Novel Length

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JaEvans
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Novel Length

Post by JaEvans » April 1st, 2010, 4:08 pm

Hey All,

Since I am getting so many comments in the feedback section on the length of my novel I thought it would be good to put the subject up for discussion. My novel is an adventure novel in the literary fiction tradition. After many careful edits it has ended up at 190,000 words. I have noticed that most novels in the forums here are around 90,000 to 100,000 words. I also have noticed that most are written to a teen audience. My novel is written for young adults to older adults. One more thing I want to add is that I have done a walk around my local book stoor and found at least 20% of the novels there are at approximately 200,000 word count. The last Harry Potter is an example of this but there are also a number of first novels this length.

My question is about the relation between word count and genre?
A follow up quetions is about how to get a larger novel considered by an agent? I know from the book store that not only are a lot considered but also published.
"Life is a tragedy for those who feel, a comedy for those who think" Horace Walpole

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shadow
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Re: Novel Length

Post by shadow » April 1st, 2010, 4:32 pm

JK Rowling can write a million word novel if she wants too. She is a known author so she can and you can't. Keep in mind that the first harry potter isn't that long. 190,000 words is VERY long for a YA novel. You can rip this off for a sequel once you already published the first but not for a first. 120,000 is considered the highest word count for YA Fantasy because Fantasy tends to run longer but I have cut mine from 100,000 to 88,000 to 86,000. Shorter novels are more likely to sell to publishers because they take up less space. Take a look at Nathans post for more info on wordcount.
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Re: Novel Length

Post by tameson » April 1st, 2010, 5:21 pm

When looking at comparison books, you should only look at debut novels within the past 2 years to see what is currently acceptable. Even for fantasy, which is allowed to go long, I was told 120k is the longest a new author can get away with.

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Re: Novel Length

Post by miahayson » April 1st, 2010, 5:24 pm

From what I've heard and read, Shadow is right. Sadly, a lot of agents will have difficutly considering a YA novel of that length ---> even Meyer admitted she was very lucky to have her debut novel accepted at above 120 000 words. That doesn't mean you shouldn't write something longer than expected if the story really needs to be that long. You've just got to be aware of what is the norm for your genre and the problems querying a longer-than-average MS might pose. :~D

Does that help? I don't know if that does, lol, but I hope you find a length that everybody can be happy with :~)

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JaEvans
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Re: Novel Length

Post by JaEvans » April 1st, 2010, 7:08 pm

miahayson wrote:From what I've heard and read, Shadow is right. Sadly, a lot of agents will have difficutly considering a YA novel of that length ---> even Meyer admitted she was very lucky to have her debut novel accepted at above 120 000 words. That doesn't mean you shouldn't write something longer than expected if the story really needs to be that long. You've just got to be aware of what is the norm for your genre and the problems querying a longer-than-average MS might pose. :~D

Does that help? I don't know if that does, lol, but I hope you find a length that everybody can be happy with :~)
Your comment helped a lot. My novel is two complete stories intertwined. I can not make is shorter unless I take one of the stories out and that would not work. I wonder how to get this across in a query. I have read Robert Jordan - Wheel of Time etc. and they are very long books right from the debut. There are a number of first novels that I have read which are long.

I do not consider my novel a YA novel either. I consider it adventure but in the literary fiction tradition. I guess what I need to do is figure out a strategy for my novel at the length it is at.
"Life is a tragedy for those who feel, a comedy for those who think" Horace Walpole

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Quill
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Re: Novel Length

Post by Quill » April 1st, 2010, 7:20 pm

You may think of your story as adventure, but it is about an alternate dimension, a realm of light and darkness that controls the universe, is it not? I think that makes it fantasy.

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Bohemienne
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Re: Novel Length

Post by Bohemienne » April 1st, 2010, 8:23 pm

JaEvans wrote: I can not make is shorter unless I take one of the stories out and that would not work. I wonder how to get this across in a query. I have read Robert Jordan - Wheel of Time etc. and they are very long books right from the debut. There are a number of first novels that I have read which are long.
The first book in a series is not the same as the first book by a previously unpublished author. Jordan cut his teeth cranking out Conan the Barbarian books before he was given creative liberty to write those doorstoppers. While the previously-cited Meyer and Jaqueline Carey were extremely lucky to be able to have their first novels extend beyond the 120,000 word limit, just keep this in mind:

chances of getting an agent to like your query > chances the agent will like your partial > chances the agent will like your full > chances the agent can find a publisher for you > chances the agent can find a publisher that will accept such a high-risk behemoth of a novel

Why intentionally diminish your likelihood of getting published? I'd really examine your plot, see if you can't make it into two or even three books. If you love every facet of the story, then you can find a way to expand it even further to stretch over that. Throw in more milestones for your characters, ones that can serve as stopping points for a single book.
Last edited by Bohemienne on April 1st, 2010, 10:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Bryan Russell/Ink
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Re: Novel Length

Post by Bryan Russell/Ink » April 1st, 2010, 8:50 pm

And may I also mention that you'd be amazed how much you can cut down a novel simply in the language. Two metaphors where only one is needed, long descriptions, repetitions, overly chatty dialogue, loose sentences...

Examine every sentence, every conversation, every description. I'm guessing you can cut. 20 words per page for 750 pages... that's 15K. And be ruthless. Sometimes the key is not cutting outright, but merging elements. Often scenes in early drafts have single purposes. Scene 7 is to provide piece of information X. But if you make scenes work extra time you have a more complex and interesting story... and a shorter one. Are there things you can combine? Is the whole scene vital, or just an element of it? Can that element be used elsewhere so the bulk of that scene can be cut?

I've been there. It can work. Chop away! It can even be oddly satisfying.

