Novel Word Count

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Sylanya, Apr 20, 2008.

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    Sylanya

    Sylanya Half-elf

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    I know I read in another thread here that currently the standard for the length of a fantasy novel is somewhere between 120,000-160,000 words. But have read in several other places that its usually between 80,000-100,000, at least for first time authors. I'm just wondering if someone could clarify which it is correct. My friend and I are currently working on a fantasy trilogy and are aiming for 85,000 words for the first book. Should we be shooting for higher?
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    Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

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    This is not correct for the UK or US fantasy markets. It's a bit of misinformation that gets passed around. It may be true for other genres, and I've heard it's true, to some extent, in Australia -- but not here.

    A trip to the nearest chain bookstore and a glance at the shelves in the SF and Fantasy section will back me up on this.

    Unless your trilogy is a story about vampires in a contemporary setting, your chances of selling an 85,000 word fantasy novel in the US are next to none.

    Fifteen or twenty years ago, it wouldn't have been a problem.
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    John Jarrold

    John Jarrold New Member

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    Exactly. 120,000 words is the short end of the fantasy market. No difference whatsoever for first-time authors - the reader going into a bookshop won't know you're a first-timer, the majority will be looking for Big Fantasy. As Teresa says, look at the fantasy shelves in your local bookshops.
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    Sylanya

    Sylanya Half-elf

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    Wow, I guess my friend and I need to work some more stuff into our story then! :D
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    Culhwch

    Culhwch Not actually a dinosaur. Staff Member

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    I find it interesting that a lot of people come here and mention aiming for this word count or that word count, and are very specific about it. I have about half a dozen 'serious' projects on the go at the moment (none of them progressing that quickly, but that's for another thread...), and I wouln't be able to put even a ballpark word count estimate on any of them. Granted, some are only very roughly outlined, but I have a couple that are fairly well planned, and even in those cases I couldn't say if it's going to take one hundred thousand words or two hundred thousand words to tell the story. In fact, on a smaller scale, I'm usually surprised by just how many words it takes to tell even a single chpter - I might figure it for two grand, and in the end it will clock in at five.

    Perhaps it comes with experience - I'm yet to finish anything greater than novella-length. But I'm curious as to how folks arrive at these targets they quote.
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    Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

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    Actually, I have only the sketchiest idea of how long something is going to be until I've written at least one draft.

    But that's because I'm the kind of writer who doesn't stick too closely to the outline. I know that some things will expand, some things will change drastically, and new things undreamt of in my philosophy when I started out will inevitably come up.

    In other words, I'm curious, too, how someone projects a certain length.
  7.  
    John Jarrold

    John Jarrold New Member

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    I think it varies by the author - but once you do have a publishing deal, UK publishers write a word-length into their contracts. If the book you've sold is 120,000 words long, then a contact for the next book will be for that length. There is some flexibility, of course, but if you deliver 80,000 or 160,000 words, the book may be turned down - or you will be told to go away and get it closer to the contracted length within a set space of time. The costing on which the offer was made will have been based on 120,000 words, and the longer book would cost considerably more to produce, whereas the short book would not be right for the market.
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    Doctor Sax

    Doctor Sax Battling the world snake

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    I generally busk the length of novels, but work out a rough guide by thinking, okay, my average chapter length is, say, 3,000 words so that would be 40 chapters needed to get a book to 120K, and rough-plot it accordingly.
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    Sylanya

    Sylanya Half-elf

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    Another quick question. If a book is being written by two authors, is the word count expected to be higher, or still the same as one author?
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    chopper

    chopper still alive

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    why should it be any different?
    it's still only one book, after all.... :)
  11.  
    John Jarrold

    John Jarrold New Member

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    Exactly right.

    And I can also tell you that jointly-authored books are not looked upon happily in UK publishing (unless one of the authors is already a mega-seller)...sales directors, who have a great deal of power, find it far easier to sell books by one new author to the book chains than a book by two.
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    walker206

    walker206 New Member

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    Okay. Hi all. First post here. I am just about to start querying agents for my new novel, and this word count thing is kind of frustrating. My novel has a good amount of dialogue, hence in Word using "word count" it comes to 93,000. But using the "250 method" it's 106,000. That's a big difference.

    I have done a LOT of research on various forums concerning this issue, and there seems to be no consensus whatsoever. So, in my query letter, I'm just going to say that it's "106,000 words (using the '250 method')." I would, of course, prefer not to have to say the last part, but with such a large discrepancy between the two counts I feel this way they'll know what we're dealing with here.

    What do you think?
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    John Jarrold

    John Jarrold New Member

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    Personally, I'd use the Word count, and say that's what you've done.
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    walker206

    walker206 New Member

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    Why that way I wonder? From what I've read, the 250 method gives and agent/publisher a more accurate idea of how many pages the book would be. The confusion continues...
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    John Jarrold

    John Jarrold New Member

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    As an agent (and previously a publisher) I have always used that method since I switched from WordPerfect to Word!
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    Scarfy

    Scarfy Stephen J Sweeney

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    walker206 - Just use the actual word count.

    There are too many websites listing formulas, specifying fonts, font sizes, etc. I went through the same thing and the results vary too much.

    Use the word count as given by the word processor and then round it up or down to the nearest thousand.

    e.g.
    You have 126,344, call it 127,000
    You have 189,012, call it 189,000

    Hope that helps.
  17.  
    walker206

    walker206 New Member

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    I assume by "that method" you're talking about using Word's count? So, what about this whole "the 250 way is more accurate" business? Is that just bunk? Also, I've read many of your posts saying that so and so won't take anything less than 100,000, or 120,000 for fantasy. But my situation is a perfect example of why this is confusing. 13,000 words makes a big difference either way. By one method, according to your posts, my novel wouldn't be considered. By the other, it's fine and would be. Not trying to nitpick, but there just seems to be a lot of discrepancy out there regarding this issue.

    Re: Wordperfect. Hah! I remember using that back in college!

    Scarfly - thanks for the opinion. Also, given your examples, I guess I'll bump mine up from 93,3-something to 94,000. I figured under 500 you go down and over you go up. Ah, this crazy publishing biz!
  18.  
    John Jarrold

    John Jarrold New Member

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    Choose the method you like and go with it. The prose will be what counts first and foremost.

    Obviously, there is some flexibility in every method. Anything I say is a guideline. But don't expect an 80,000 word book to be considered for the mainstream fantasy market (that's a general principle, not something specific to you, obviously, since you've mentioned 93k)! A wonderful book around 95k may well have a chance - don't get too hung up on these details, concentrate on your writing and I'd just suggest authors aim for something in this general area of length.
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    Teresa Edgerton

    Teresa Edgerton Goblin Princess Staff Member

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    Trust what John tells you -- you won't find a more experience source of information. Meanwhile, yes, there is a lot of bunk on the web.
  20.  
    John Jarrold

    John Jarrold New Member

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    Thank you, Teresa!

    The cheque is in the post...!

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