Tag Archives: word count

Word Count by Genre: How Long Should My Book Really Be?

Here is a great article that was originally published on ManuscriptAgency.com by . It has so much useful information that I had been looking for. If you like what you read here, please be sure to follow the link at the bottom to learn more about Kit and to read some of her other posts.


Publishers and agents are typically inundated with manuscript submissions from authors seeking publication. And as a result, ‘the authorities’ (as I shall hereby refer to them as) are looking for reasons to reject your book. The standouts are standouts, and speak for themselves. But for every standout manuscript there are hundreds of manuscripts that are hard to place – could they be best sellers if they found the right audience? More often than not they are looking for reasons why these manuscripts shouldn’t make their lists. And scrutinizing the word count is one such method of reducing their ‘slush pile’.

‘The authorities’ ask for a list of details in your cover (query) letter for a reason, it is their way of determining your understanding of your own work, the market, your competition etc. They want you to make their jobs as easy as possible – not because they are lazy, but simply overwhelmed. They need reasons to throw your manuscript in the bin and move onto the next one – and it’s not because they are horrible people who want to force people to ‘fail’, it comes down to time pressures really.

They also are looking for ammunition to take into ‘the pitch’ meetings, where they know if they are not prepared, then it will be a bloodbath. The truth is that, even if they love your manuscript and believe in it, they still need to convince ‘the suits’ (aka the sales and marketing department). ‘The authorities’ know that by pitching a manuscript that comfortably fits into a salable category they have a much better chance of ‘selling’ your book to ‘the suits’.

Word count comes into this overall equation. Most literary genres have expected word lengths, which have been driven by audiences – in terms of their own expectations of the genre, as well as our (the professionals) expectations of them (an obvious example for this: children’s books need to be shorter than science-fiction for adults, simply because children don’t have the attention span that adults possess).

Adhering to the expected word count demonstrates that you understand your market. It also shows that you have the ability to pace your narrative and make every word count (that you are disciplined at self-editing).

Publishing realities such as ‘production costs’ are another reason that ‘the authorities’ need you to respect word count expectations. The greater the word count = the larger the book = more sections and pages that are required to be printed = upping the price of your book once it hits the shelves. And why would a publisher want to spend more on producing a book and then taking the risk of selling it at a higher price point than they have to? Ultimately, if they have five other books in your genre that are ‘as good as’ your book then what would persuade them to publish yours? It would have to be pretty darn good to demand a higher sales price point and the chance of losing sales to a cheaper book in the same genre.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to compromise your manuscript and make it homogeneous, however by trying to tick a few boxes it might well help you find publication. And keep in mind that although there are always exceptions to the rule…don’t count on it that you are that exception.

So, with the above in mind, here is a rough guide for expected word lengths for adult fiction.

Here are the general figures that you’ll want to know:

SHORT STORY:

  • Under 500 words can be described as ‘Flash Fiction’
  • Between 1000 and 8000 words is a short story (also, most short story competitions will stipulate their required word length for entry)
  • Between 5000 and 10,000 words is a long short story

NOVELLA: This is a story that is between 10,000 and 40,000 words.

NOVEL: A manuscript over 40,000 words is considered to be a novel. However, very few novels these days are as short as that. Generally a 50,000-word novel would be the minimum word count. Most novels are between 60,000 and 100,000 words. A single novel can be longer, but once the length is above 110,000 words publishers may look at cutting it back, unless it is a particular kind of book – books over the 110K word count are usually considered ‘epics’. Here are some of the genres in a little more detail:

Adult fiction (commercial and literary): usually fall between 80,000-100,000 words. Dropping below this figure is passable, however not by too much. Exceeding the 100K word count by too much could make the book more expensive to produce – the story would have to be really worth it for a publisher to want to fork out more money than necessary on production!

Science and fantasy fiction: are the exceptions to the ‘word-limit’ rule, but even so they don’t usually exceed 150,000 words (and usually fall within the 90,000-120,000 range). The reason they are the exception? Audiences of this genre are happy to read epic novels, they expect it to take time to build the fantasy world around them and want to immerse themselves into that world for some time. Publishers and agents know this and as a result they are willing to show more leniency when it comes to word limits, so you are less likely to lose out on a deal due to word count for this genre.

