What Is The Ideal Length For My Novel?

By on January 14, 2016
What Is The Ideal Length For My Novel? - Writer's Life.org

It may seem strange to ask the question ‘how long should my novel be?’ Surely a novel should be as long as it needs to be to tell the story? While this may be true in some ways, if you are hoping to find a publisher for your novel, it is actually highly important to pay attention to its length and not to deviate too much from the guidelines.

The aim of any publisher is to make money from the books they sell. While they will always be on the lookout for the next big thing, successful publishers are a business, they know what they want, and what works in the market. They are in a risky business. If they invest time and money into a book that doesn’t do well, they could easily end up loosing money.

Because of this if they are willing to take on a new author, they will expect the book to be around 100,000 words. The reason for this?  For a start it is likely that the book will be overwritten, and therefore would benefit form being cut down, leaving a tight and polished manuscript. On a more practical level however the longer the book, the greater the cost to the publisher, not only having to edit it, but literally more words means more paper and ink, and greater shipping costs too.

It is important to note that different genres have different word counts which are considered acceptable by the editors who work in publishing houses (the ones who will decide whether or not to take on your book). For example, if you are writing teen fiction it is best to keep your novel at around 80,000 words. Mystery, romance, and horror novels however should all be around the 100,000 word mark for first time authors.

This is not to say however that you should try to cram your story into a small novel just for the sake of it. Editors are trained to see the sales potential of a book regardless of its word count. You should keep in mind however, that if you present an editor with a huge manuscript of 120,000+ words it is going to take a lot more convincing them that they should take it on.

Similarly it is good to remember that you can’t expect publishers to take on your novel if it is ridiculously short. People simply won’t spend their money on novels which are very thin. Think about it, wouldn’t you be suspicious of a book under 50,000 words in length, claiming to be a great work of fiction? Stories need time to develop and to engage their readers - so don’t rush your work either.

With so much competition these days, it is important to give yourself the best chance possible if you are hoping to get published. Of course the most important thing is to present an exceptionally interesting and well-crafted piece of work. If you can do this you are likely to stand out, regardless of the length of your novel.

Bethany Cadman -contributor

Bethany Cadman -contributor

About Ty Cohen

2 Comments

  1. David Lightfoot

    February 6, 2016 at 5:10 pm

    Great post, but I have a major issue with the word count in my writings as of late – and I have some very good explanations as to WHY my novels have exceeded 100,000 words

    I self-published my first novel, “Broken Family Portarit” in 2013. My novel is about a Cerebral Palsic young man (like I am) named Robin Callbeck, who uses his experiences in his childhood and career years to become a controversial radio personality. Along with some disabilities that affect his learning, one element of Robin’s CP includes and inability to censor himself, and some of the stuff he says is pretty shocking and outrageous. This, along with the fact his tone is cynical, bitter, sarcastic and jaded, brings about the colloquial tone that was inspired by “The Catcher in the Rye.” As well, Robin goes through a lot of stuff in this book that shapes his attitudes. This includes, but is not limited to:

    – Being physically and emotionally abused by his father who is a military soldier
    – Out-of-control behaviour from his oldest sisters, Abilene and Olivia, following their parents’ divorce and mother’s remarriage
    – Being bullied by classmates and teachers alike in his new environment (despite some teachers who understand his cerebral palsy), to the point where an unforgettable incident at a school dance forces him to become an adult before he’s legal
    – Abilene and Olivia being in abusive marriage to seasoned military men, where both wives and children are abused like Robin was
    – His own marriage being tumultuous, with a chronically cheating wife and a father-in-law who who won’t accept the fact that his disabilities has affected his career choices
    – Disputes on the debate about corporal punishment that are hostile and intense and best, and downright warlike at worst, which only intensify following the birth of a seriously intellectually disabled nephew
    – A murder spree where parents of severely disabled children, and specialists who recommend against corporal punishment for them, are targeted. The victims include a good friend of Robin’s who is a single father of a child with serious intellectual disabilities, and his sister’s specialist for his aforementioned nephew, which has Robin fighting for his life and for justice

    Along the way, Robin goes on a six-month tour of the United States to gain more connections for his radio talk show, as well as to get him out of Winnipeg during the great Red River flood of 1997, and there are some very interesting topics on his show during his time at the fictional talk radio station, CBOJ. Also noteworthy is Robin’s unique relationship with his mother, who is both parents and friend with him; he uses this method on his own twins. The issue of human rights violations for children and adults with disabilities is discussed in “Broken Family Portrait,” but takes centre stage in my unpublished sequel “Speak For the Voiceless.” Here, Robin and his surviving sisters, Olivia and Susan (Abilene dies towards the end of BFP) are put through the wringer as they fight wars over this issue in their personal lives (and in the case of Robin and Susan, their careers.) They, along with their mother (who is raising Abilene’s children) deal with a pro-spanking society who is uninterested in learning about the limitations of disabled children, fighting peer pressure to spank their own children. Long story short, this results in a shocking, unbelievable fate for Susan, emotional breakdowns for Robin and Olivia, and counselling and rehab for all three siblings.

    Total Word Count for Broken Family Portrait: 290,172
    Total Word Count for Speak For the Voiceless: 195,469

    I have NO IDEA how to condense these novels (or their book proposals) down to 100,000 words without eliminating crucial parts of the plot and characters. I suppose I could cut some bullying incidents, but is that going to be enough? This is where condensing and cutting can be a real challenge – if there’s a lot of stuff crucial to the novel, then too much eliminating will disappoint the reader.

  2. Becky Taylor

    August 7, 2016 at 7:06 am

    As a professional copy editor, my suggestion is that perhaps you have more than two books in all the material you just described. Most of the time, when I am assigned a very long book, I find much repetition or much “filler” that gets off topic. Sometimes, when that is not the case, the material is just overwhelming. I am paid to read those books all the way through, but what about potential purchasers? Not only that, but the price of smaller books is more accessible to many readers, and if the books are that good, they will pay for another small book as they finish each.

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