Books of a Certain Length

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. 

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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

Tempest in a Teacup: Author Agents & Self-epublishing

I am, of course, an author whose “time has not yet come”, as it were.  (It remains to be seen if my time ever actually will, but I maintain hope.)  I’m not really in the industry – not yet.  (I’ve only had one professional sale.)  So in the long arc of publishing history, anything I say on the subject of the future of publishing, such as it stands now, is subject to all kinds of “I don’t really know what I’m talking about” caveats.  And as I look forward to the hopeful prospect of having a career as a writer, I worry about how what I say publicly may or may not qualify me or disqualify me for the having of that career – or in other words, I fear whether something I say now might potentially be damaging to future possible relationships with publishers, editors, or agents.  I don’t want to be a problem child or a prima donna, or appear as someone difficult to work with.  My goal is to be personable and pleasant to work with.

That said, I follow the news on the publishing industry with avid interest.  And I do have opinions about what’s happening, and the changes in the industry.  For instance, I feel that a lot of people are spouting off their opinions on what’s the “Gospel Truth” about the future of the industry when they, quite frankly, don’t really know a darned thing about what’s actually happening.  Everything is changing so fast that anybody who claims to know exactly what the future of book publishing looks like is probably selling something, and I’m very wary of these kinds of absolute pronouncements.  I take them as advice: here’s one version of how things might go down.  But as for me… I’m content to wait to see how things actually happen.  Besides, I have to focus right now on writing.  I can’t very well play any role in the industry until I have something written that’s worth reading.

All that said… I read an interesting post by Jim C. Hines today about one, shall we say, interesting development in the world of publishing.  This isn’t exactly coming out of nowhere – this change has been moving slowly for at least the last year (since I started paying attention to this stuff), and probably longer.

This change, specifically, concerns the roles that Author Agents will play in the Brave New World of Publishing, which Jim comments on here.

Reading that post lead me down a rabbit-hole of learning more about how Agents are changing their business models to survive the changes in the industry – and specifically to a very interesting Dust-up/kerfuffle.  Here are the relevant links:

I reserve comment on just what I really think of the whole situation.  At this juncture, it would be imprudent.  I will say: I don’t know any of these individuals personally.  I don’t have a horse in this race.  How can I?  I am genuinely interested in learning how this settles out.  And I will be following this going forward.  But I have my thoughts and reservation (which I’m happy to share privately, for any interested, but I doubt there will be any bites on that one).  I just think, for those of you who hadn’t seen this particular dust-up, yet, that this might be worth a read.

Additionally: be sure to check out the comments in those posts.  Some of them are at least as enlightening as the posts themselves.

Addenda: Here are some more links provided by others that I thought worthy to share (More Information = More Power):

If you’ve got some links to some places where agents and authors are talking about this issue, feel free to share them.  I’ll continue appending to this article as I have the chance to read more on the topic.

Final Note: Despite the title to this post, I really do think this is a pretty big – and important – issue.  The reason for the title has more to do with my incurable affection for alliteration that for how important I think this is.

Cross-posting: Amazon and the Big Squeeze

In one class I’m taking this semester, called “Strategic Decision Analysis”, we have a course blog where we, the students, are keeping track of things we notice in the news and in our lives that reflect the course topics, which largely revolves around Game Theory.  Earlier this year I posted an entry in this blog about the infamous “Amazonfail” event, otherwise known as the “Kerfuffle”, and what I was then learning about the future of publishing.  Well, recently, the Boston Review published an article that details the whole sordid history of how Amazon has put the squeeze on the publishing industry, and what that means for the future of the industry.  And I noticed that there were a lot of Game Theory aspects to this whole story.  So, I wrote about that for the course blog.  You can find my original entry hereContinue reading