Monday 11 August 2014

Your Debut Novel is 20,000 Words Long

Signs of a problem: word count modest; enlarged font and widened margins as you struggle to resist the truth.

The symptoms: exhaustion; self-deception; naive optimism.

You’ve just finished writing your book. You’re exhausted. It’s taken you months. Your tiredness levels suggest that you’ve written an epic trilogy. However, when you check the word count, it says 20,000 words.

I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but 20,000 words is not a novel. Yes, it’s a big achievement. Yes, you should be proud. But what you’ve accomplished is not writing a novel.

There’s nothing wrong with publishing a 20,000 word eBook – in fact, eBooks are perfect for stories of previously unorthodox length – but you must not call 20,000 words a novel. If you try to call it such, you will receive abuse from angry reviewers who feel duped. It’s best to avoid enraging reviewers – especially early on before you’ve had a chance to grow your thick skin.

Although definitions vary, a rough guideline for labelling your book is as follows:
1-99 words – micro fiction.
100 words exactly – drabble.
101-999 words – flash fiction.
1,000-7,499 – short story.
7,500-17,499 – novelette.
17,500-49,999 – novella.
50,000-109,999 – novel.
Over 110,000 – epic.

Children’s books, however, are allowed a lower word count than comparable books for adults. 30,000 words is an acceptable length for a children’s chapter book.

Due to wide variation between definitions, it is always a good idea to put a word count at the bottom of your product description when selling an unusual-length book. You don’t want to give your reader any nasty surprises.

If you are certain that you want your story to be a novel, then you obviously have the option to re-draft. However, getting from 20,000 words to 50,000 is quite a leap and you could seriously mess up the pacing of your story (as well as other things). Padding is usually detrimental.

Yes, you could expand ‘Maud looked at Graham’ to read, ‘Lovely, buxom Maud (who was autistic and born in France) regarded chunky, rude, stubborn Graham (who was twenty-five and hated roast pork) through her blue, magnificent pair of eyes (eyes are what we use to see)’ but readers may consider that some elements of the re-draft break the flow.

Don’t write a novel for the sake of writing a novel. One of the many benefits of eBooks is that they are a means to deliver stories of any length.

Additional Blog-Exclusive Advice

By Jonathan Hill

It is a truth universally acknowledged that novels appeal more to readers than novellas and short stories. But that in no way means anything other than a novel is inferior to a novel. If you've written a bloody brilliant short story, market it as a bloody brilliant short story. If you've written a masterpiece of a novella, don't be afraid to make it clear it’s an amazing novella.

When you upload your book for sale, it may be listed with an estimated page count to give eBook-buying-but-normally-paperback-reading punters an idea of your book’s length. If you’re a few words short of a novel, you might want to run a search in your manuscript for ridiculously over the top hyphenated phrases; a quick rewrite might push you into novel territory.

The page count and the word count, should you choose to include it in the blurb, can be swayed by one chief factor – what you include in that word count. A novel isn't a novel if you reach 50,000 words by including your copyright terms, extensive bibliography, review quotes from your granny and the first 20,000 words of your next book. Readers hate padding - if your story finishes at 63% on an eReader, you'd get a more favourable review after shooting their cat.

Be honest with your word count. It's unlikely that your average person will take the time to count each word, but the Law of Sod dictates that someone pedantic might. It pays to be truthful.

Remember that short stories and novellas can rock as much as novels. Writing shorts might even ease you into the publishing world and be a useful stepping stone to your first novel. The novel isn’t the be all and end all of writing.

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