Author’s Note: This is a topic near and dear to my heart. Thinking about yesterday’s post about the rise of YA fiction as a force majeure in the SF&F publishing world, it wasn’t far for me to start thinking about book length. Also, to be entirely honest, Dear Wife suggested both topics. I’ll also note: this is a very meaty (i.e. wordy) and at times contentious topic. For that reason, I am going to do something I rarely ever do on my blog: I’m implementing sectional subtitles. Why? Because this turned out to be a real, long, in-depth, even semi-scholarly article on the topic of wordcount length, with quite a bit of data and market analysis. Your conclusions will be your own, but I’ve tried to synthesize a lot of information for this article. I considered splitting the article into several posts, as I often do when a single post grows this long, but I felt that it would weaken the analysis to have the disparate elements separated onto different pages. So, instead: one long post with sectional subtitles. Finally, you’ll find I prefer the compound word “wordcount” as opposed to splitting the word into two: “word count”, which is the more common usage. The reason for this is that when I refer to “wordcount” I’m referring to a single, distinct idea: that is, the total number of words in a manuscript. Splitting the word into two diffuses this unified notion.
Books of a Certain Length
If you look around on the internet, it won’t be hard to come up with some solid advice for how long your book should be – depending on which genre and market you are writing for. I encountered advice on the issue in this post on the Magical Words blog – where you’ll find me entering the fray in the comments. There’s also this post on The Swivet. I won’t quote all the genre length guidelines these two posts suggest (which are mostly in accord). But if you’re either a fan of meaty Epic Fantasies or books like the Harry Potter series, and write in anything approaching a similar vein and genre, you might find some of these guidelines a trifle… strange. Epic Fantasy is given a high-end wordcount length suggestion of around 120,000 words. For YA it is suggested you stay under 80,000 words with some flexibility up to 100,000 in special circumstances.
For those of you unfamiliar with relative wordcount lengths, you may consider that and say to yourself: “Okay, so, what’s the big deal?”
The Challenge of a Verbose Writer
Let me first start by offering this full disclosure: my writing style tends toward the robustly wordful. For example, I’ve participated in several “Flash Fiction” challenges during the history of this blog (with most results posted here) with the goal of turning out a super-short story under 1,000 words in length. I rarely reached that goal. My first attempt at a novel, “Project SOA”, had reached the two-thirds complete mark at approximately 140,000 words before I abandoned that version of the story. I’m planning on my current novel project, “The Book of M”, to be about 125,000 words… but I fully expect it to be closer to 175,000 (based on my experience of planned length versus actual final length for other, shorter works).
Of course, I’m no professional, as yet. Continue reading