1. Matthew Cox
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    Matthew Cox Member

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    What to do about book length? Looking for some opinions.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Matthew Cox, Nov 22, 2012.

    Hello all. I have been writing on and off for probably about 10 years now - mostly as a hobby with no real plans to publish. Lately the urge to pursue a serious writing project and try to get published has become important to me. I am working on a novel, that I am 12 chapters done with writing (first draft) out of a planned 38 or so.

    The problem is that I did a little research today and it looks like the expectation of sci fi / fantasy fiction is around 120,000 words at the upper end - even though there have been books out there much larger than that.

    My current MS is already at about 140,000 words and i'm only 30% done with what I have planned in the outline. I'd like to think that Microsoft Word is giving me inflated stats or that the 250 words per page when using Times New Roman, 12 point, double spaced might be misleading - but the amount of story I have written down compared to the amount of story I have to tell to finish this seems incongruent with the word count expectations.

    Assuming I can trim some bits out, I can see it maybe falling into the 250-300k word range. The nature of the story does not lend itself well to being chunked up into multiple books - its not really a plot that advances in distinct stages. At this point I am wondering if I should just go ahead and finish it - writing it out to be as long as the story needs it to be, polish it up, and set it aside until I can get something smaller out there to be published.

    Is it really that out of whack for a book to come in at the 300k word range? I have seen a lot of posts here and there from writers who say they struggle to hit 80,000 words or 90,000 words... Perhaps I am approaching something from the wrong direction as this seems to me to be a little too short to tell the story I have to tell. :)
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If your manuscript falls outside the 80,000-120,000 word range specified by most publishers' submission guidelines (and the majority strongly prefer 80,000-100,000 words), you will almost certainly never even be read. Publishers have too many manuscript submissions, and word count is a very easy criterion to thin the herd. Furthermore, it shows you are unable or unwilling to follow directions.

    Make it fit. If you have too much or too little story for it to fit, and cannot adjust the story to bring it to the range, choose a different story to tell.

    New writers cannot expect flexibility. A proven successful writer is another matter, but until you have proven your marketability (and professionalism), you aren't special enough to warrant leniency.
     
  3. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    Definitely got to get within 80-100k maybe 110k max if looking for traditional paper publishing. If you're e-booking your own work, then word count doesn't necessarily matter. However, if you're twelve chapters in and at 130k of words, I'm willing to bet there's plenty of flab there that can be trimmed down-or the idea needs to be separated into different, smaller stories.

    One mistake a lot of new writers make is being in love with their words. It's impossible to feel that way, and expect to be commercially viable no matter which road you take. I myself don't tend to be overly verbose when I write anymore, but I've managed to cut anywhere from 9-30% out of any given chapter when hard copy editing. One chapter went from a morbidly obese 3683 to 1919 after editing. So, I'm willing to bet there's a good chunk that could be chopped out or rewritten more efficiently to bring down word count.

    But, as Cog said, reconsider the story too-or see if it can be placed into separate novels that are the right size, and still convey the story line you want in an efficient manner.
     
  4. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    My first novel was 420,000 words. When I went back and looked at it critically, I found that the leading causes of the inflated word count were too much backstory, explaining too much and leaving nothing to the reader's imagination, very long sequences of dialogue (including incidental conversation that happens in real life but should not be included in a written story) and just being repetitious, especially with character names. I went back and got it down to 140,000 words - still too much to be published, but I stopped there because I realized that it had other weaknesses, and that it had already served its real purpose - as a learning experience.
     
  5. Matthew Cox
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    Matthew Cox Member

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    The first novel I tried to write came in over 420k words too, and much like what you said - I let it go as a learning excercise and didn't pursue it further after trying to edit it down.

    Thanks all for the feedback. I guess the fundamental problem is that the initial plot idea came from a storyline I wrote up for an RPG session, and I am trying to essentially transcribe that into a novelized form. There's 6 primary characters involved but they're so enmeshed that I'm not sure if I can just excise one or two of them.

    I can definately trim down some things though. I am explaining a lot of things, mostly due to the fact that its a sci fi setting that I have been developing story for for about 10 years now and there are terms and things unique to it that are not common knowledge.

    I have been sending chapters around here and there to some people for feedback, only one of whom is a professional proofreader, and so far I have been getting very positive feedback - the proofer mentioned that she "has seen far worse than this published", which I am taking as a good reason to continue with it...

    It seems like my two choices then are to find what I can to eliminate and keep the core of the story intact or try to separate it into several books.

    I will admit to having a lot of backstory for characters, even minor ones have fairly complete ones - even if only 10% of it gets mentioned in the text.

    Perhaps now would be a good time , since its getting at about the limit of word size for a manuscript for me to seriously look at how to divide the plot into maybe three books, or two depending on how much I can trim. What I am concerned with though is ending the first book in a way that doesn't just make it feel like a part 1 of 2, but has a satisfying end point unto itself.
     
  6. Matthew Cox
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    Matthew Cox Member

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    Hmm. If 3683 words is obese for a chapter, I guess 15,000 is going to be a problem. What is vexing me is that it doesn't FEEL too long...

    I just applied the 250 words per page calculation to chapter 9, and that came out to be 9250 instead of the 13357 that MS word is telling me.
     
  7. the antithesis
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    the antithesis Member

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    If after trimming and cutting you find the story is still way too long, just break it up into a trilogy. Just like Star Wars.
     
  8. Matthew Cox
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    Matthew Cox Member

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    Perhaps... I am just wondering if I'm doing something fundamentally wrong since every chapter I have so far is at least 9000 words, often more. None of the people that I have shared sample chapters with have said that I am too wordy. Perhaps the flaw is with my outline, and I am trying to cram too much into each chapter.

    Essentially what I did was write the plot in an outline format, gathered my thoughts for what needed to happen within each chapter, then named each chapter. A 3000 word chapter feels so short I'm not sure how to advance any of the story points along in it :) Obviously - I am not doing something correctly.

    Then again with an ensemble cast of 6 main characters going up against 3 primary adversaries - maybe the overall plot just plain wont fit in a single book. I suppose I could restructure it in a series of confrontations one after the other instead of fiddling around with cat and mouse games and suspense leading up to a final showdown with all 3 baddies at the end.... Yanno now that I am thinking about it; i just might be able to manage chopping it up into three parts with some of the side-plots that are unrelated to the main story arc spreading out among the different books.
     
  9. the antithesis
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    the antithesis Member

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    I understand that Lord of the Rings was similarly broken up.
     
  10. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    MS Word's count on words is pretty much accurate. The average is 250 words, per page but it doesn't mean that's what's being used. I have 3571 in words single spaced so far in 9 pages and it breaks down to 396 words per page. Double space that and you'll get roughly 200 per page. I'm wordy enough that entire paragraphs (note 3.6k going down to 1.9k) can be cut and the story still flow. It depends on the kind of world your building. However, as mentioned earlier, if you're at 130k in 12 chapters out of 38, either somethings are going to have be cut, and a close examination of whether there are repetitive items, etc that can be removed.

    Books are never written on their first drafts but when editing.

    PS. The 3683 became obese when it became repetitive in places and had entire paragraphs that didn't need to be there. I trimmed 30k words off my novel in hard copy editing and have replaced them with 30k of characterization and setting up the sequel. So, not all words are bad or are created equal either.
     
  11. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Yep. It was only meant to be a single book, a sequel to The Hobbit, but he got carried away and then had to turn it into a trilogy
     
  12. Matthew Cox
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    Matthew Cox Member

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    True about LOTR :)

    Does it work to just cut a book off? As my plot outline is now, in order to make separate books out of it I was thinking of rearranging the 3 main antagonists into a resolution with each one in turn at the end of each book, but that would cause some significant changes to the plot from how I had initially envisioned it.

    How workable would it be to have three separate books that are sequential as if to say book two just up and picks off where book 1 stopped?
     
  13. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    No. A new author has to offer a single, complete novel, not a series or series installment. Furthermore, even a series installment has to be a complete, stand alonr story.

    Your example, Star Wars, is an example, even though Lucas was already a well-established filmmaker. That first film, although Lucas had a nine-story arc sketched out, was a story that stood well on its own. It did not require any of the other films of the series.
     
  14. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am in awe of those who can carry a story for 400K+. lol If I ever even get to 100K for 1 novel, it'd be a miracle. lol
     
  15. the antithesis
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    the antithesis Member

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    True dat. I tend to run out of gas after the first sentence.
     
  16. the antithesis
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    I had been told, for fantasy at least, that publishers preferred trilogies. Now, that was twenty years ago, so times may have changed and considering the source, it is likely that was incorrect in the first place. So never mind that.

    But you're right. That first book would need to be tooled into a complete story on its own with room for more story to follow. That is the challenge Matthew has in front of him. Either cutting his epic down to a publishable length or turning the first act into a stand alone story that could be the first part of a series, a natural consequence of break his story up into several books.
     
  17. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ditto most of the advice above... if you want to have any chance of getting that book published by a paying publisher, there is no alternative to cutting it down to no more than not much over 100k... you might squeak by with 120, but no more than that...
     
  18. Matthew Cox
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    Matthew Cox Member

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    Is this only for the first book from an unknown author? I have read books that felt way over the 100k mark, 700 pages or so in paperback. Maybe i'm adding too many details and side plots but a mere 100k words feels so small and constrained. What about finishing this one and then doing another manuscript or two in that range to get my foot in the door, then bringing this one up if I ever do develop a working relationship with an agent?

