How long is "too long"? - Splitting into volumes

Flaviosky

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Hello Everyone,

I've read that sometimes, when a story is good enough, despite for having it trimmed to fit certain word count, it's split into volumes. But also, I've seen quite varied word count among the different projects I've seen here being mentioned and shared.

I've also seen here that publishers basically determine the word count of a story.

Have you met any of these circumstances? Publishers demanding a haircut for your story, or being split into volumes? How many word/pages did your story meet when that happened?

My WIP is 36-chapters, 462 pages, 263k story, and I fear this is something that was kind of born dead, despite working (thanks to your feedback) into turning it into something minimally readable.

Eager to read your testimonies!
 

Kerrybuchanan

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A story is as long as it needs to be, which is very often not as long as we, as authors, first think it needs to be!

Rumour suggests that such a long book will be less attractive to publishers if it’s a first novel, but there are exceptions to every rule. I strongly advise trying to find a few beta readers. They’ll soon tell you if it works at this length or needs another haircut!
 

The Judge

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My last WiP - the first half of a duology -- stands at 148,000 words which came after a lot of help from my writing group and after considerable pruning (down from 175k). Two agents I had meetings with at a conference both said it needed to be reduced further, one saying it 20-25k had to come off.

So unless yours is a work of absolute genius, if you're looking to be trad published I really don't think 263k has a hope as one volume. Split in two, with a resolution of at least some aspects of the plot at the end of the first part, would give you more chance.

If you want to SP, of course, if doesn't matter, save for the question of size, if you wanted paperback versions, and cost -- both developmental and copy editing fees are likely to be based on word count, so the longer the book, the more you'd have to pay.
 

Toby Frost

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Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow and Thorn books were released as a quartet in the UK and, IIRC, a trilogy in the US, because the third volume had to be split owing to length. Even in the split form, each book is over 500 pages long.
 

tinkerdan

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I believe that if they ask for a shorter story that probably means that you need to tighten thing up.
If they ask you to split the story--that probably means you have already tightened it enough and they need shorter novels.

When self publishing you can make it as long as you want; however it's always good to go back and tighten things up so you don't lose readers to your wordiness.

When splitting a novel you have to keep in mind the three act structure--or whatever structure you think you have--and rework the halves to restore that structure.

In the case of a three act structure, when done well, it's possible you have three stories to break out of the whole, but it will take some work.

I did that with my first published novel which was somewhere upwards to 260k words.
There are now three novels that are each around 100k each.

Trust me--unless you use a very small font(and the smallest of margin)--your 260k plus novel will be closer to 630 pages or more assuming 9 inch by 6 inch page size.
 

Phyrebrat

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If you’re wanting to get published traditionally, be realistic with your expectations; and write accordingly.

My first was 235k. It’s now going to be broken into 3 books. It’s not really fair to ask your betas to comment on huge word-count opuses (which I did - apologies to Mr Broon) ;)

Even if you’re an established writer it’s a hard sell. I gave up on Follett’s Pillars of the Earth after 500 pages of Bible-thin pages written in -0.4578 point font :D
 

Wayne Mack

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I can't speak for publishers, but as a reader, I doubt my ability to keep plot lines straight if they are unresolved until 275K words. Make sure to have at least some themes resolved much earlier. Also, do not simply split the book in half, if published as two volumes. Make sure the first resolves a major issue. One thing that puts me off is to get to the end of a novel and realize that I am being forced to buy another to get to the actual conclusion.
 

Fiberglass Cyborg

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It's hard to get a feel for how long a word-processor document or manuscript would be as a printed book. After all we don't count up the words when we're reading a book, we count the pages. Searching "word count to published pages conversion" came up with several different calculation tools. I don't which are best or what figures to plug into them, but they might be worth a look.
 

Flaviosky

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I can't speak for publishers, but as a reader, I doubt my ability to keep plot lines straight if they are unresolved until 275K words. Make sure to have at least some themes resolved much earlier. Also, do not simply split the book in half, if published as two volumes. Make sure the first resolves a major issue. One thing that puts me off is to get to the end of a novel and realize that I am being forced to buy another to get to the actual conclusion.
Yeah, that's the whole issue. When the story is a "Go from place A to place B", splitting won't resolve the major issue in the slightest, unless the story becomes a "We must go to place C in order to reach place B", so the plot "resolves" by stating a necessary detour.

I'm trying to figure this out, at the same time as identifying possible elements that might have to be cut off.
 

HareBrain

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Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow and Thorn books were released as a quartet in the UK and, IIRC, a trilogy in the US, because the third volume had to be split owing to length. Even in the split form, each book is over 500 pages long.
Not quite -- the final volume was released as one book in hardback and two in paperback, in both markets. The hardback is 1,104 pages (520,000 words), one of the longest novels ever published. (And boy, did it feel it.)
 

Astro Pen

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A long story and one that can be split are not the same thing.
Is the plot sufficiently 'episodic' for stand alone volumes to make sense should a reader pick up and attempt volume 2 first? (we have all done this I imagine). Will volumes 2 and 3 need prologue to make sense:eek:? Conversely does volume one feel reasonably complete at the end, or does it just cut off?
The Foundation trilogy probably passes that test. But I think you have to plan a structure at an early stage rather than looking for places to divide a long single story.
 

Flaviosky

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A long story and one that can be split are not the same thing.
Is the plot sufficiently 'episodic' for stand alone volumes to make sense should a reader pick up and attempt volume 2 first? (we have all done this I imagine). Will volumes 2 and 3 need prologue to make sense:eek:? Conversely does volume one feel reasonably complete at the end, or does it just cut off?
The Foundation trilogy probably passes that test. But I think you have to plan a structure at an early stage rather than looking for places to divide a long single story.
Yeah, and what about exposition?

Explaining things again in volume 2 may allow someone to pick the second tome first, but it would be annoying for someone coming from volume 1.
 

Montero

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Also heard a publisher explain at a con, that one of the reasons for word limits is the thickness of the paperback on the shelf, and booksellers space limitations. If you are an unknown author you simply don't rate much shelf space. So once you are well known, you can write - or more to the point sell - much thicker books. It might be that your current magnum opus is not the first book you send out for sale, but something that you'd resurrect later, having sold a trad sized later book to trad publishing. (Going for optimism on sales here.)
 

Flaviosky

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It might be that your current magnum opus is not the first book you send out for sale, but something that you'd resurrect later, having sold a trad sized later book to trad publishing. (Going for optimism on sales here.)
This sounds quite logical. Maybe go hard with something smaller first, in terms of writing technique and publishing know-how.
 

Teresa Edgerton

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Not quite -- the final volume was released as one book in hardback and two in paperback, in both markets.
Yes. And the reason for that is because the binding (or rather gluing) that is used on paperbacks would have split in a book with that many pages, whereas a properly bound hardcover would hold up just fine.

Which is something for self-publishers to keep in mind, if they are going for ebook and trade paperback, as most self-published authors do. If the physical book is too long, it will also be too fragile.
 

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