Wednesday, January 25, 2012

word count in fiction

Word Count in Fiction

Inspired Writing

There are very good reasons for
rules like this...

I want to touch on a new subject tonight, while it is fresh in my head.....and let's be clear...the advice I give out concerns fiction, no poetry or cookbooks or anything like that. 

Let’s begin with word count. Some of you fiction authors need this lesson first and foremost.

Rules For New Authors

Now, there are going to be a few of you that think you know better, and that’s fine. I’ve seen novelists far, far smarter than me crash and burn by ignoring this advice.

And it’s not my advice, by the way. It is common sense gleaned from the publishing industry. That’s right - the very industry that you as a writer want to notice your work and spend mad stacks of money putting your heart-felt novel into print.

Okay….here goes. This must be said because it seems that some of you writers have no concept of when to quit.
I’ll be perfectly clear here - 80,000 words, 85 tops.

Yes, you heard me correctly. An 85,000 word novel is the upper limit of what the publishing industry - and readers - will tolerate. Your complete novel - finished and out the door.
Any more is like watching a movie that runs on too long, any less and you run the risk of producing a novella.
Too long or too short, both are virtually impossible to sell to an agent or publisher. And they know the business; they’ve been doing it for centuries. I can sense an argument brewing.
“My book is 158,000 words! I need every single one of them to convey my story properly.”
Okay, if you say so.
“My book is 112,000 words. And I think that’s fine. I’m not changing a thing.”
Good for you. Stick by those guns.
“But a Tom Clancy novel runs 250,000 words! Why can’t mine?”
Good point.

I have a question, though. Are you Tom Clancy? 

This extremely talented man - who developed the Jack Ryan character - got off to a very rocky start. His first book was published by a non-fiction military press - none of the contemporary houses would touch The Hunt for Red October because it was too technical and too long.

I recently reread the book pictured above, Debt of Honor. Excellent read, lots of fun. But it's over a thousand pages. Don't do this. Just....don't.

Once again, do you really want to fight that kind of uphill battle?
I’m going to let you in on a secret. I myself have been guilty of this, and a lot of the problem was ego. More than likely, if your book is over 85,000 words, it’s bloated with prose. Unnecessary prose. If it hurts the story, it has to go.

80,000 words. That’s your goal.

You came in at 72,000? We can live with that.
Umm, excuse me? How about 89,000? Sure, no problem. That’s okay, too.
Yes, you can write a novel bubbling with a quarter million well-written words. After you become a best-selling author with a huge following. After…just be patient.

Let’s visit the other end of the scale.
I will tell you something in all honestly that you should probably hear. If your new book goes up for sale in the bookstore for nine bucks, but only clocks in at 55,000 words - people are going to feel cheated.

Is this reasonable? Doesn’t the buying public understand your vision?
No, absolutely not.

I’m telling you this for one reason; you can alienate your fans in more than one way. Your argument does not matter. If a customer feels cheated, they feel cheated. It’s that simple. Keep in mind that Twitter stuff we talked about earlier.

There are other factors as well. Characters that don’t click, a plot that feels sub-par, or the story is too long and boring….these things can make or break your book.

More as we move on in the next few days......

What drives you batty in 
your favorite novels?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just about to start shaving. Im a 112000 book girl...its hard..time consuming and painful...