    I mean this is kind of wierd. I sit down with a chapter outline and start typing and before I know it i'm at 10-14k words and I don't feel that i'm being too wordy, though I will concede that I may describe things more than once - which I will need to go back through and look for. E.g. one of the characters is quite pale and I always refer to that whenever mentioning her skin. Of course I like to paint vivid mental images... perhaps I am afraid of under-describing things.
     
  19. the antithesis
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    the antithesis Member

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    That is a typical and often unfounded fear for new writers. In light of this, catting your story down to a more reasonable length may be a realistic possibility.
     
  20. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Be brutal - I seen one of my novels being carried off into epic territory and
    decided okay, one of you characters and sideplots has got to go.

    If that doesn't jive - cut scenes that echo each other - if people
    are discussing something they have already hashed out - cut it.

    Also some scenes can be turned into transitional-type paragraphs.
    Rather than show everything that has to happen - have a time
    passing paragraph that highlights a pile of events. - I've been
    working this technique into my own project to cut down on the chapters.
     
  21. the antithesis
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    “Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it – whole-heartedly – and delete it before sending your manuscripts to press. Murder your darlings” ~Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch
     
  22. Show
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    I tend to burn out around 70-80K. lol I suppose 80K is a good aim though.
     
  23. Matthew Cox
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    Matthew Cox Member

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    Did some poking around and found this: Makes me wonder where this 120k thing is coming from... (http://www.cesspit.net/drupal/node/1869)

    Lord of the Rings - J. R. R. Tolkien (revised to be in line with the rest)

    The Fellowship of the Ring: 187k
    The Two Towers: 155k
    The Return of the King: 131k

    Total: 473k

    Wheel of Time - Robert Jordan

    The Eye of the World: 305k
    The Great Hunt: 267k
    The Dragon Reborn: 251k
    The Shadow Rising: 393k
    The Fires of Heaven: 354k
    Lord of Chaos: 389k
    A Crown of Swords: 295k
    The Path of Daggers: 226k
    Winter's Heart: 238k
    Crossroads of Twilight: 271k
    Knife of Dreams: 315k

    Total: 3M 304k (official count)

    Stormlight Archives - Brandon Sanderson

    The Way of Kings: 387k (official count)

    A Song of Ice And Fire - George R. R. Martin

    A Game of Thrones: 298k
    A Clash of kings: 326k
    A Storm of Swords: 424k
    A Feast for Crows: 300k
    A Dance with Dragons: 422k

    Total: 1M 770k

    Malazan Book of the Fallen - Steven Erikson

    Gardens of the Moon: 209k
    Deadhouse Gates: 272k
    Memories of Ice: 358k
    House of Chains: 306k
    Midnight Tides: 270k
    The Bonehunters: 365k
    Reaper's Gale: 386k
    Toll the Hounds: 392k
    Dust of Dreams: 382k
    The Crippled God: 385k

    Total: 3M 325k
     
  24. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It comes from SUBMISSION GUIDELINES.
     
  25. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    If the objective is to be traditionally published, it is already difficult enough to even get out of the slush pile for full consideration. Top agents and publishing houses get hundreds of queries and submissions a month (those that take unsolicited submissions). Even small presses get multitudes more than they can hope to publish.

    Indicating a 300,000 word completed manuscript will earn a form rejection probably as fast as having one spelling and grammar errors in the letter's first paragraph. They have so many more manageable-sized manuscripts to consider, and they'll have to sell that big one (a huge hurdle for themselves)--either an agent to an editor/publisher, or an editor to the managing editor/marketing and bean counting departments.

    Yes, there are exceptions. And yes, authors of epic fantasy novels do write novels that are very long. Actually, their contracts sometimes call for a minimum of words for a piece (150,000 or 250,000) because that's what that publishing house expects. Those authors are also those that have proven themselves in the market place.

    As has been said, having a standalone novel to begin with, less than 120,000 words will greatly increase what are already long odds. It's not easy to just break a novel into three parts. Most novels are not structured that way (story arcs and such).

    With self-publishing, an author can do what he/she desires, but just because an author self-publishes certainly doesn't mean they (the readers) will come. In any case, a work should be as trim as possible because one bloated with irrelevant content that doesn't really move the story forward, will fail miserably.

    One might argue that heck, with ebooks, the length doesn't matter. But consider, that it will take more than 3 times as long to edit and copy edit a manuscript that is 300,000 words as it does one with 100,000 words. That means three novels could be edited and made ready for publication in that time. Sure, one monster epic would require only one investment in cover art and fewer marketing strategies. But it also means placing more eggs for sales in one basket.
     

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