Daily quota for NaNoWriMo is 1,667 words per day to reach 50,000 words in a month, but is that a novel? No. Not according to the publishing industry.
Let's look at page counts.
Kindle counts pages of a book at a rate of 311 words per page. That is ONLY 160 pages. A Nancy Drew book is bigger than that. Raise your hand if you consider Nancy Drew to be a NOVEL and not a Children's Middle Grade Chapter Book.
When you go to the bookstore and buy a paperback novel - 300 pages is pretty standard, and at 311 words per page , that means you are look at 93,000 words MINIMUM before a book is classified as an actual novel.
Yes, your right, 50k is super short. 50k is actually a novella not a novel, and if you try to publish it, you will quickly find most publishers consider 50k to be a short story and won't look at it as a novel unless you lengthen it to at least 120k, or submit it with 2 more 50ks with it as a collection of short stories (3 stories total for 150k total word count).
Consider here that Stephen King's SHORT STORY Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption was 49,701 words long. So, yeah, there you are, an example of what a 50k "novel" looks like when published. What NaNoWriMo calls a "novel" when published, was 1 short story bound in a set of 4 short stories.
If you are not planning to publish, or if you are planning to self publish, than it doesn't matter. When I'm writing, I don't worry about word count. I just write until the story is finished. This, however, makes it difficult for me to get many of my stories published, because in order to publish requires you follow publisher guidelines. I am than faced with either having to change my book to make it long enough to be considered a novel, or self publish it as is. I usually opt to self-publish my shorter works rather then rewrite them to match publisher demands.
But, when doing NaNoWiMo, you need to ask yourself, what your personal goals are. Are you just dong the contest and writing 50k for the sake of doing so, with no plans to publish? Or are you running into this thing fully intending to have something worth publishing when you are done?
Then if you plan to publish, how and where you plan t publish also changes your goal. Each publishing house has it's own guidelines. There is one, single, solitary Sci-Fi publisher who lists 40k as a novel (and is the one NaNoWriMo quotes on their website). However, they are alone in that, and the average publishing house very clearly states, often in very large, bolded, all cap letters, that they absolutely will not look at any manuscript under 80k word, with most publishers citing 120k words to be their minimum required word count.
If you plan to publish and you write your novel to 50k words and then do your research AFTER, chances are you'll be stuck with a 50k draft that never gets published, because its often easier to write a whole new story then to try to re-write the 50k into 120k.
Every March, if you visit he NaNoWriMo forum, you'll find it FLOODED with upset, sad, depressed, or angry posts from writers who are screaming, wailing, and bemoaning the fact that:
"NaNoWriMo you led to me? Why dd you tell me 50k was a novel? I've got dozens of rejection slips here telling me no publishing house accepts 50k. They laugh at 50k. They told me I was stupid for not knowing enough about books, and thinking something as short as 50k was a novel. Why NaNo? Why did you deceive me like this? Why didn't you tell me the truth? Why did you tell me publishers call a novel 120k not 50k?"
It makes me very sad to see so many new young authors jump into NaNoWrMo each November with high hopes of publishing a 50k novel, only to have their dreams shattered a few months later, by the harsh reality of countless rejection slips laughing in their face and telling them a novel is 120k not 50k.
So, BEFORE you start NaNoWrMo, ask yourself what you goal is for those 50k words.
Your goal makes a difference in determining if you should write 50k or aim at more then 50k.
Are you planning to trade publish? If so, do you have a few publishing houses in mind? Have you checked what THEY call a novel, to be certain that what you are writing is ACTUALLY a novel and not a LONG SHORT STORY.
Keeping in mind here that NaNoWriMo has a DEEPLY WARPED sense of reality when it comes to what they consider a novel to be, and that publishing houses consider 50k words a long short story, (many say 50k isn't even long enough to be called a novella - now THAT is something to think about) nothing even close to being a novel.
NaNo's goal is not to get you published, but to help you feel a sense of accomplishment, not to help you get published. If you want to feel you've done something, stop at 50k, if you want to get published by a trade house, do some research, know that a novel is 120k words (more then twice 50k), and that if your novel is shorter than 120k words, you will be hard pressed to find a publisher. Knowing this ahead of time, affects what you decide to write.
I've been publishing since 1978. I have more then 2,000 published works. Most of them very short, but still. I've been around the block a few times and I know the dill, when it comes time to submit a manuscript to a publisher.
One thing most writers on NaNo fail to do, is to read NaNoWriMo's ToS, FAQs, or even know the history of how and why Chris Baty chose 50k as is goal. If yo know the history of NaNo and what it's ORIGINAL goals were, then it makes more sense.
