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  • Manuscript Length
    by MarkS at 12:09 on 21 October 2005
    I'm picking up on another thread on the average length of a novel.

    My first novel was about 150K words and then my second came in around 65-70K words, though it still has to go through the full second drafting stage, which I suspect will fatten it out.

    I've heard a lot of talk about agents/editors putting a lot of emphasis on novel length. Has anyone had some experience with this?

    Surely the length of a novel is fairly redundant - with typeface size and spacing a publisher can make a 50K word novel look just as thick as a 150K word novel. Is it not the story and quality of such that one should concentrate on, rather than trying to get to fit your work into a certain length?

    Anyone had any feedback in this respect?


  • Re: Manuscript Length
    by Traveller at 12:19 on 21 October 2005
    I think it depends what kind of fiction you write - literary fiction is more flexible but with commercial fiction there's a standard length. I agree with you though - the story should be paramount. There are many successful short novels.
  • Re: Manuscript Length
    by MarkS at 12:22 on 21 October 2005
    Agreed, but as the boundaries between commercial and literary fiction blend, so do the accepted norms I suppose.
  • Re: Manuscript Length
    by geoffmorris at 14:11 on 21 October 2005
    Hi Mark,

    Have a look at Amazon.com (make sure it's com not co.uk)

    As part of their feature that allows you to read extracts from the books they have a text stats feature. Basically it give you a word count and various breakdowns of the text in the book.

    It's a pretty useful tool all road.

  • Re: Manuscript Length
    by EmmaD at 14:42 on 21 October 2005
    I think a publisher would think that anything below 60-65,000 was on the skinny side, but that doesn't mean they won't want it, only that they're aware that it's slim, if you see what I mean. They would be looking to be sure it was short, not slight. Anything over 150,000 might be seen as fat, but again, only that they'd take that into account, and want to be sure it was long, not bloated. No one's even asked me how long mine was at 142,000.

    I really don't think it's an issue these days - maybe because as Mark says the last few years' literary/commercial distinction is melting again - unless you're writing very much to a tightly-defined, specific format. Mills & Boon are 50-60,000, I'm told.

  • Re: Manuscript Length
    by rogernmorris at 20:28 on 21 October 2005
    My novel is around the 70K mark. I confided to the publisher that I was worried that it was too short. (This was after the contract was signed and the book was in production.) He said it was fine - in fact, for a first book he thought it was a good length. It's hard, apparently, to get readers to go for new books by new writers, and if they look too long they might not be prepared to make the investment (of time, as much as money). But different genres do have very specific demands - though I think there is flexibility. One editor once told me that she has an ideal book size in mind - one that feels that you're getting good value but that doesn't feel off-puttingly massive. Mind you there have been some very weighty tomes published from first time authors recently. Hunger's Brides, for example. It took Paul Anderson 12 years to write and comes in at over a thousand pages. There's commitment for you.
  • Re: Manuscript Length
    by Account Closed at 21:44 on 21 October 2005
    I once read in a novel writing book that you should always at least stick to the typical word length for your genre.

    The reasons were good:

    a) your reader in the shop might be put off by your book being shorter or longer to what they typically expected. It's kind of true when you think about it, if you buy books of a certain genre you get used to how "big" the book looks on the shelf.

    b) it said publishers / printers will try to squeeze a certain number of books in each box. I'm certain this is not true for the JK Rowlings of the world but for a first time author I think it's something to consider.

    It suggested to find out the word average for your genre to pull some books of the same, and calculate an estimate per page (line word count by number of lines) then multiply by the pages. Do so for 6 books and you have an average. Or you can use the word count thing someone said on Amazon, presumably easier!!!!

    Just in case it helps anyone...

  • Re: Manuscript Length
    by EmmaD at 22:12 on 21 October 2005
    Statistically, such figures may be true, but I can't believe they're helpful at the writing end of the process. It's a bit like deciding to use short words not because you want punchy, abrupt prose, but because you've been told that editors will know that the typesetters will find the text easier and cheaper to set.

    I'm sure it's true that different genres come out at different lengths. But you have to have the horse before the cart. You get the 'right' length by really understanding the nature of the genre - how it works and why - and making yours work brilliantly well in those terms. That's what editors want, I think.

  • Re: Manuscript Length
    by Account Closed at 23:01 on 21 October 2005
    I think it's about getting a ball park figure though, not that we want or should follow something exact at all. I think it's useful to know the give or take expected for the genre, and it gives an aim in mind. I think first time writers just like to have an idea in mind.
  • Re: Manuscript Length
    by EmmaD at 23:34 on 21 October 2005
    Yes, you're right, it helps to have an idea. The trouble starts when that overrides writerly sense!

  • Re: Manuscript Length
    by Harry at 03:51 on 22 October 2005
    This is all very interesting to me.

    I've just finished the first draft of a novel. Put it all together and clicked 'word count'. I then spent the next hour in a state of anxiety that my measly 54,000 words was no where near enough to be taken seriously.

    With the inevitable rewrites and revisions I'm confident that it will become 60-65, but I still worried. Then a thought occurred to me: that's the length of the story. It never has been and never will be a 100k novel, and I stopped worrying.

    If it's not published purely due to length there's not much I can do about it. I'll just have to have a longer story for the next one.


    Sorry. The point of all that is that I agree that it is the story the dictates the length, and trying to pad something out just to meet a word count will only make the story, and so the novel, suffer.
  • Re: Manuscript Length
    by EmmaD at 20:28 on 22 October 2005
    Harry, your writerly sense is obviously in excellent working order.

  • Re: Manuscript Length
    by Colin-M at 11:12 on 23 October 2005
    Harry, this made me laugh because I'm in the same boat. I've just worked out that my current manuscript, when complete will be shorter than 40,000 words. I have a slight advantage in that I'm targeting the Young Adult market, so I might be able to get away with it, but I can't really pad it out much longer, because the story I want to tell has a certain length.

    The other alternative is to knock out another two and pack them together as linked novellas.

    Colin M
  • Re: Manuscript Length
    by Harry at 11:24 on 23 October 2005
    Colin, it's nice to know I'm not the only one.

    A novella trilogy (trilogy of novellas?) is a great idea.

  • Re: Manuscript Length
    by Colin-M at 12:06 on 23 October 2005
    It's Stephen King's old trick. But he was a cocky sod when he did that, and each of his novellas were around the 120,000 mark anyway. Anyone else would publish four separate novels. I read an interview where he said that he only really did it because he was writing way ahead of his publishing slots. I'm sure Apt Pupil or The Shawshank Redemption could have stood on their own feet.

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