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Novel Length

Posted: Thu Apr 24, 2008 2:08 pm
by spknoevl
I'm working on a novel that is about 60,000 words. I've been told that most fantasy publishers won't take on a book that is less than 80,000 these days. Any opinions?

Posted: Thu Apr 24, 2008 2:41 pm
by RHFay
The artistic opinion - your novel is what it is. If you can effectively tell your story in a meaningful way in 60,000 words, so be it. It may be a smaller-than-average fantasy book, but that's not a bad thing. Some smaller books still pack quite the punch. (One of my favourite adventure yarns is The Prisoner of Zenda, which is not a huge volume by any means.)

The practical opinion - look around at different publishers' guidelines to get an idea of what they typically publish. Some may publish smaller tomes, while some may not. Again, if you can effectively tell the story in 60,000 words, someone may decide to publish it regardless of length. Don't rely on what "someone said", do the research and find out yourself.

Posted: Fri Apr 25, 2008 6:37 am
by spknoevl
It used to be that a book was considered a novel at 60,000 words, and a novelette if it was between 40,000 and 60,000 words. I think I read somewhere that The Great Gatsby is only about 40,000 words. Also Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, which I'm currently reading, is a relatively thin book. I'm guessing it comes in at around 40,000 words.
Unfortunately, writers like Robert Jordan and Terry Goodkind seem to have slanted the fantasy market to longer tomes.
I guess the real test will be when I start submitting it to agents.

Posted: Fri Apr 25, 2008 9:15 am
by Magus
Technically speaking....

50,000 words and above is considered a novel.

30,000 - 49,999 words is considered a novella.

10,000 - 29,999 words is considered a novelette

Anything below 10,000 words is considered a short-story.

Although individual definitions will vary.

A lot of how it's perceived also relates to how something is marketed and whether or not it is published as part of a collection.

Posted: Tue Apr 29, 2008 6:40 am
by spknoevl
Actually the 75,000 words novel requirement was on Orson Scott Card's site. He was saying if you had a fantasy or Sci-fi story of 60,000 words, you didn't have a novel by today's standards. He did go on to say that if you're story is good enough, then length didn't matter.

It just concerns me that my novel may be rejected by some publishers or agents strictly because of its perceived brevity. On the other hand, I don't see any way to add another 15,000 words to it without adding a major sub-plot.

Posted: Tue Apr 29, 2008 10:06 am
by RHFay
The only way you are going to find out if publishers think it's too short is to send it out and see what they say. Fretting about it will do you no good.

They could always say they like it, but they want you to flesh it out a bit more. Then you worry about that additional 15,000 pages. No sense in worrying about it now, if you feel your story is complete at 60,000.

If I recall correctly, after his wife dug it out of the bin and sent it out yet again, Stephen King was asked to expand Carrie. It's been known to happen.

Posted: Tue Apr 29, 2008 10:16 pm
by Magus
That's half-true, the Stephen King one. He, discouraged, through it away. His wife found it, read it, and encouraged him to continue (helping him a good deal with the ins and outs of high school girl society). After that he sent it out (and, presumably, accepted, as I don't recall offhand any stories of him having to significantly alter the book for publication).

Re: Novel Length

Posted: Sat Apr 04, 2009 8:20 pm
by Grand Evander
A lot of agents discuss novel lengths to disspell some of the misconceptions. Colleen Lindsay, for example, has a whole post devoted to book lengths. From my understanding, in the mid 90's we saw a trend towards longer novels (up to 170k+ words, what have you). Today, agents look for books by debut authors to be around the 80k-120k region, with 100k being preferable. For fantasy, agents might look at up to 130k, but that's more of a genre specific idiosyncrasy and it still depends on the agent/publisher. There are exceptions, of course. Longer novels = more pages = more expensive to produce and more shelf space each novel takes up = less copies that can be shelved in book stores. That's a lot of the consideration behind maintaining tractable novel lengths.

Sending a manuscript out to publishers or agents to check on length is a bad idea. Most of these professionals will only read through your manuscript once if they request it after seeing a query or a partial, and you have to include novel length in queries. If they see a novel length that's too long or too short, they most likely will not request to read the book and just give a form rejection. There are exceptions, of course, but if you're rejected because of length and requery when you have a shorter novel, the agency will know that it's a requery.

Re: Novel Length

Posted: Mon Apr 06, 2009 6:58 am
by spknoevl
It's hard enough for a new author to get published these days that I don't want to handicap myself before anyone's even read the manuscript. I'm going to aim for 80,000 words, or as close as I can get. I noticed on DAWs site last week that they stated they generally don't accept submissions shorter than 80,000 words.

So far I've got the story up to about 68,000 words by adding 2 additional scenes which fit into the story very organically and by fleshing out a few scenes. This is despite the fact that I dropped the prologue from the book which cost me about 500 words. I have 2 other scenes in mind that originally were referred to in the story but will now be fully written out. Hopefully by the time I'm done adding those scenes and completing my next revision I will be in the 80,000 word ballpark.

Re: Novel Length

Posted: Wed Apr 08, 2009 4:13 pm
by Grand Evander
It also depends on genre, as I mentioned. For YA, the limits are lower (80,000 is typically the upper bound for YA). For adult fiction, 80-120k is standard in the US while in the UK it tends to be 100-140k. There are some other differences between US and UK conventions, such as UK agents focusing on synopses and the first three chapters vs. the US emphasis on the query letter and a sample of the first five or so pages. A fair amount of agents, sadly some of the ones I'm eying, are closed to submissions at the moment. Recessions seem to spur creativity either out of escapism or necessity it seems... low demand and high supply. There are less spots for debut authors and more novelists than there have been in the distant past.

Re: Novel Length

Posted: Sat Apr 11, 2009 10:52 pm
by Ariel
Interesting. I didn't know there was a difference between the UK and the US and how they dealt with things. Thanks Grand Evander for that info!

Re: Novel Length

Posted: Sun Apr 19, 2009 3:11 pm
by Grand Evander
There's an interesting blog post by Kristen Nelson on the differences she observed between the US and UK markets.