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High word count expectation is not fair!

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by ClearDragon, Aug 19, 2020.

  1. ClearDragon

    ClearDragon Minstrel

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    All the publishers I've looked at want at lest an eighty thousand word manuscript, some want one hundred thousand or more, and are not considering shorter ones. I don't know if I can write a manuscript that long. When I finished my first book, I began reviewing and revising it. I found many things that I could describe with fewer words. I also removed a whole two thousand word scene because it didn't fit with what came before and after it. I also removed a large conversation between two characters because it didn't do anything for the story and was kinda dull. Then when I reworked all the dialogue, it lessened the word count more. In the end it went from sixty five thousand words, which was already too short, to forty one thousand words which is apparently of no interest at all!
    What was I supposed to do? Have everything way drawn out and use as many words as possible?
     
  2. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    40,000 is more in the novella range. Maybe look at publishers who take those.

    I think it is as much a marketing concern as anything. If your book is sitting on the shelf looking thin next to whatever Brandon Sanderson or other writers with established name recognition are also selling, it might be a harder sell. Even against unknown authors, a consumer might feel they're getting more for their money from a longer work. I think publishers believe fantasy audiences gravitate toward longer works, so that's what they want, as a rule.
     
  3. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Arguably there's not enough story at forty thousand. Take a look at novels you like, ones that are in the same genre. Do they have sub-plots? Do they have more dialogue or more exposition than yours? How many main characters are there? None of those things by themselves are key, but it can get you looking in the right direction.

    Similarly, look at twenty of your favorite books. How many of them weigh in under fifty thousand words? Novellas do have a market, but it's a tiny one.

    Finally, have you sent your book to beta readers? If you do, be sure to ask them if they think the book is long enough and if not, what they'd like to see more of.

    Without knowing more about the book, that's about the best I can suggest.
     
    A. E. Lowan, Malik and jacksimmons like this.
  4. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Seems like expectations have changed with time, too. Thinking about the first Elric books, or Zelazny’s first Amber books. Those couldn’t have been more than 40-50k.
     
  5. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    Novellas are great (says the guy who enjoys writing them).
    This is probably true. I have a hunch the expected word count might be crawling back down, but I've got nothing to back that up with, and even then it's probably still above 100k words for epic fantasy.

    According to kindlepreneur (How Many Words Are in a Novel? Here's a Breakdown of 15 Top Genres.), the average word count for books (in the top 100 liste on Amazon) in the fantasy genre is 109k words.

    So, what to do if your book doesn't fit that range and the story is done and you're not going to rewrite it to add more details?
    Two options:
    1. Find an agent/publisher who's willing to take on shorter length books.
    2. Publish it yourself.
     
  6. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Inkling

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    Right now, I'm concerned that I've overshot the 4000 word target for my beginners' chapter book. Every genre has its demands!
     
  7. As SvrtnsseSvrtnsse mentions, self-publish it. Large publishers go with what works for them and over the years, word counts have crept upwards. Novella's are of no interest to them, which leaves self-publishing as the main alternative. Don't try to add unescessary words to your work, it usually makes it worse (and a common writing advice is that editing should in most cases decrease the word count of your work).

    Also, write the next book. After your first book, you should have a better idea of your process and what kind of story you like to tell. Use that and either keep writing novellas or decide you want to write longer works and do that.

    If you want to write a longer piece of work then you can try to
    - add more characters, especially viewpoint characters. They get more scene's and make stuff more complicated, which increases word count. Just make sure all characters actually do something, have a reason to exist.
    - add more sub-plots or complications to your main plot. Especially useful if you're also adding characters.
    - add more locations. Again, increases the potential for more sub-plots and characters.
     
  8. Leonardo Pisano

    Leonardo Pisano Scribe

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    Hmmm, in the Netherlands the usual advice is to limit to 80-90K words, especially for beginners. This not genre specific AFAIK. The reasoning is that nowadays books are sold online and the 80-90K doesn't have to be sent as a parcel, as it fits the letter box ...

    Come to think of it, I like tightly written novels. Maybe you can write another one and offer both stories as one book?
     
    Ban likes this.
  9. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    This is the thing. What defines a novel is not the number of words. I touched on this in another thread, but a novel is a fictional narrative reflecting on social, political and personal realities through the employment of literary devices: theme, subtext, tone, exposition, chemistry, foreshadowing, imagery, allegory, all that stuff that some of us (myself included) snoozed through in third-year theory.

