Ben wants to know, “What is the minimum length for a novel to be considered a complete manuscript?”
That depends on the genre you’re writing for, Ben. If you are creating a contemporary romance, the publishers will expect it to be somewhere in the 55,000-to-60,000 word range. If you’re writing a historical romance, most of the publishers will ask for 75,000 words. For contemporary stand-alone novels, publishers are basically looking for 90,000-to-100,000 words, so that the reader feels there is adequate cost-to-value. And some genres (epics, some speculative fiction, and all Harry Potter rip-offs) are going to be in the 110,000-to-120,000 range.
Literary fiction (defined here as novels that are usually contemporary, relationship-driven stories exploring the bigger issues of life) can range from as short as 60,000 to as long as 100,000 words. Of course, publishers are always willing to bend the word-count a bit if they fall in love with a manuscript, but this will give you some ballpark numbers to guide your planning. And recently, with the industry in a state of flux, we’ve seen publishing houses move two directions. Some believe the advent of e-books is creating a need for shorter works, so they are focusing on shortening the standard novel to about 80,000 words. Others believe in a bad economy readers want value, so they are lengthening their standard novels to 110,000 words. So… tell your story, get it into the right ballpark, talk with your agent, and think about shaping it for a particular house.