1. zaneoriginal
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    zaneoriginal Member

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    Ideal Novel Length for Publishing

    Discussion in 'Publisher Discussion' started by zaneoriginal, Jul 18, 2014.

    I'm remembering reading an article where a published author described how he would sell his book ideas to a publisher through an agent. Among the details he would include is an approximate length of the work.

    Makes me wonder if there is an ideal length (pages, words) for a novel to be to make it more readily publishable.

    I know, there are books of all lengths and print size, but I still imagine as a business there are some industry standards they look for.

    Anyone know what I'm talking about?
     
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  2. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    The general guideline for a first-time novelist aiming at the adult market is 80,000 - 120,000 words, but preferably no more than 100,000. However, this can vary based on genre and even then is not a hard-and-fast rule. But you can assume that exceeding the 100,000 word mark is going to make an agent or an editor look at your work even more closely to see if it's worth publishing.

    In my current project, I at one point found myself obsessing so much over word count that it was actually impairing my ability to set my story down. So, I turned off the word count function in WORD for a while. It's something you should worry about when editing, not when writing the first draft.
     
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  3. zaneoriginal
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    zaneoriginal Member

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    Thank you for the clear and straight forward reply.
     
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  4. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Many agents and publishers (that accept unsolicited submissions) have their preferred length (in word count) listed. What EdFromNY indicated is solid information.
     
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  5. Lucy1712
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    Lucy1712 New Member

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    Every time I read something like this, I start panicking because now I'm worried that my manuscript will never be picked up on account of it being too short... :(
     
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  6. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Lucy1712,
    Novella length works are picked up by smaller, mainly e-book publishers, but not so much by the larger publishing houses. At least not yet. Also, there is the option of self-publishing.

    A thing I would advise against is attempting to 'pad' the story with words. If structurally and storyline wise, a story turns out to be 40,000 words, and that's where it turns out to be the best quality story...that means it's where it will have the best chance of finding a publisher and/or being the most enjoyed by the reader.

    There are no set in stone rules for word count. A 63,000 word work might find a home with a publisher as might a 151,000 word work. It's just an additional hurdle for a first time author to overcome.
     
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  7. ToDandy
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    ToDandy Contributing Member

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    If you are an unpublished author trying to sell your first novel, I've heard from multiple agent sources that around the ballpark of 75,000 words is the magic number.

    So think 65,000-90,000
     
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  8. Void
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    Void Contributing Member

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    Ugh, that's kind of worrying. In fact, it is something I have been somewhat concerned about for some time since I have heard the 100,000 word count thrown around before as a sort of rough benchmark for first time authors.
    I'm on my first novel at the moment but it is looking to be too large, not too small. At the moment I have about 150,000 words, and by my extrapolations it looks to be shaping up to be around 180,000+ for the first draft. Obviously this will go down in editing since i have already identified some unnecessarily large sections, but overall I doubt it will end up being less than 160,000.

    Do you think I would be better off pitching it as two separate books published as part 1 and part 2? Because the story is already rather neatly divided into two parts, complete with a cliff hanger at the end of part 1 and a major plot twist at the beginning of part two.

    Problem is that they are not particularly even halves, part 1 is only ~66,000 at the moment (could end up being more since I believe that there is more to add to it).
     
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  9. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    The first book should stand on its own (so no cliffhanger). Publishers usually don't like taking chances on multiple books by an unknown writer. When you approach an agent/publisher, only pitch the first book.
     
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  10. Void
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    Void Contributing Member

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    "Cliff hanger" is probably not the right word to describe it, I suppose it's more like a false ending that does wrap up the first book and leads into the next book. So the first book kind of is self contained with no loose plot points.

    My real problem is that due to the sheer scale of the plot twist that comes directly after it i feel that separating the books would leave people with too much time to grow accustomed to what was presented in the first book, leaving the major turn of events that would inevitably be presented at the beginning of the second book to seem a little too severe.

    I guess it would be like if the first Matrix film took place entirely within the matrix with a plot that seemed to be leading one way, then the second film begun with him meeting Morpheus. Or maybe if the first The Lord of The Rings book ended exactly were it did and they were abducted by aliens in the first chapter of the next book.
     
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  11. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    It is very rare for a book's storyline to be suitable to simply be split into two separate books due to length considerations, and result in satisfying reads on their own half size merit. Usually it takes a lot of revision and re-writing of both books, if it'll work. Plus, consider that if the first book doesn't truly stand alone, and isn't a complete story and is dependent on the 2nd book, how attractive will that first book be to potential agents and publishers?

    Yes, it could work, cutting the piece in two. Another option would be to finish the book as it stands, maybe 150,000 words. Then, instead of spending all the time and effort on revising that book into two books, send it out into the world to see what happens (yes, it'd be an even bigger uphill struggle than with a smaller word count novel), and spend the time and effort writing a new novel, using what was learned to structure the plot so that it fits into a smaller word count. In the end you'll have two completed works of good quality (in theory), just in varying lengths.

    I suggest this especially as you indicated a 'false ending' to the first book. While that can mean a lot of things, it may also undo the trust a reader will have if they learn that really, starting in the 2nd novel, they were 'fooled' or not told the truth. What might they think of the 2nd book's ending?
     
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  12. Void
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    Void Contributing Member

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    At the moment I think just plowing ahead and hoping I can get it down to a reasonable size would be the best (there are several sections that are quite nice story but aren't strictly necessary to the overall plot).

    The story is more or less structured in the sense of two parts but I really don't think the first part can properly hold it's own as a full book in its own right, since the "ending" it has is rather sudden, and without the plot twist coming directly after it to put it into perspective I feel it would just serve as a lackluster ending that would dull any interest in the story.

    I think it's especially dangerous as two books since between parts it effectively changes from fantasy to scifi/fantasy, and the overall philosophical position drastically shifts.
     
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  13. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I think you will find once you finish your first draft and begin editing that, on balance, you will be doing more cutting than adding. This is especially true if this is your first attempt at a novel, since so many typical errors made by first-time novelists tend to inflate word count (at least, that's been my experience both in writing and in beta-reading for others). Descriptions not connected with action, unnecessary dialogue tags, excessive incidental dialogue, filtering and spoonfeeding the reader all tend to fluff up the old word count. And, as I mentioned earlier, I have found that obsessing about word count before you finish the first draft can genuinely inhibit the creative process for a good story.

    So my advice to you is the same as to the OP - turn off the word count, finish the first draft, do some vigorous editing, and then turn the word count back on and see if you have a problem.

    Best of luck.

    ETA: My first novel attempt was written on WordPerfect, which did not automatically display word count. One had to hit the F5 key. I wrote on in blissful ignorance, not even thinking about word count until I had finished my first draft and started editing. When I hit F5, I had a serious shock - my ms was north of 400,000 words. After a lot of editing along the lines noted above, I ultimately managed to get it down to about 140,000. At that point, I realized it had served its purpose as a learning exercise and I moved on to other things. If I ever decide to go back to it (and I may), I will rewrite it from scratch.
     
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  14. Void
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    Void Contributing Member

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    Oh, to be sure, I'm not really worrying all that much at the moment, it's just a thought in the back of my head that I may have been better of starting with a smaller narrative.

    And I certainly agree that there will be some severe cutting, I already have some mega chapters that are in dire need of revision, one being mostly fluff and the other being about 10,000+ words of exposition dump.

    Overall i feel a story should be exactly as long as it needs to be to cover all the content at the correct pace, so I'm too concerned about the over all size of the first draft, as long as each chapter is a reasonable length.
     
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  15. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    There's a bit more leeway for length in fantasy. Based on what I'm reading, rather than any insider-publisher-info, I'd say there may be a bit of a movement back toward the epic-length books.

    (I think this b/c I've been reading quite a bit of fantasy, including some by first-time authors, that feels really bloated to me. Long b/c there are extra words rather than long b/c it's a super-complicated plot. I would assume that if the publishers were super-concerned about length, the editors would have had lots to cut!)
     
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  16. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I've been told by people in the industry that there is also leeway in historical fiction, usually to about 120K. I'm looking to keep Rosa's Secret to 120K, but I'm not going to freak if it winds up at 122K or 123K. It's also important to remember that this is not a pass/fail issue, where 100,499 makes your ms "acceptable" to all and 100,501 results in an automatic rejection. You may well find an intrepid agent who loves your 140K word ms, and (s)he may well find a brave editor willing to take it on. Just understand that, as a general concept, the higher the word count, the more difficult it becomes to publish traditionally.
     
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  17. Deloctyte
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    Deloctyte Member

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    I'm not sure if this is considered necro-ing a thread. I dearly hope not.

    I've been working on my novel for a bit now, and the length has been an ongoing problem for me. I designed the plot and the way the story was written which meant that I kept anything too complicated and convoluted out of the picture. A nice, straightforward narrative so people won't have to remember a million names and specialized terminology on the first go. I've seen the length of 50k words being thrown around as a bare minimum, and now 75 and 100 are thrown around like it's no more than spare change.

    I finished my first draft at 40k, and I've worked it up to nearly 50 at this point, but I'm terribly afraid that I can't expand the story much more without either being bloated, or by breaking my self-imposed rule and making it...detailed.

    What's a man to do? Shall I give in and paint a much more diverse and intricate universe, even if it means that it might lose some of it's speed and some might get lost in the details, should I risk a little bloat, should I simply write the sequel squirming in my head and slap the two together (Doing the opposite of what Void was contemplating) or what?
     
  18. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    You're writing YA, @Deloctyte, so there is room for slightly shorter lengths. But as I said in your other thread, 50K is on the short side, especially for a book that sounds like it's going to need a fair bit of world-building.

    If your story is absolutely perfect at 50K, then I'd try to sell it at 50K. I wouldn't expand it just to hit a higher word count.

    That said... have you had betas read the story and find it absolutely perfect? Are you convinced that you've given readers enough to really catch hold of? Do your characters have depth? Are there character arcs as well as plot arcs? Is your world-building rich and compelling? Do you have a firm grip of your pacing, with quieter moments spaced between the action scenes, giving readers a chance to catch their breath before you start ramping up the tension again? etc.

    I mean, there are lots of good books that are only 50K words long. Maybe that's the length your story really should be. But it probably will make it harder to sell, so I'd suggest you take a really hard look at the story to see if there's anything missing. Another 10K-20K could make a big difference, I think. But only if it's a GOOD 10K-20K.
     
    Last edited: May 3, 2015
  19. VirtuallyRealistic
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  20. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I always laugh when I see that post - It starts so authoritatively, and then we get to the Western category, and get: "I remember reading some Westerns in high school and, if I recall correctly, they weren’t terribly long." I mean - if he doesn't know, he could have just left the category out of the post, couldn't he? It kind of makes me give the side-eye to the rest of his proclamations!
     
  21. AlcoholicWolf
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    AlcoholicWolf Contributing Member

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    There's no way my fantasy saga is going to be under 500,000 words when finished. Or if it is, it'll be too short.

    I just try not to worry about publishing it. When it comes to being published I'll work on something else, a shorter story - just as The Hobbit was the LOtR. If I can jump on the success of a smaller book that will be peachy, otherwise my writing will just continue to be a hobby rather than a profession. What's wrong with that?
     
  22. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I had the same thought. Also, historical fiction is not a genre?
     
  23. Ryan M Pelton
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    Ryan M Pelton Member

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    There is in fact no ideal length for a novel. I have seen very thin book and also very thick one. Plot need to be very interesting. Thats all.
     
  24. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Not if you are trying to be traditionally published. Then, for adult fiction, the general guideline is 80K-120K, although for first timers many agents consider 90K the "sweet spot".

    At the recent Writers Digest Conference in New York. Paula Munier of Tolcott Notch Literary laid out several benchmarks that agents are looking for (in her experience), including the 90K word count. But she also pointed out that exceeding these benchmarks - word count, number of POV characters, etc - are not absolute pass/fails, but each one you "break" is more baggage for you to carry in the querying/pitching process.

    I've trimmed my historical novel to 115K (down from 119K). At the WD conference, I pitched 7 agents. Only one said she might have a problem with the word count.
     
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  25. Phil Partington
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    Phil Partington Member

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    Might be helpful

    https://authorphilpartington.wordpress.com/2013/11/12/a-writers-guide-to-fiction-types-of-fiction-word-count-and-page-count/
     

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