    This is why novels are long: there's a lot going on in there.

    There is a considerable difference between a novel and a novel-length story. You need to go back and look at the contingencies of your rhetoric and figure out what you're trying to say with your 40,000-word story. Once you have that and you start punching it up with secondary and tertiary themes, subtexts, side plots, etc.--all the things that make your point--it'll blow itself out to novel length in no time, I promise. You'll be cutting literary devices out by the time you're done.
     
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  10. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    >What defines a novel is not the number of words.
    I get what you're saying, but if I tell readers they're getting a novel and charge accordingly, and it weighs in at 40k, there's going to be some irate readers. So novel in that sense is about quantity. You're talking about quality. And, what is quality, after all? (*nods to Robert Pirsig*)
     
  11. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Inkling

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    'Novel' is an arbitrary designation for a type of story. Word count is as good a way to define it as any. My shortest was just over 40,000, my longest around 210,000, and I call both novels. That's how many words it took to tell each story, and that's that as far as I'm concerned. Naturally, the shorter one costs less!
     
  12. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    Fair point, but a novel shouldn't weigh in much under 40K, unless you're Arthur Miller reincarnated, because otherwise there's slim chance you're going to get the defining components of a novel wrapped up in 150 pages.

    Novels are long not because the stories are long, but because the stories are deep. You cite Persig, but Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was 416 pages.

    Novels aren't made of words. Novels are made of the stuff I talked about above: theme, metaphor, allegory, imagery, symbolism, subtext, commentary, chemistry, characterization, story, plots and subplots, exposition, complication, hyperbole, foreshadowing, paradox, irony, allusion, tone, personification, juxtaposition, control of narrative distance . . . The words just hold all that stuff together in the shape of a book.

    You can put ten thousand nails in a pile of boards and while it remains an impressive feat, it doesn't mean you've actually built anything.
     
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  13. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    apart from 'Lord of the Rings' and a couple others, most of the old line pulp fantasy/sf novels were on the order of 50-60,000 words: 'Witch World' and successors, 'the individual 'Earthsea' books, the 'Unbeheaded King,' and quite a few others. Those books did credible jobs of creating entire worlds with complex societies and characters. Those works, though, date from half a century ago.

    I see a lot of 'indy' works in the 200 page range (roughly 60,000 words) that range from fantastic to...not very good.
     
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  14. ClearDragon

    ClearDragon Minstrel

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    Well, thanks for the advice people.
    I'm going to see about publishing it as a novella. I'm also working on my second book that I hope to make about three times longer.
     
    Svrtnsse likes this.
  15. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    One thing I've found, both in my own writing, and with a lot of other authors (especially if they write series), is that the books just get longer and longer, they rarely get shorter. :p
     
  16. ClearDragon

    ClearDragon Minstrel

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    I've seen that a lot too.
    My first book is like an introduction the my fictional universe, the second one has a much more in depth story.
     
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  17. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    One underlying issue is that word counts matter for people without a name... If you’re a famous writer and write a book at 40k they might gobble it up, same goes for the opposite end of the spectrum. If you write a 200k word behemoth as a no name, they’re going to pass (in general, exception always happen). The truth is, if you are an unknown and agents/pubs see a really low word count or a really big word count, they’re going to assume problems with your story. That is part of the story, anyhow. The other would figure into profitability in trad, where print still rules their concerns. Once you go over 120k, a new mental barrier appears for agents and pubs.
     
  18. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

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    Hijacking the thread, but I love this. I'm a Dutchman myself and wasn't aware of this. The idea of restricting book sizes not on the basis of some inherent standard or expectation of quality, but the ability to fit the product through a letterbox is so incredibly Dutch. Efficiency first, art second.
     
  19. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    The size of mass market paperbacks is (if I’m not mistaken) based on fitting into the grocery line, heh heh.

    But big books are absolutely not so much a quality issue as the cost to produce. The old standard notion was that the book buying populace didn’t want to pay more for a super-thick book, which costs much more to produce. The typical buyer wanted to pay X for a book, and no more than X, so, pubs lost profit margin with thick books. THEN there was an explosion of big thick book popularity, and suddenly they printed not-so-thick books in really big fonts to make them bigger on the shelf! Then, that trend went away, and we have what we have, heh heh.
     
  20. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

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    Eh. Your story need only be as long as it wants to be. Not every story in your head will be a long one.
     
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