1. Dryriver
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    Dryriver Senior Member

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    First Novel is 200K+ Words... Is this a problem?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Dryriver, Jul 13, 2013.

    Hello All,

    I keep reading that first-time published authors should stay under 80,000 - 100,000 words if they want their novel to be published.

    Apparently, publishers don't like to take financial risks with 1st Time authors, so they don't want to publish anything bigger/longer than 100K words.

    Is this correct? Does the publishing world really do this?

    I'm asking because there is NO WAY I can finish my first novel under 100,000 words.

    My 1st novel is a complex, layered, detailed & ambitious narrative.

    There is NO WAY I can tell the story I want to tell under around 200,000 words.

    So here's my question - Will my 200K+ words doorstop of a novel be rejected everywhere because it is "too big/long for a 1st time published author"?

    Will I have to self-publish/vanity publish/e-publish it because traditional publishers won't touch my First-Timer epic?

    Any advice on this would be most welcome!
     
  2. Steve Day
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    Steve Day Senior Member

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    Generally it is better to put first novels in a drawer and start on the second. That too usually goes in a drawer. There are of course the exceptions that prove the rule.
    Why not post the first 1000 words here, and let us have a chance to see how this 1000 page novel starts?
     
  3. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you self-publish it, it's very unlikely that many people will read it. You won't have compromised on your concept of the novel, but is that worth much if nobody reads that novel? As I see it, the novel will be just as dead as it would have been if you'd cut it in half. And it will be a more permanent kind of dead.

    So I would suggest writing a novel that is within size guidelines, working to get _it_ published, and when you're no longer a first time novelist, returning to your longer novel.

    Now, a thought that comes to mind in that scenario is, "Well, when I'm a famous novelist, I can make my publisher publish whatever I want, even if it was already self-published." But that assumes that you'll become an increidbly famous, top ten sort of novelist. What if you're just modestly successful? A modestly successful novelist trying to sell an extra long novel that's already been self-published is in a much weaker position than a modestly successful novelist trying to sell an extra long novel that has never been published.
     
  4. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    If you're writing fantasy, you can probably go 80K to 120K for a first novel. For 200K, it would be a long shot.
     
  5. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Have you finished writing it yet? It's really hard to judge at this stage, how long it 'should' be. It'll take as long as it takes to tell your story, and tell it well.

    If I were you, I would wait until you have actually finished an entire first draft. Leave it for a few weeks or months, to get some distance from the project. Then read it straight through with fresh eyes, edit it as much as you can on your own. Then pass it to a couple of beta readers whom you trust to give you honest and helpful feedback.

    If these readers are good, they'll read through the whole thing, analyse the story flow, the character development, point out the bits that drag, the bits that could be left out, the bits they skipped over, infodumps that could be condensed, passages where you hammered an idea to bits, or repeated an idea for emphasis when it wasn't needed because the reader 'got it' the first time.

    Then do another edit, based on what they've told you as well as what your own eye and ear tells you. Then give it to a couple more beta readers and get more feedback. Keep doing this, editing, getting feedback, editing again, etc till you have what you consider a 'finished product.'

    THEN start thinking about publication. By this time you should have a good idea of who your target audience will be. These are the beta readers who did more than just analyze. These are the folks who loved your characters, wanted to discuss 'what happened' in the book, not just your writing style. Find out what other things these particular readers like to read. This will help you decide how to pitch your initial queries.

    You might find that your novel is less weighty than you think, by the way. Or you might feel that, despite its weight, it's worth it. In that case, you'll need to develop a strategy to sell it as is. Or, if that fails, look into self-publication and promotion.

    However, you can't do any of this till you've finished writing your book. Only then will you have an actual word-count to work with!

    Should your first novel be put in a drawer? Unless the story concept is horrendously flawed, it can probably be edited to a stage where it will be as good as anything else you do. However, you can't just write something, polish a few sentences, and consider it publishable. You need to work at making it perfect, and that takes time and LOTS of re-working. Especially if it's a long piece.

    Personally I prefer to read AND write long novels. I love becoming immersed in a long, intricate story that takes days to read. I'm sure there are many other people out there who agree with me. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings was so long he had to publish it in three volumes. (Not three separate novels, but a continuing story.) While some people don't like it at all, and some people are put off by the 'length,' it is currently the most popular work of fiction worldwide. So don't let anybody tell you people don't read long novels. They do. They still do.

    You can certainly write to formula, keeping to the recommended word count, sticking to all the characteristics of a particular genre, with an eye to pleasing the current crop of publishers. You may find publication 'easier' with a 'product' like this, but will you be proud of what you've written? Is that really the story you want to write?
     
  6. u.v.ray
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    u.v.ray Member

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    The short answer is, it depends if it's any good.

    1000 pages of utter crap is even less of a good idea than 150 pages of crap.
     
  7. B. anthracis
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    B. anthracis Member

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    Similar to what Jannert said, I'd suggest considering if it can be broken up into two parts or more. If it's good people will want to read the second half and you'd have two books instead of one. And say if an agent tells you that they just happen to be in the market for a 200,000 tome then you're still in luck. But I'd try to sell it as the first of a two parter.

