If you were thinking this blog was going to be about something else, I’m sorry to disappoint you. This article is about books…and how long they should be. That’s what you were looking for? Oh, well, read on!
The length of a book became an issue for me when I realized how long my second, third and fourth Anaedor books were turning out to be. Could such an issue as being too long really exist? Sensing it could, I did some research and found, to my horror, that for a novel, your book length should be in the range of 80,000 to 110,000 words.
The Anaedor books far exceed that 110,000 mark. They’re too big!
So why is book length important, you might ask? Plain and simple, publishers want to make money off the deal, not lose it. The more pages you have, the more it costs to publish. On the other side of it, you also don’t want your book to be too short - it will be hard to compete with other books of the same genre. People want to think they are getting more for their money and the smaller books are perceived to be of less value.
So how do you figure out your word count for your book? Well, your computer can do it for you. In Microsoft Word, you just go to Tools and click on Word Count. This neat little chart will also give you the number of pages and characters. Some say this isn’t the best way to go about assessing word count, that you should do the method below, but I found Microsoft to be very accurate. If you are handwriting your book - God be with you - you can count the number of words on 3-4 pages and average them (that means: add total number of words and divide by the number of pages you counted). Take that number (your average, say 250) and multiply by the TOTAL number of pages you have (say 200). The answer is 50,000, which means your work has about 50,000 words, give or take. This should work if you write a consistent number of words per page.
All this being said, let’s look at some real world examples that don’t follow the guidelines. Being that I write fantasy, I’m going to use fantasy authors. The Spiderwick Chronicles were clearly written for younger readers and are very short. I don’t have a word count for them, but you can do the math easily enough. They certainly aren’t even close to 80,000 words per book. They, however, are quite successful. The Spiderwick Chronicles are really one long book, but were made into a series of books. Each can stand on its own, but you won’t get the whole flavor of the story unless you start from the beginning and read all the way through. You might want to consider this option if your book is very long, and more suited to younger audiences.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (the first book in the series) is approximately 77,000 words, but Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is about 190,000 words. Rowling did follow the guidelines for her first book (and for first books/first-time authors, you really want to keep them shorter, anyway), but as the series grew, and its popularity, she had the luxury of making her books longer.
Some say that the right length is what it takes to tell the story. Others advise that after writing your first draft, you should cut about 10-20%. I’m taking both pieces of advice. With Book Two (The Return to Anaedor), I’m going through and taking out anything that doesn’t contribute to the story. I actually think that what I’m doing is making it a better story while at the same time achieving better flow (which, if you’ve been reading my blogs, you’ll know is an important topic to me).
These aren’t always hard and fast rules. Fantasy and science fiction are allowed a higher word count. Books for younger audiences are going to be shorter. Either way, if your query letter and first couple chapters are interesting, agents will bite, even if the word count is outside the guidelines.
Still, I wish I’d known about the concept of word count before writing the Anaedor series. I might have worked on being more concise, or maybe did five books instead of four. Maybe I’ll still do that. Who knows? I did feel better after starting to read Eragon the other day and noticing how long it was, especially for a new author. Then I learned that Paolini’s parents owned the publishing company he published his book through and my hope plummeted. The closest my parents come to publishing is that my mom owns a printer.
It could be worse, though…
My eight-year-old son was trying to write a book the other day to sell in the mall he wants to build this summer in our back yard. He has employees ‘working’ for him and everyone is doing their part to create merchandise to sell. One idea they had was to sell books. So my son wrote his own book. To make it more professional looking, my husband set him up in Word so that he could type out what he’d written. Even though my husband set the font as big as he could without it looking too weird, my son still had a hard time filling a page. He has realized the hard way how tough it is to type 1000 words, much less 80,000 of them. Why am I telling you this? If you are a beginning writer/author wannabe, don’t worry too much about word count. Just try to fill those pages. The guidelines are meant to guide, not stifle.
So what have I learned from this whole experience? Well, my second series is going to be considerably shorter, that’s for sure. I’ve also discovered that I seem to have to do everything the hard way. Here’s hoping you have an easier time of it!