Romance novels: 50,000-100,000…this is a fairly vast bracket thanks to all the sub-genres that can be found in this category (think Regency, contemporary, historical, paranormal, erotic…even chick lit). Aim for somewhere in the middle and you should be pretty safe – when writing your romance novel, consider your reader: where and how will they be reading your book? On the plane, by the pool, on the commute to work? What do you think they want out of the book – is it that they want a quick, light-hearted read, or an epic love story? This will have an impact on where you take your word count. This can be applied across all the genres really.

Historical fiction: Similar to sci-fi and fantasy-fiction, you are creating a world for your contemporary audience – you need to make this real and believable for them…but not dull and lifeless. Too much information and your novel could be at risk of being boring, too little information and you will find it difficult to place your audience in the time period. Aim for the 100,000-word mark in order to offer up something that is rich in detail, but not tedious to read.

Crime/Mysteries/Thrillers/Horror fiction: All these categories have one major thing in common: suspense. Any book that falls into this category needs to be a real page-turner. Too many words and you risk losing your audience, too few and they might feel like they missed something. So it is advisable to follow the guidelines on word length for this category. Generally speaking a 70,000-90,000-word count is a comfortable range. Publishers and agents expect that authors in this genre will understand how to be ruthless with their words in order to keep their narrative on-track and moving at an engaging pace – lengthy descriptions tend to be like a needle to a balloon…it pops the crucial tension that you have spent so long ‘blowing up’.

Young adult fiction: Although we covered this to some degree in our Publishing: Children’s Books Explained article, there is a little more to YA than meets the eye. This category has an ‘expected’ word count of around 50,000-80,000…however there is a little flexibility here, due to the sub-genres found in YA. For instance a sci-fi YA title could be expected to be a little longer due to the world-building requirements and also the expectations of the reader for this genre. But general YA titles should always keep in mind the age of their targeted audience and realistically consider their attention-span to an ‘epic’ versus something they can read comfortably before moving onto their next book ‘conquest’.

Children’s fiction: see more in my Publishing: Children’s Books Explained article.

Non-fiction: I really should break this category down into sub-heads such as: memoir, history, photography, reference, design, novelty… the list goes on. And for this reason, it is almost impossible to place a word restriction on non-fiction titles. Many books in the non-fiction category are also ‘acquired’ on concept alone, rather than a completed manuscript. If you have written a nonfiction book and want to know if you are hitting the word-count ‘sweet spot’, I suggest reading widely in your area to see what others are doing – this will give you a better sense of what publishers (and readers) expect/want.

SOME FINAL THOUGHTS

Always keep in mind that each story has its own natural length, which may fall outside these guidelines. If this is the case, just be prepared to ‘justify’ your reasons for falling outside the ‘norm’…always keep in mind, you are selling this to the agent/publisher/commissioning editor in the first instance, but then they have to sell it to the sales and marketing team (which can be a particularly hard sell! You can emotionally trap the creative team more than you can ‘the suits’…they want numbers and figures and hard facts. And at the end of the day, they have a lot of power, so it is important to keep both these audiences in mind when you are ‘selling’ your book).


Source: http://manuscriptagency.com.au/word-count-by-genre-how-long-should-my-book-be/

Craig Boyack – Guest Post: Short Story Writing

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I really appreciate the invitation, and the topic challenge. I never really put much thought into how I came to write short form stuff. It kind of evolved, but reflecting upon that, hopefully, leads me to a good article.

Once upon a time, I wanted to write a novel. I picked up my iPad and started typing away with no idea what I was doing. I had no idea what the rules were, or that they even existed. Looking back, it was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my writing career.

The final product sucked, but I didn’t know that at the time. I kind of wandered from one cool idea to the next without much of a game plan. What I wound up with was quite a bit like a television series. The same characters engaged in tiny vignettes that were kind of cool. Archaeologist might look at those one day and decide they were my first short stories. (They certainly weren’t a novel.)

