How long should my debut novel be?
When I was writing the first edition of my first novel, a big question for me was how long should a debut novel be?
One of the first places I went to try to figure this out was Wikipedia. What I found out there was that writing over 40,000 words is considered a novel, but beyond that, it can vary greatly.
|Novel||40,000 words or over|
|Novella||17,500 to 39,999 words|
|Novelette||7,500 to 17,499 words|
|Short story||under 7,500 words|
There are a number of factors that can affect the length of your novel, such as genre and whether you plan to self-publish or are looking for a traditional publisher. If you are looking for a traditional publisher, it is also important to note that different publishers may be looking for different minimum word counts. On the flip side, if your manuscript is what they consider to be too long, the publisher may ask you to cut some of it out.
During the process of writing my first book, I read articles and spoke to people in the industry that suggested that a new, unknown author keep their first novel short, for a couple of reasons.
First of all, many publishers are looking for shorter novels for untested authors due to cost and so on, and longer novel lengths are typically reserved for authors who have already proven themselves.
I also read that a shorter novel might better entice readers to give your book a try, as they won’t have to commit to buying a longer and potentially more expensive book by an author they have never read before.
For the first edition of my novel, then, I kept it short at about 60,000 words. However, I felt it needed more fleshing out, and this thought was echoed in a review or two of the book.
When I decided to hire a graphic artist to do the book covers for the entire series, I also decided to re-do the cover of the first book so that the series would look more uniform. This would mean publishing a second edition, and I took this opportunity to develop my story a little more.
In the end, my second edition ended up at around 72,000 words and is, in my opinion, much improved from the first edition. This is still on the short side for my genre, which is fantasy. However, I followed the advice I was given or had read in the beginning concerning first novels and decided to keep it on the short side.
On the flip side of that, I recently read an article that listed publishers who consider new authors. Each of these had minimum word counts well above the numbers I had originally been given or found. However, I have read numerous other articles and books since that repeat this advice.
And, yet again, there are still many publishers who don’t seem to recommend a particular word count.
What take-away messages did I get from all this? First, length is linked in large part to the genre you are writing in. Secondly, there really is no true consensus, only general guidelines.
Here is a list of some do’s and don’ts that I learned along the way and would like to pass on to aspiring authors:
DO base the length of your novel on what feels right for your story.
DON’T base the length on factors such as per word cost for editing.
DO think of the submission guidelines of traditional publishing houses you may wish to submit to or are hoping to catch the eye of with your self-published novel.
DON’T assume all publishing houses are looking for the same thing.
DO think of the purpose and audience of your book when deciding word count. Are you writing fiction or non-fiction? If fiction, which genre, and what age group?
DON’T write a super long book for children, or super short for adults.
And the biggest DO of all:
DO what works best for your particular story.
Below is a list of links to some articles I’ve read relating to word count:
Sherry Leclerc is a science fiction and fantasy fanatic who lives in magical realms where swords and sorcery, action and adventure, seers, shifters and sorcerers abound.