishing aspirations are often discouraged from putting all their eggs in the novella basket.
In the world of indie publishing, where readers overwhelmingly buy ebooks, the distinction between a novel and novella, for example, is less crucial. As prospective readers can’t see how thick the spine of your book is, you don’t really have to label it as a novel, novella, or novelette.
In the next few sections, we’ll dash through the generally-accepted word counts for novellas, novelettes, and short stories.
Learn how to structure your words, however many they may be, with our free book development template.
How long is a novella?
A novella is a work of fiction with a word count between 17,500 words and 40,000 words. This range is commonly cited by literary organizations such as the Hugo and Nebula awards — both of which celebrate novellas in the science fiction genre (as well as fantasy, in the case of the Nebulas.
How long is a novelette?
A novelette is a work of fiction with a word count between 7,500 and 17,500 words. This range is also cited by the Hugo and Nebula awards criteria.
Many prominent works into this category were initially published in magazines of the late 19th and early 20th century. Perhaps considered short stories at the time, the most popular examples have since been reclassified and re-published as standalone books.
How long is a short story?
A short story is a work of fiction with fewer than 10,000 words. This word-count ceiling is somewhat fuzzy, however, with many major writing prizes and magazines requesting submissions of no more than 7,500 words.
In addition, there are subsets of short stories with even more restrictive word counts. For example, works under 1,500 words are commonly considered flash fiction.
Pro-tip: Interested in writing short stories? We recommend taking this free 10-day course taught by professional editor Laura Mae Isaacman.
Examples: How many words are in popular short stories, novelettes, and novellas?
Word count is merely a number. Many shorter works of fiction have made a cultural impact that far exceeds their modest length. In the sections below, we’ll reveal the number of words that make up some of the most popular books of all time.
Note: the listed word counts are approximate. In addition, there is also some debate around which category a few of the books belong to. As you’ll find out when you do your own research, what constitutes a short story, novelette or novella is not always cut-and-dry.
🏚️ The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe (11,000 words)
👹 The Call Of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft (12,000 words)
🌕 The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (17,000 words)
🗡️ The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (17,000 words)
🪲 The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (21,000 words)
💍 Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote (26,000 words)
👻 A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (28,000 words)
🐁 Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (29,000 words)
🐖 Animal Farm by George Orwell (30,000 words)
🚣♂️ Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (38,000 words)
🐘 “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway (1,500 words)
🎟️ “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson (3,000 words)
🐑 “Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl (4,000 words)
🗣️ “Woman Hollering Creek” by Sandra Cisneros (4,500 words)
💧 “Sweat” by Zora Neale Hurston (4,700 words)
🏊 “The Swimmer” by John Cheever (5,000 words)
🌼 “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (6,000 words)
👱🏼 “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor (6,500 words)
📍 “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates (7,000 words)
🐈 “Cat Person” by Kristen Roupenian (7,000 words)
🌎 “The Third and Final Continent” by Jhumpa Lahiri (7,700 words)
👒 “The Husband Stitch” by Carmen Maria Machado (8,000 words)
And there you have it — the long and short of how long and short these three types of story should be!