I’ve always loved short form stuff, and in many ways prefer it to a novel length work. Time is a big factor for me, and I really dig a story I can complete in one session. Prior to that first “practice” novel, I read lots of Poe, O’Henry, and magazines. I enjoy some of the ones dedicated to short stories, like Hitchock’s, Ellery Queen, and others. It never really occurred to me to write my own.

From magazines, I wound my way into comics. I think this is a wonderful way to tell a story, and there are some great graphic novels out there these days.

My Blog, Entertaining Stories, had been live for about a year when October rolled around. I wanted to do something on my blog that felt like Halloween. I enjoy reading a kind of micro-fiction called Creepy Pasta. I thought I might try my hand at that.

I did some snooping around, and someone has a website by that name. I probably have no legal worries, but didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes either. Who knows, that person might someday prove to be an ally in my self publishing journey. I came up with the name Macabre Macaroni instead.

I posted a complete story per week during October, and my blog stats spiked. One of them was the most popular post I ever made for a long time, and it’s still in my top ten. I decided the short form still had fans somewhere out there, and did a bit of digging.

Traditional publishing shunned the short form. Oh sure, some of the biggest name authors can get away with a book of short stories, but for the rest of us it’s pretty limited. Amazon changed all that for us. These days, novellas, novelettes, short stories, and even poetry are making a comeback.

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I’m a big believer in challenging myself, and include a personal challenge in all of my novels. It might be unnoticed by the reader, but it forces me to grow and improve. I approached short stories with that mindset. I’ll never know if I can write one until I write one.

I scoped out my competition, and many of them offered a single short story for 99¢. Others were writing a series, and offering a prequel for 99¢. I decided to offer a book full of short stories, and micro-fiction, for 99¢. It seems like a better deal, and it sells pretty well for me.

I searched for the rules once again, and there aren’t many. Sites offer up word count for the various lengths, but none of them seem to agree. Therefore; I reject their reality and substitute my own. I break it down this way:

  • Flash Fiction = one paragraph
  • Micro Fiction = a decent blog post. 1000 words, pushing my luck at 1500
  • Short story = 5000 to 30,000 words
  • Novella = 30,000 to 80,000 words
  • Novel = 80,000 words and up

It used to bother me that there are holes in my list. It also bothered me that novelette didn’t find a home. Today, I really don’t care. The actual story is more important than the pigeonhole it goes in. As a self publisher, I don’t have to conform to a bunch of categories that different websites define differently anyway.

My short form tales are also proving grounds for me. I called the first book The Experimental Notebook for a reason. Short form allows me to experiment with new things. I recently wrote one that I’m pretty excited about as a big monologue. It would never work as a novel, but I think it’s a great short story. I also wrote my first epistolary style story as a short story.

At some point, I’m going to put out a second Experimental Notebook. The first one sells well, and I’ve gotten some wonderful reviews. It can also be looked at as a gateway drug into my novels. Someone might take a 99¢ chance, and decide one of my novels might be fun.

I write speculative fiction, and for me the fences are pretty far apart. My stuff varies from paranormal to science fiction, and the occasional fantasy. This gives me plenty of room to keep things fresh, and the short form stuff does the same.


I hope I’ve encouraged some of you to take a chance on short form. As writers, you can try new things without dedicating months to a project to see if it works. Now you can use those cool ideas that won’t carry an entire novel. As readers, you can enjoy a complete story on your commuter bus, or coffee break.

If you’d like to check out some of mine, you can read The Experimental Notebook of C. S. Boyack here: http://a-fwd.com/asin-com=B014S2BA4U

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A speculative selection of micro-fiction and short stories. These were designed to be short reads for your commute, coffee break, and other times when readers are pressed for time. This book contains a bit of science fiction, some fantasy, and paranormal stories. 

I’m excited to see short fiction returning in popularity. I hope you will enjoy these stories as much as I did.

 

 

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