Friday, May 6, 2011

How long should my book be?

Just a little reminder about where we are in the writing process. We're still in the "first draft" stage of topics, which I'll admit has been a challenging stage to blog about. I can think of plenty of topics, but it's hard to determine the order in which they should all be posted. It'll be so much easier when we get to "editing."

A writer asked me, "How long should a manuscript be?" I likely should have posted about genres and manuscript lengths earlier. Sigh.

Last summer, we had a slew of guest posters on here because I was expecting a baby. Roseanna White covered genres, so I won't repeat genre definitions here. Instead, you can read part one and part two of her genre post to determine what you're writing. (I just noticed part two posted on the day my little guy was born. Ah, memories.)

How long your manuscript should be will be determined by your genre. And sometimes your target publisher. Like if you're writing for Summerside Press' Love Finds You line, your manuscript needs to be 80,000 words. Barbour's Heartsong line is 55,000.

But if you don't have a targeted publisher, how do you decide?

If it's your first novel, I'd keep it under 100k. There are exceptions, I know there are, but I hear editors say they prefer to see debut novels under 100k.

If it's a YA novel, it should be at least 55k. If it's for adults, at least 75k ... but probably closer to 80 is safer.

But what about when you're writing your first draft? What should you shoot for? If you're like me - a bare bones writer - I always aim to come in 5k to 10k short of my word goal. Because I know I'll be beefing it up. Like we've talked about before, some writers are putter-inners, others are taker-outers.

I hope this helps. Have a wonderful weekend everybody! Be back here on Monday for a new writing prompt!


38 comments:

  1. In true complementary style, I'm the taker-outer. =) I was very excited when I only had to cut 3K from my Love Finds You book. Much better than the 20K I often have to cut . . .

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  2. With my self-published book, Torn Heart, I felt really insecure about how short of a novel it was (56,000). My over-active imagination thought I'd never be able to write anything longer than that. But that's just not worth the worry - my next novel is in the first draft stage and is 80,000.

    And as my dad pointed out, some shorter novels are true gems, and fun to just pick up and dive into, while the chunky, complex stuff (in style right now) may not be as easy for that.

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  3. When I was younger, I wrote a lot of stories that never saw past 10K (this was mainly because the ending is my favorite thing to write ~ still is ~ and I wanted to hurry up and get there, smile). Of course, I look at those stories now and laugh at how messy of plot and conflict they are, but still...that's how I learned.

    Interestingly, the novel I'm polishing off now came in at 73K at first draft stage, 75K at second draft stage and now that I'm almost done with what I think may be the final draft (at least for a while, grin) it's 72K. Go figure. Taker-outer? Putter-inner? A little of both, I suppose. :-)

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  4. Rachelle, lol. No reason why you have to be one or the other!

    Ellyn, I had a real similar experience. My Skylar books are all 55-60k and I was afraid that's all I could write. Like you, I quickly discovered that wasn't true. Some stories need more words and some don't.

    Ro, yeah at least 1k is usually words like "quickly." 20k sounds like cutting a whole plot line.

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  5. Believe it or not, I've never cut a plot line. Scenes, yes. Parts of plots that don't really need to be so developed, yes. Otherwise, a whole lot of "that"s and "quite"s and repeated ideas.

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  6. I have a question. I am not working on a book quite yet, but I want to. I just don't have an idea. What can a novel be about? How can I find the perfect story line for me?

    Alyson :)

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    1. Have you heard of the website figment.com? They have daily themes. You can subscribe to them and then you might find that one of them gives you enough inspiration for a novel.

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  7. Ro, you've NEVER cut a plot line? I'm amazed. