How long should a novel be? (pt.2)

write a novel

Following on from last week’s post about novel lengths and word counts (here), I have some final words for writers wondering about novel length.

If you read my last post, you should now have a pretty good idea of how long your novel should be.  But there’s one other important thing to consider: If you’re a debut novelist, your novel should be shorter than average.  The reason that publishers are leaning heavily towards shorter novels in today’s market is that they’re cheaper to produce: less paper, less ink, same cover price.  If your book fails to sell, there’s much less waste if your book was a sparse 80,000 thriller instead of a 120,000 word epic.  This isn’t to say that you should change your genre, only that if you would like your groundbreaking first novel to be published then it seems sensible to make it an easy choice for the publisher.

The good news?  In today’s world of e-publishing, print costs don’t matter.  If self-publishing seems like a good idea, then you have a little more room to maneuver.  That is not an excuse to avoid proper editing!

I was lucky in that my first novel, a fantasy called “Half Discovered Wings” at a hefty 130,000 words (around 500 printed pages), was picked up and printed by a traditional publisher.  It happened at the end of 2009, just before the massive economical downturn, so I slipped through the doors just as they closed.  My second novel, a science fiction thriller at around 110,000 words, was just too long even a couple of months later (I won’t question whether quality might have been a factor!).

I’ve read a lot of articles recently that suggest debut authors should not exceed 100,000 words – and I agree.  Ideally, the maximum word length should be around 90,000 words if you want to make it easy for that publisher to pick up your novel.  I’m currently giving my current literary effort the harsh cut, and have managed to get it down to 97,000 words from 115,000, a reduction of 16% – with work still to be done.  I’m determined to get it lower than 94,000 words, ideally 91,000 words, to give my book the best chance it can get.

Be sure to do the same!

—db

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