Best of luck,
Ink
The Alchemy of Writing at www.alchemyofwriting.blogspot.com

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Re: Novel Length

Post by mmcdonald64 » April 1st, 2010, 10:05 pm

My book is just a hair under 90k and it's aimed at adults. I mean, YA could read it too with no problem, but it's not aimed at them. If I count everything that I've written for this book, it would be well over 150k. lol. But I revised, changed scenes, etc.

I think Ink has some great suggestions. I found places where I repeated info and took the machete to those sections.

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JaEvans
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Re: Novel Length

Post by JaEvans » April 1st, 2010, 11:28 pm

Good info guys. I am not ready to take anything out of my book but will let you know when I make that decision. I have toyed with splitting it into two book. We will see what happens.
"Life is a tragedy for those who feel, a comedy for those who think" Horace Walpole

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Hillsy
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Re: Novel Length

Post by Hillsy » April 2nd, 2010, 10:37 am

This is something I've got a vested interest in too. Personally, I think the question should be focused around debut novel length and YA rather than all books in general. I too have noted exactly how many books there are in excess of 120K, mainly Sci-fi and fantasy.

Firstly I'd note that there is still some argument as too the length of fantasy - see this link: http://dglm.blogspot.com/2009/11/chasya ... count.html

I think INK's comment is spot on. My Sci-fi's first draft was 287042 words. I realised I'd started in the wrong place so cut 2 chapters (18K) then removed about another 70K so I'm about 195K now and sending it out for Beta reading. But obviously we don't' know if you've done this already.

There's one other Massive factor to consider, you don't have to publish it NOW! Brandon Sanderson, for instance, pulled an old manuscript from his drawer recently in the form of Way of The Kings. You should be writing something else already, so just let the 190K one rest until one of the others makes it. I've got two I'm working on that, I'm guessing here, will finish around 140K and 120K, both sci-fi. If one of them hits the spot I can dip in my drawer and pull out the bigger one. Remember, you don't have to publish books in the order you write them.

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Re: Novel Length

Post by kenpochick » April 2nd, 2010, 12:03 pm

http://editorialass.blogspot.com/2009/0 ... novel.html

Though that might help. I've seen similar numbers as well. From what I've seen Adult fantasy books are allowed to be longer, up to 140,000. JK Rowling can write however many words she wants because people line up at book stores to buy her books.

You may want to consider it being two books, especially if there are two stories intertwined.

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Re: Novel Length

Post by r louis scott » April 3rd, 2010, 1:43 pm

Hillsy wrote:This is something I've got a vested interest in too. Personally, I think the question should be focused around debut novel length and YA rather than all books in general. I too have noted exactly how many books there are in excess of 120K, mainly Sci-fi and fantasy.

Science fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction get a little bit of a pass on word count because it it presumed that a certain amount of world building must take place. The key words to the previous sentence are "a little bit".

Unless you can find an agent that loves your book so much that they are willing to fight this battle for you, I don't think that 190K words is going to work out. Do you have a critical reader that can look at it for you? Perhaps it is two books and not one? I helped my critique partner bring her first novel, an epic historical, down from 320K words to 210K words. I was able to point out entire chapters that did nothing to advance her story. It was great writing but it didn't NEED to be there. We argued and went back and forth (we agreed in the beginning to be the harshest of critics but the best of friends) as she trimmed for almost six months. Entire characters vanished and journeys were undertaken on a single page instead of thirty.
She eventually landed an agent but not a sale. She's working on her next one now with the idea of keeping it under 120K.

Get another set of critical eyes on your work. the result might surprise you.

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Hillsy
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Re: Novel Length

Post by Hillsy » April 5th, 2010, 5:05 am

I was saying that questions about novel length for debut writers should be separated from novel length question in general as there are obviously plenty of books published that break the rules - the question is how many of them are debut authors?

I think this distinction would help solve a lot of misunderstanding and stubborn insistence on both sides. On the plus side it might encourage writers to perhaps stop tinkering with a completed novel and crack on something else that might run shorter, rather than spend months and years cutting, splitting, fretting and so on.

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Re: Novel Length

Post by Margo » April 5th, 2010, 12:13 pm

A major sci-fi/fantasy editor told me (in 2003) that she thought 85k was a great length for a debut fantasy. She also confided that those doorstopper books could use some serious pruning, but many of the authors would no longer consent to be edited and she no longer had the time to argue with them about it.

After asking authors, agents, and editors and reading everything I can on the topic, I firmly believe that 100K is a really good debut length for fantasy (and a few other genres as well). Even 120k can earn an unpublished author a rejection slip (got one myself to support that, with handwritten notes as to the reason).

As sacrilegious as this may sound, I second the suggestion to put an overly long book away for now and put together a new project that can come in at a lower word count. My experience is that one of three things will happen:

1. The author, after being published, can use prior publishing success to push through a quality novel that he/she could not as an unpublished writer;
2. The author, after working on other projects, will realize the previous project can indeed be edited down considerably;
3. The author, after working on other projects, will realize the original project was never really publishable, though it was essential for honing his/her writing skills. The author might then scrap the project or perhaps overhaul it.

My final suggestion will seem horribly horribly cruel. Strive to become less emotionally attached to any one project. Most writers churn out a vast quantity of words before they reach professional quality. Most of these early projects will be little more than a heap of "suckfulness", to borrow from Sharon K. Butcher. This suckfulness will probably persist longer than the average writer realizes. The consolation I have found is that there is always another project to love; I am just progressively less likely to love the project to death (through over-editing, under-editing, unwillingness to torment beloved characters, etc). Hope this is helpful.
Urban fantasy, epic fantasy, and hot Norse elves. http://margolerwill.blogspot.com/

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