The short of it is: In 1999 Chris Baty
decided he wanted to write a novel, but knew from past experience that
he lacked the motivation and would require a support team to keep him
going. He next decided to give himself a time limit: write the novel
from start to finish in 30 days. He next concluded that 30 days was only
enough time to write a very short novel so set his goal to write a
novel 50,000 words long, concluding that writing 1,667 words a day
wouldn't be that hard. He contacted 10 people and asked them to sit in a
cafe with him, everyday for 30 days until he had written a 50,000 word
novel. Those 10 people decided there was no need for him to write alone
and they each set out to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days too.
(UPDATE: 2013- The entire story in detail, with photos, used to be on the NaNo site back in 2007 when I wrote this article, but since Chris Baty retired, they took it down and put up a dramatically different and shorter version of how the goal got started.)
If you had read NaNoWriMo's ToS and FAQs, you would have seen the notation where they explain that 50k IS NOT the length of a FINISHED novel, but rather the average length of most author's FIRST DRAFTS. They come right out and tell you this, but no one reads the ToS, so no one ever stops to think: am I writing a first draft or a finished novel?
(UPDATE: 2013- NaNo has removed this notation from their site. Thepage I had originally linked to in 2007, no longer exists and so my link to it has been removed from this article. EVERYTHING written by founder Chris Baty has been removed from the NaNoWriMo website and the whole site has changed. It is no longer run like a group of friends, but like an organized religion full of strict rules and dogmas -I'm quite dismayed by the vast changes made since our beloved Chris Baty left the group.)
NaNoWriMo states over and over and over again in their ToS that you are writing a FIRST DRAFT; that the goal of the contest IS NOT to write something that is publishable, but rather to give you a kick in the ass to get that unwritten novel idea out of your head and down on paper. People who spend weeks and months primping and plotting and planning for NaNoWriMo got it all wrong. Creating a whole new idea for NaNoriMo IS NOT what NaNoWriMo is about. Read their ToS! The goal is to reach into your brain and pull out that novel you keep telling everybody "Someday I'll write".
In other words, you are SUPPOSED to be spending November, plotting and planning, outlining, sorting, jotting down, figuring out, as you pull the ideas out of your head, not in August, not in September, not in October, but in November. The goal is to have 50,000 words worth of idea, outline, and first draft.
First drafts don't get published. First drafts get expanded into longer second drafts. Second drafts get expanded into longer third drafts. Third drafts get expanded into longer 4th drafts, which tend to finally reach 250k word range. The 4th drafts are the ones that started editing down and out, until they reach a publishable 120k to 150k.
If you are plotting and planning ahead of time, you defeat the purose of NaoWriMo, and you also have no reason to be limited to a measly little 50,000 words either. If you've already plotted, planned, and outlined in August/September/October than you have already finished your first draft and are ready to move on to a second draft, and your goal should therefor be at least 100,000 words at that point.
Can you see now, the folly of thinking 50,000 words is actually a FINISHED novel? Anyone who tells you 50,000 words is a FINISHED novel has got their head stuffed firmly up their ass and don't know squat about the publishing industry. And don't you dare say NaNoWriMo told you 50,000 words was a FINISHED novel, because they didn't, and had you read their ToS you would know that.
Consider this: Knowing how long the "classics" are doesn't mean swat. Sure it's good to know if you plan to jump in a TARDIS and publish your book 200 years ago, but you are dealing with publishing house that are publishing right now, so you need to write the word counts PUBLISHERS TELL YOU TO WRITE if you what those publishers to publish your novel.
If you try to publish a 50k "novel" you'll get laughed at by traditional big house publishers. Why?
Because of this:
Flash Fiction: up to 1,000 words
Short-Short Story: 750 to 7,500 words
Short Story: 7,500 to 15,00 words
Long Short Story: 15,000 to 25,000
Novelette or Children's Chapter Book: 25,000 to 75,000 words (Think: Bunnicula and Nancy Drew)
Novella or Sci-Fi or Young Adult Mystery: 75,000 to 90,000 words (Think: Harlequin Romance and Star Trek novels)
Novel: 90,000 to 250,000 words (Think: standard paperback, mainstream fiction, mass market romance)
Big Novel: 250K+ (Think: Historical Romance, Epic Fantasy, Lord of the Rings, Terry Brooks and Stephen King)
That is the standard chart you find on most publishing house web sites.
(Note that many small press indie houses, use dramatically shorter words counts, some saying Flash Fiction is up to 5,000 words, others saying a novella is 7,000 to 12,000 words. Again, when planning to publish - read publisher guidelines because each publishing house is different. This chart is the average for the mega giant big house publishers, commonly known as "The Big Five", who many authors aspire to get published by. The Big Five tend to be the fist places every author submits to, often only considering e Indie Presses after being rejected by the Big Five.)
You'll be hard pressed to find a big mass market trade publishing house that will look at a manuscript with fewer than 120k words (industry standard for a novel).
