Friday, 7 November 2008

Long novels

Writers are always worried about the length are their novel. This is a great post from an agent regarding long manuscripts. It is essential reading for anyone planning a novel with 100,000+ words.

Here's a snippet:

YA fiction = Can be anywhere from about 50k to 80k; sometimes - but rarely - goes above 90k.

Urban fantasy / paranormal romance = Usually around the 80k to 90k mark; some urban fantasy writers (I believe Kelley Armstrong may be one of them) turn in even higher word counts.

Mysteries and crime fiction = While cozies tend to be shorter than the average (somewhere around the 60k to 70k mark), most books that fall into this category fall right around the 80k to 100k mark.

Mainstream fiction = Depending upon the kind of fiction, this can vary: chick lit runs anywhere from 80k word to 100k words; literary fiction can run as high as 120k but lately there's been a trend toward more spare and elegant shorter literary novels;thrillers also run in somewhere around the 90k to 100k mark; historical fiction can run as high as 140k words or more (and again, these are just rough guides - there are always exceptions). And anything under 50k is usually considered a novella, which isn't something agents or editors ever want to see unless the editor has commissioned a short story collection. (Agent Kristin Nelson has a good post about writers querying about manuscripts that are too short.)

Science fiction and fantasy = Here's where most writers seem to have problems: most editors I've spoken to recently at major SF/F houses want books that fall into the higher end of the adult fiction you see above; a few of them told me that 100k words is the ideal manuscript size for good space opera or fantasy; for a truly spectacular epic fantasy, they'll consider 120k /130k. Regardless of the size, they'll but expect to be able to get the author to pare it down even further before publication. (Editors will often make exceptions for sequels, by the way. Notice that the page count in both J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series and George R.R. Martin'sSong of Ice and Fire series gets progressively higher.) But even authors who have been published for years and should know better will routinely turn in manuscripts that exceed the editor's requested length by 30k to 50k words, which inevitably means more work for that author because editors don't back down - if a contract calls for a book that is 100k words and you turn in one that is 130k, expect to go back and find a way to shave 30k words off that puppy before your manuscript is accepted. (And remember that part of the payout schedule of an author's advance often dangles on that one important word: acceptance.) If an agent or editor finds a truly outstanding book that runs in the 200k range (yes, it happens!), it may end up getting cut into two books to make life easier for everyone.

No comments: