, ,

I’ve wasted hours upon hours looking up word counts. Finally, I made a list. I want to share what I’ve found so that you won’t waste time looking yourself. Here are the numbers on highly-praised literary fiction, fantasy and science fiction. Now you won’t need to scour the web to find them again.

Literary Fiction

  • The Old Man and the Sea 27,000
  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens – 28,000
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell – 29,000
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck – 30,000
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – 47,000
  • Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut – 49,000
  • Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe – 50,000
  • The Bluest Eyes by Toni Morrison – 52,000
  • Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck – 55,000
  • As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner – 57,000
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy – 59,000
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding – 60,000
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Huston – 64,000
  • The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway – 68,000
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain – 68,000
  • Exit Ghost by Philip Roth – 68,000
  • The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro – 70,000
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger – 73,000
  • This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald – 80,000
  • A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway – 83,000
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison – 95,000
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro – 96,000
  • The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner – 97,000
  • To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee – 99,000
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini – 104,000
  • Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald – 104,000
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain – 106,000
  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini – 107,000
  • One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey – 108,000
  • The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald – 122,000
  • Atonement by Ian McEwan – 123,000
  • The Plot Against America by Philip Roth – 130,000
  • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens – 135,000
  • The Human Stain by Philip Roth – 137,000
  • Light in August by William Faulkner – 151,000
  • Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens – 156,000
  • White Teeth by Zadie Smith – 169,000
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck – 169,000
  • We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates – 172,000
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway – 174,000
  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller – 174,000
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – 183,000
  • Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides – 195,000
  • The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen – 197,000
  • Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson – 208,000
  • Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie – 209,000
  • Freedom by Jonathan Franzen – 210,000
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon – 216,000
  • East of Eden by John Steinbeck – 225,000
  • The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow – 248,000
  • David Copperfield by Charles Dickens – 339,000
  • Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell – 418,000

Fantasy and Science Fiction

  • The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis – 36,000
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – 46,000
  • I, Robot by Isaac Asimov – 69,000
  • The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker – 73,000
  • 1984 by George Orwell – 89,000
  • The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien – 95,000
  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card – 101,000
  • The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien – 116,000
  • World War Z by Max Brooks – 117,000
  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison – 177,000
  • A Game of Thrones (only book one) by George R.R. Martin – 293,000
  • The Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis – 294,000
  • The Hunger Games (trilogy) by Suzanne Collins – 302,000
  • His Dark Materials (trilogy) by Philip Pullman – 329,000
  • Lord of the Rings (trilogy) by J.R.R. Tolkien – 455,000
  • Harry Potter (seven-book series) by J.K. Rowling – 1,002,000

Note: All word counts are from Amazon or other online booksellers.

A note on distraction among writers

As a writer, there are infinite distractions that can keep me from putting words on a page. The same can be said of most hobbies and professions. We are easily kept from our work by excuses and diversions. You know what distracts you, and I know what distracts me.

I think writing in particular lends itself to distraction. At least the way I do it – I open a Word document or blog template and type away – there are opportunities to surf Wikipedia, read the news, watch YouTube, etc. And it’s not just the internet connection that’s the problem. Even if I wrote with pen and paper, I’d still be lured into people-watching, skimming books from my shelves, daydreaming, falling asleep. The list goes on.

While writing has become something of a habit for me, thus casting distractions a little farther away, the word count distraction keeps coming back.

I love to know the word counts of books and essays. Maybe it’s because I am data-driven or attracted to trivia, or just like to have a concrete number to say, “This is what I did today,” but I think the main reason is comparison. I like to know how long my pieces are, and juxtapose them against famous pieces.

For instance, I know that Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is only 30,000 words and Orwell’s Animal Farm is even less, so in my head I follow the twisted logic that goes If these short books earned such fame, surely I can write something of equivalent length and have a chance.

The same logic goes by genre. How long does a fantasy novel have to be to fit the mold? Science fiction? Literary? And by prestige: What is the average length of a New York Times bestseller? Or Newbery winner? Or Oprah Book Club book?

I know that none of this is important. Books should be judged by the quality of the story and storytelling, not the quantity of words and pages. It’s the nervous fear of Will I fit in? that just won’t go away. And, as much as word counts shouldn’t matter, anyone who has looked into publishing is aware of the numbers. Publishers are reluctant about first-time novels shorter than 80,000 words or longer than 120,000. (Interestingly, in the above list, only about 20 percent are in that range.) Fantasy and sci-fi should be longer. YA should be shorter. There are norms and expectations. The problem is that when we fixate on these norms and expectations, creativity is stifled, and we get so caught up in the details that we forget to actually write.