Novel Length and Writing Questions

Novel Length and Writing Questions

R writes:

I had a question about word counts. I’m trying to figure out what the proper format for a manuscript is and came across a snag. What would you consider to be an average word count for your books or at least a word count for a new author? The story I’m working on already hit 150,000 and it’s not even done, but I heard that if it’s too long then some editors automatically reject it.

Editors don’t typically automatically reject things on the basis of length alone.  Most often they reject them because writing isn’t quite there, or their line-up already has something similar, or the novel doesn’t fit with what they already publish.

A typical length for a UF is around 90,000-100,000 words.  It used to be typographic word count, but now more and more people just go with MS Word’s word count.

Unfortunately,  150,000 is what’s colloquially known among writers as BFB – Big F-ing Brick.  There are genres in which such length is acceptable.  Epic fantasies, for example, tend to be long.  Historic fiction, also – you could kill someone with  an early Sharon K. Penman’s book.  But if you’re writing a UF, a paranormal, a contemporary fantasy, ora  mystery, you have to prepare yourself to make some sacrifices.  You may be asked to split the novel in two.  You may be asked to cut.  Gordon and I had to chop off a quarter of the MAGIC BITES to make it fit into 90,000 limit.  It took hitting some bestseller lists before the word limit was relaxed.  That’s the good thing about having a little bit of sales – you get more leeway.

The question to ask yourself is , why is your book so long?  Are you meandering?  Is there a ten day trip in there that can be summarized in two sentences?  Do people have terribly important debates that add nothing to the plot?  Are you in love with a page-long description of an abandoned movie theater?

My advice would be to take a good hard look at the narrative and cut the fat.  Give your novel to someone who doesn’t feel obligated to pet you on the head.  Is he bored reading it?  Cut the boring parts.

But, if you are completely and definitely sure that your work must remain at the current length, then write the best query letter you can write and make sure your first chapter would knock the editor’s socks off.  They will take it from there.

M writes

I’m curious about how drafts work when you’re published. I know when you’re unpublished, the general rule of thumb is 3+ drafts before subbing it out. How many drafts do you guys generally go through before you hand the manuscript in? Also, do you do a lot of editing while you write or do you wait to make changes and corrections to the story during copy-edits?

As many as it takes.

The point of redrafting is to produce the best book possible.  If there is some kind of rule out there that tells you to rewrite an arbitrary number of times, that rule is stupid and should be kicked to the curb.  I’d like to meet the person who came up with that nonsense and pop him upside the head for driving future writers crazy.

The number of drafts doesn’t matter.  Only the end product does.  Some books take one draft, some take eight.

We do edit as we write.  Most of the editing comes in the form of adjusting the narrative.  For example,  we have an exploding corpse in Kate 5.  Gordon and I wrote the scene, but it felt off.  The scene would be better set during magic instead of tech, because magic would let us get creepier.  But as it was, the scene couldn’t have magic because magic fell that morning.  It took me a whole weekend to realize that I must split the scene off and move it to next day.  As a result, I had to go back, rename Chapter 4 as Chapter 5, move the front scene to the end of Chapter 3 and write an entirely new Chapter 4.

That’s normal, just as the cleaning as you go along is normal. I type with my key board in my lap because regular chairs kill my back and I typo a lot as I write.  (I do wish Liquid Binder would run the spellcheck all the time, but they don’t.  If I find software that let me do the same file management as the Binder but runs the spellcheck, I will pounce on it.)  I usually go back and clean what I wrote every day or two.  Plus, Gordon cleans it in rewrites.

To reiterate, focus on the book, not the rewrites.  :)