Above the knee? Below the knee? How long is long enough for that novel you’re writing?

Where’ve I been, you ask?

Why, working! And editing my novel :-)

Plowed through a good 150 pages today, starting to get tired, so thought I’d take a quick break now to blog about . . . novel length.

My WIP is now at 65,000 words, and I’m betting it will finish at 67-68K.

The count has been creeping up during this latest round of editing, as I add some scenes and flesh out a subplot that I’d set aside while I worked on the main plot. Still, it’s on the thin side, so naturally I sat up and paid attention when I read this, in a post over at agent Kristin Nelson’s blog, Pubrants.

My agent friends and I just recently discussed an interesting trend on our chat loop—queries for novels with really short word counts (like 50,000 or 60,000 words) that aren’t category romance, cozy mysteries, or YA.

Queries for “full-length” novels.

In fact, according to one agent friend, she says that about half the queries she receives highlights this short word length.

We are all stymied by this.

Where are writers getting the info that this might be an appropriate length for a work? That it would be a marketable length? Standard word length is usually between 70,000 to 100,000 words for a novel. Fantasy can push up to 110,000 but for a debut, it’s going to be a tough go if the word count is higher.

About the same time the issue of manuscript length came up on Deanna Carlyle’s Chicklit Yahoo forum. The discussion offered a new twist: using a computer word count (i.e. MS Word’s utility) gives a shorter length than calculating word count the old-fashioned way — i.e., use Courier 12 pt text, then multiply your page count by 250 — Courier 12 pt gives you an average of 250 words/page.

So a couple days ago, just for fun, I reformatted my WIP from the default font — Times Roman 12 pt — to Courier 12 pt. It jumped from 265 pages to 340.

Is that the secret to legitimately “padding” your official MS length?

Unfortunately, the answer is “probably not.” I actually had a chance to put this question to Kristin Nelson herself, since she’s the guest this week on TWLAuthorTalks (still time to click and join if you want to ask her a question yourself!)

Kristin said that agents and editors use MS word count — and that although published authors can get away with shorter books, first-time novelists are going to have a hard time selling anything that falls outside that 70-100,000-word rule (excluding the genres she noted in her blog post).

She does give a ray of hope for those writers whose work is coming up too long–or too short. If your novel is good enough, word count won’t matter as much.

If your novel is good enough.

I’m not worried about my WIP btw. Partly because I’m totally enamored of it, right now — flaws? What flaws? lol

But mostly because I made a conscious decision, with this book, not to worry about length. I’m focusing on the plot and the characters. I do tend to write rather spare prose, and frankly I don’t want to cure that. I want this book to move, and I want its bones to show.

One day I’ll know whether I can sell it, at whatever length it comes out to be, but until then, it’s just not a problem I’m going to let climb into the boat ;-)

[tags] writing [/tags]

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One Response to Above the knee? Below the knee? How long is long enough for that novel you’re writing?

  1. When I wrote “The End” to my first it weighed in at 105k words. My agent said, “Too wordy. Cut it to 70K and then send it back to me.” I did, and he said, “Better. Now cut some more and then flesh out these sketchy areas…” The final version was/is 85k.

    I had no clue what the target length should be. Where was Agent Kristin (or Miss Snark) when I needed them back then?

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