    As for it being a first novel and that many words? Hell, I don't know. It's hard for me to give an objective opinion from a reader's standpoint because I, probably like most here, don't have to be hooked in the first two paragraphs; I give any book at least a few hundred pages. IOW, length isn't off putting for me as a reader.

    It's your vision though. Best of luck.
     
  8. JJ_Maxx
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    JJ_Maxx Banned

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    Yeah, that's way too large for a first-time writer.

    Honestly, the odds of a new writer being able to write a 250k novel and have it be worth the length is next to zero.

    You may think its the best thing ever, but it's probably rambling and confusing.

    I mean, you're approaching War and Peace type length.
     
  9. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Re the idea of splitting it into two books - publishers also don't like to take the risk of publishing series for a first-time author, because they can't know if the first book would do well enough for them to wanna publish the second.

    My advice is - write it exactly as it needs to be written, no compromises. Write it all down, edit it to death, and when you have a polished manuscript ready for submission, think of these things again. Word count fluctuates easily and at this stage where you don't even have a rough draft, you can't know how long the story will be - it could be shorter or longer than you thought. Scenes, characters and chapters you thought you needn't turn out to be superfluous, and things you hadn't even thought of end up making up five chapters of your book by the end.

    Write it, and submit it. No harm in trying. In the meantime, write another novel. And if you find that no one's touching your book and after much consideration and feedback you decide that the length is really the ONLY factor why it's being rejected everywhere, then you self-publish it. But try the trad route first regardless, I'd say.
     
  10. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I agree with what Steve Day and jannert said. I see a few options:

    If you don't want to compromise your artistic integrity (I love that word, sounds so grand), you can self-publish. Or you can cut it into shorter parts like jannert suggested, but I highly recommend that when you approach an agent or a publisher, you don't say a single word about writing a series. They generally seem to be shunned. So, make sure the first part of the story also works as a stand-alone. Then if an agent or a publisher loves it and the book is published and they want another one, then you offer the next installment, the sequel, but it would be even better if that, too, also worked as a stand-alone. So on and so forth, you get the picture.

    Another thing is what Steve suggested. Set aside the mammoth of a novel and write a shorter story, something that will be finished by 60-80k and start pushing that. If you get an audience for it and the publisher wants more, then offer the 200k one because by then you have your foot in the door and it's easier to pitch a longer piece. Or it could be your third offering. Or after the first, shorter novel, you could offer the longer one in bits and pieces, you know, the first part that also works as a stand-alone, then tell them it's a series etc.

    I'm not comfortable with the idea of messing up my story, my vision, just in order to sell it. That is, if cutting over half of it doesn't ruin it for you. I have written a few 150k ones with KaTrian and those stories just wouldn't work in a shorter format, so we cut them up into parts that work as stand-alones and offer them as such.

    Oh, and as someone already mentioned: be sure to have the story finished, edited about 50 times from start to finish, thoroughly polished, proofread (by other people than you, preferably professionals or someone with the skills of a pro editor), preferably by more people than one, and then start worrying about how to publish it. Nobody will touch a raw piece with a ten-foot pole even if it's got tons of potential; nowadays everyone seems to want novels that are pretty much ready for the print from the get-go.
     
  11. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    probably and probably... my best advice is to take the good advice given by others above, seriously...
     
  12. maskedhero
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    maskedhero Active Member

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    You could put it aside and work on a shorter piece, and then submit this once you're established.
     
  13. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    A first novel (i.e. unknown writer) that falls outside the publisher's submission guidelines is very likely to be rejected unread, so it matters not how well it is written.

    Publishers receive a LOT of submissions, so the first screenings will employ automatic rejection criteria.

    They expect you to be able to read and follow instructions.
     
  14. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    It is a big enough hurdle to get a first novel considered by agents/publishers, let alone published. A 200,000+ word novel adds an even larger hurdle to the mix.

    An ebook only publisher might be more inclined as there is less financial risk as they don't invest in print copies. However, most ebook publishers also focus on novellas. Consider that it is still an investment in time to edit. Time and effort for that ebook company where they could actually publish 2 or maybe 3 novels, or possibly publish 6 or 7 novellas for their reading public. A far better chance at a return on their investment.

    Sure, if it's phenominal, you might make both of those huge hurdles.

    If you've not started writing it yet, maybe shelve it and write a novel that's more likely to provide an avenue to publication. Then, once you have a successful track record, and a readership, your 200,000+ word novel will have a far better chance.

    That's my two cents.
    Good luck in whatever path you take.
     
  15. Dryriver
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    Dryriver Senior Member

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    Thanks for all the responses.

    I am 100,000 words into writing my novel. The novel is currently about 35% - 40% complete.

    And that is just the early build-up and "universe-building" to the real story that will unfold in the next 100,000 - 150,000 words.

    I am at a stage in the novel where I cannot "cancel" or "modify" the original vision even if I wanted to - one way or another, this WILL end up being a 200,000+ word epic.

    As for writing a shorter novel that has a better chance of being published - I am so mentally, intellectually and artistically invested in my rather COMPLEX 200K+ novel that the idea of putting it aside to write something different just isn't realistic at this point.

