Ask the Editors | Story Lengths, Novel, Novella, Novelette, Short Story, Short Short Story

Ask the Editors | Story Lengths, Novel, Novella, Novelette, Short Story, Short Short Story

What constitutes a “short story”? About how many pages does it consist of in comparison to the average work? I’m writing my second book and want it to be a short story, but I’m unsure how short that should be?



Hi Patrick,

My experience has been that a single short story wouldn’t be a book, but a collection of short stories makes a fantastic book. A few of my favorites are Some Sexual Success Stories: Plus Other Stories in Which God Might Choose to Appear by Diane Williams and Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson. Regarding word count, I’ve always found the rules to differ slightly between who is speaking, but generally, I follow these breakdowns as I’ve parsed them together between various agents, editors, and genre specifications.

Novel — Over 70,000 words

Novella — 17,500 to 70,000 words

Novelette — 7,500 to 17,500 words

Short Story — 1,000 to 7,500 words

Short Short Story — Under 1,000 words

A Note on the Novel

Some editors consider anything over 40,000 or 50,000 words to be a novel, where some consider anything less than 100,000 words to not be a novel. My experience has been that agents often like to see a novel with word count above 70,000. Some agents working in particular genres often require the word count to be 80,000 and above. Basically, it’s all very subjective and can differ widely. Best to research your target markets and determine the specifics for that market. 

A Note on the Short Short Story or Flash Fiction

I’ve found the most universally accepted word count to be 1,000; however, many editors consider anything under 1,500 to be a short short story.

Best Rule of Thumb

Always research the market, publication, editors, agents, publishing houses, and determine what their specific parameters are regarding word count after you’ve completed the work. Unless you are writing for a contest prompt, which can be fun and helpful in a craft sense, best to let the word count of the work determine itself. Then look for the publication that shares the same structural parameters.

On the Way Down: A Story for Ray Bradbury

A man jumps off a cliff.

I’m gonna need some wings, he thinks.

He reaches into his backpack to get some things — wood, nails, a hammer, some string — and then gets down to work building.

That ground is coming up awful fast, he thinks, I’d better work a little quicker.

The wings he’s building just begin to flap —

When the man suddenly slams into the ground.

Little bits of the man go everywhere.

It’s a mess.

Really, it’s awful.

But then, lo, the angel rises up — effortlessly, out of the wreckage.

You know, it says, these actually work quite well!

And it whizzes off to find breakfast.



Ben Loory lives in Los Angeles. His fiction was a finalist in the Glimmer Train Short Story Award for New Writers Contest and his story, “The TV,” appeared in The New Yorker. Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day coming soon from Penguin Books. As a screenwriter, Ben Loory has worked for Jodie Foster, Alex Proyas and Mark Johnson. He is a graduate of Harvard College, holds an MFA from the American Film institute, and is a member of the Writers Guild of America west. Interviews at The New Yorker and The Emprise Review. Non-fiction at TheNervousBreakdown.

A Little Fable by Franz Kafka

“Alas,” said the mouse, “the whole world is growing smaller every day. At the beginning it was so big that I was afraid. I kept running and running, and I was glad when I saw walls far away to the right and left, but these long walls have narrowed so quickly that I am in the last chamber already, and there in the corner stands the trap that I must run into.”

“You only need to change your direction,” said the cat, and ate it up.

Franz Kafka (3 July 1883 – 3 June 1924) was a Prague German-language novelist and short story writer, widely regarded as one of the major figures of 20th-century literature. His work, which fuses elements of realism and the fantastic, typically features isolated protagonists faced by bizarre or surrealistic predicaments and incomprehensible social-bureaucratic powers, and has been interpreted as exploring themes of alienation, existential anxiety, guilt, and absurdity. His best known works include “Die Verwandlung” (“The Metamorphosis”), Der Process (The Trial), and Das Schloss (The Castle). The term Kafkaesque has entered the English language to describe situations like those in his writing.

Kafka was born into a middle-class, German-speaking Jewish family in Prague, the capital of the Kingdom of Bohemia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, today part of the Czech Republic. He trained as a lawyer, and after completing his legal education he was employed with an insurance company, forcing him to relegate writing to his spare time. Over the course of his life, Kafka wrote hundreds of letters to family and close friends, including his father, with whom he had a strained and formal relationship. He became engaged to several women but never married. He died in 1924 at the age of 40 from tuberculosis.