July 16, 2012

Word counts for novels

I keep reading posts in writing forums where the the writer is fretting about their manuscript nearing 100,000 words. They seem to think there's a line at 100k that you must not go beyond under any circumstances -- and that 80,000 words is ideal for a novel. What planet are these people living on? And they say this line in the sand is drawn by potential book publishers. What?

I suspect all these people are from the new non-reading public even though they're allegedly writers. And perhaps publishers aim only for that market these days, thinking there are no real readers left.

Personally, I'm thrilled when a book that I'm enjoying goes on and on, and I've read many novels that were over 1,000 pages. In case you're not familiar with word counts, that's a hell of a lot more than 100,000 words -- more like a million or more. Length is something a writer shouldn't think about. If it's good, it's good. What does size have to do with it?

It's strange. I guess in the new YA (young adult) market, which seems to be the one most writers aim for these days, they like short books. You don't want to stress those readers' brains. But this is nonsense talk. Xmas Carol is well over 200,000 words -- and I don't think it's a long book at all. If I picked it up, I'd finish it in two or three days. That's too long?

A book that's only 80,000 or 90,000 words is a novella, the way I see it. And novellas suck. What's your opinion? Aren't you upset when a good book ends? You want it to go on forever, right? How could it be otherwise?

2 comments:

Artichoke Annie said...

Weighing in on long novels. Let's see Gone with the Wind, I did read, it's huge well over 1000 pages, then War and Peace, Mien Kampf...both long books, right?..started and never finished.

I'm not much on size matters so while I don't count pages, my guess would be around 600 page on average a normal size novel for me.

Then came Diana Gabaldon with her Outlander series, they push the envelope of 1000 pages =/-. I was hesitant at first but excellent writing won out and I read every word she writes that I can put my hands on and count the days until her next book comes out.

Then along came Xmas Carol, How many pages was it when you sent it to me? Admittedly when I read draft #? it was with a critical eye, as you had instructed. I am looking forward to the coming out of XC for real and sitting back and reading this final, well polished version for fun. From what I gather, it will be a whole new novel that I will feast my eyes upon.

writenow said...

Thanks for your rundown. You made me think. I guess there is a "preferred" length. I like a book to be over 500 pages. Less than that's a tease. And if it's really good, 7 or 800 is a good length. I like long books.

When you read Xmas Carol, Annie, it was longer than it is now. I think your version was about 240,000 words. Unfortunately, I don't know how many traditional "pages" that is. I suspect 400-something. That's how it feels to me.

I cut the book down to about 217,000 now. The story is more streamlined. You'll think it's a much shorter book on your second pass through. Carmine, who's reading it again, said the new version is "zippy". That's good to hear. It feels that way to me, too.

I can't wait to get it out. I "finished" it again today but tomorrow I'm going to read chapters 9-12, and probably change a few things. Then I'm going to read the whole thing from start to finish. And at that point, I suspect it will be done. The end is truly in sight. Hallelujah!