    Yes, getting my 200K+ monster published the conventional way may wind up being difficult - perhaps IMPOSSIBLE.

    But I cannot compromise my artistic vision for the novel because publishers "don't like long debut novels".

    In any case, I should probably worry more about finishing my novel than getting it published.

    Its probably going to take 6 months to a year to finish my novel.

    So I won't have to worry about getting published until maybe mid-2014...

    Once again, thanks to you all for all the comments and input!
     
  16. maskedhero
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    maskedhero Active Member

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    Remember it may change in editing, a very important piece of the puzzle. Is this story perhaps something that could be split into two volumes? Is this the start of a series?
     
  17. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    This worries me. A LOT. You've written 100,000 words and ALL of that is build-up and world-building? That's called a monumental amount of info-dump. Have you had anyone try to read it and show interest? I can't help but suspect you may have fallen for the trap of basically loving your story/world so much that you think surely everyone else will too...

    If it's mostly build-up and world-building, I'd strongly advise you to review what you actually have and cut it like hell. 100,000 words is an awful lot of building with nothing happening.
     
  18. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    That's a good point. Some publishers / agents go so far as to mention it on their website that unless the manuscript complies to all (or most) requirements on their "wish list," it will get rejected, so unfortunately for us, who have difficulties writing shoter pieces, we just have to accept the fact that either we have to try to create a short novel or go another route (self-publishing, e-publishing etc. although even some e-publishers appear to shun so-called super novels), because personally I don't believe in compromising your vision to sell it. Editing it according to the feedback you get from your betas is, of course, perfectly fine because usually it doesn't compromise your artistic integrity.
     
  19. Dryriver
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    Dryriver Senior Member

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    The detailed "universe" I am building is intended to be 50% of the story, if that makes sense.

    The other 50% is what happens to the Main Character.

    The two narrative streams - "universe" and "protagonist" - are interwoven in strange and wonderful ways from the first page.

    So at any point in the novel, there is a narrative that blends the info about "the surrounding narrative universe" with "the protagonist's actions/choices".


    I personally don't like novels that are too short/short on detail.

    For example: "The Fault in our Stars" has nothing but 5 star ratings on Amazon. But I found the novel far too short, and the narrative that is there rather inconsequential.
     
  20. Keitsumah
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    Keitsumah The Dream-Walker Contributor

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    First, I'd suggest finishing your first draft entirely before worrying about this. I myself am still not done with the first draft of my novel (which is around 140K and still growing) but i am one of those people who can stop and go back to edit parts i have already finished in order to improve them. I have found that after editing, the number of words drops quite dramatically. My first chapter was around 6K words to begin with, and now its only just above 4K. Don't expect your novel to be utterly huge, even if the first draft ends up being 300K. You may end up cutting out entire scenes and the like to make the story flow better. (i just did so recently and it helped a LOT).

    Also, as i have read the above comments, there is more to the world than just developing the scenery. I used to do that as well when i first started the story (oh god did i over-describe...), but now i figured out how to integrate it well into my character's POV without disturbing the plot. Then again, my world is pretty easy to familiarize with -mountains, forests, valleys, the like. I just added in a few unusual things like the factor that it was trapped in eternal winter to make it more interesting. Now unless your story encompasses multiple worlds and POV's, i would think that a single world would not need too much attention. Otherwise you would need to make a map at the beginning of the book for anything to be relevant at all without seriously deterring hopeful readers.

    I myself, however, always go for the big books, having read several epics and other large fantasy novels. Though whether a book is good or bad does not determine the length. I have read many smaller books that had me screaming to just read one more page before my parents took it away from me. My Point: You don't have to tell utterly EVERYTHING about a world. Leave some things in the dark until they come up. It will add a shocker that will only make the reader want to keep reading. Again, i use this in my novel, so I know what I'm talking about. (try hiding an underground castle and city beneath a tiny village until the MC falls through the basement of her home and discovers it -that one was a doozy)

    Overall, I'd say just wait, finish your novel, edit it afterwards (and do not be kind!!!), and then wait, and edit it again. Writing a novel takes a LONG time, as I'm sure you know. I've been working on mine for over four years and the first draft is still not done (that may be partly my own fault...) but nonetheless i have not been idle in learning, reading, and improving my work as i go. Each time you take a break from it and then go back, you will find more stuff to change and improve upon. So... no, i can't say that you won't or will be published, as i am still making my own first novel, but that depends on what you do with the story.
     
  21. Steve Day
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    Steve Day Senior Member

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    "universe" and "protagonist" - are interwoven in strange and wonderful ways from the first page.

    Perhaps if you showed us just that first page we would have some meaningful insight into your 'strange and wonderful ways'.
     
  22. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I'm always in favor of writers trying something new and unusual, to see if it works. That said, I share the same concern as Mckk. The fact that you, [MENTION=32940]Dryriver[/MENTION], as the author, characterize the part that comes after the first 100K to be the "real story" doesn't help.

    I say go with your vision for the story and see if you can make it work. If it really does take you 100K words to get to the "real story," however, not many people are going to take the ride with you.
     

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