Of course if you are planning to submit to Indie Press or even self-publish, then those numbers well be different because that's the nature of Indie Press and self publishing. Personally, I prefer to publish via Indie Press's because I prefer to write books far shorter than what the industry standard is. Longest story I ever wrote stopped at a mere 75k and was considered by big house publishers to be "a short story" not a novel! (Which I think is kind of funny, considering it was 25k longer than what NaNo says a novel is! LOL!)
(UPDATE: As of 2014, my books have gotten longer. In 2007 when this article was written, The Ruby Hummingbird at 75k was my longest book. My longest book now is For Fear of Little Men at 237k words in 2010, and most books of my new Quaraun series are 60k to 90k)
Know too, that several of Stephen King's "short stories" published in magazines are in the 25k -75k range. An important thing to consider, when considering publishing your 50k "novel".
I just wanted to warn you of this, because I'm guessing from your question that you are writing with the goal to publish, and that you are writing under the assumption that 50k is considered a publishable novel length by publishers. I've seen a lot of folks here on NaNo get all hyped up over finishing their 50k "novel" getting it edited than be crushed spiritually and emotionally by some crude mouthed editor who tossed the 50k "novel" back in their face telling them that there is no such thing as a novel that is shorter than 120k. (Happens all the time, I see dozens of these nightmare stories posted on the forums here every March or so.) So, if you are writing with the goal to get published by a big house publisher, be sure you remember that you need to write 120k not 50k to get published! If it was up to me, I'd say 50k was plenty long for a novel, but I don't make the rules, of course I also don't read novels, because I like to read stuff I can sit down and read in one sitting.
Anyways, I hope that helps you out.
Bit of background on myself: I've been publishing since 1978, author of multiple books, 200+ short stories, 2,000+ non-fiction articles, a few playscripts, an advice column, I worked as an editor and publisher for several years, and started my own small press indie publishing house a few years back, because I was feed up with publishing houses that demanded everything you write be 120k long.
I don't agree with the "standard word counts" publishing houses put out there. Me personally, I prefer to read shorter works, but fact remains, and I know this from nearly 40 years of experience working with publishers, if you want THEM to publish you, then no amount of telling them "But the classics were all 50k..." is going to change their minds about calling 50k a novel.
If you want to publish your NaNoNovel, you have 2 options:
- Write it to the industry standard word count of 90,000 to 120,000
- Write any word count fewer than 90,000 and self-publish it yourself.
This is the sad reality of the publishing industry, which many authors, especially those coming from NaNoWriMo fail to realize or even consider.
Far too many new/young writers are getting pumped up on the NaNoWriMo hype of writing 50k words and thinking they have written something even close to being a publishable length.
And publishers are getting so fed up with the annual January to March flood of 50k manuscripts that nearly every publisher out there now (since 2009) has a policy of only accepting unagented submissions between August and September.
And you want to know what REALLY pisses publishers off? When they clearly state in their guidelines NOT to submit anything shorter than 90,000 words and you the author, goes "Phhfft! Guidelines are for sissies and losers, I don't need to read or obey stupid publisher guidelines, I'm going to send them my 50,000 word manuscript anyways, because NaNoWriMo says it's a novel, so there!"
But hey, guess what, publishers are all buddy-buddy with other publishers, so you go right on ahead and send your 50k short story to one publisher and let him pass your name on to all his buddies, because you can bet your bottom dollar he will, he'll warn them all about you and how they should avoid you because you were too arrogant to be bothered with rules and guidelines. And guess what? When you send your manuscript to those other publishers - they are jus going to look at the name on the envelope and toss it in the trash unopened, because they know you already, they were warned, they know not to bother with people who waste their time submitting stuff that doesn't fit their guidelines. I mean, if you didn't read the other publisher's guidelines, why would they expect you to read theirs?
As of right now I nly know of 2 publisher who will look at anything in the 50,000 to 75,000 range: Harlequin and Elora's Cave.Both are romance publishers, so if your 50k story is not romance you are out of luck.
Harlequin looks at them for inclusion in story story collections (which they publish only 3 volumes of 3 stories each, per year - so they only accept nine 50k to 75k SHORT STORIES each year).
Elora's Cave 50k SHORT STORIES and 75k NOVELLAS as eBooks, but they only accept highly sexed erotica that boarder on being porn, so very niched market here.
In short, 50k is classified by THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY as a SHORT STORY (What NaNoWriMo and Kindle self-publishers classify as a novel, is something else entirely.)
If you really want to know how short 50k words is, consider this:
It takes 20mins to type 1667 words.
20mins x 30days is 600mins.
600mins / 60mins = 10hours to reach 50k.
If you sat down and typed non-stop you could finish your entire NaNo"Novel" in just 10 hours. Less than half a day.