I made the mistake several months ago, when I was still hovering around 70,000 words in my manuscript, of Googling “how long should a novel be?” There are plenty of opinions, some from credible sources, and even my literary idol Stephen King weighed in on the topic in his book On Writing. There is no firm definition, but the consensus seems to be that a novel should be about 100,000 words, give or take. Write something significantly shorter than that, and you run the risk of your work being labeled a novella. (Gasp!) Does that matter? I’m not sure. But I set out to write a novel, not a novella, so it matters to me.
It apparently also matters to prospective publishers, because the industry has certain conventions when it comes to these numbers. I’m not as concerned with meeting these expectations, because I am planning to self-publish, but readers of a genre (if I even have a genre) might also have these expectations, so it may be worth considering. In any event, I’m sitting pretty at 124,000 words right now, and I haven’t started doing the heavy slashing that most writers seem to recommend that you do during the editing process. So I’m not worried. But I am dismayed by the prospect of potentially throwing away 20% of my work.
Another thing I noticed while doing some initial formatting – when you start adjusting things like page size, font size, and margins, the page count varies wildly. This by itself isn’t an issue, but many of my chapters are somewhat short, and this has meant that a few of them turn out to be only two pages long. That seems somewhat unorthodox to me, but then again, what do I know? By the way, there is some excellent guidance on choosing a page size for your book over at TheBookDesigner.com.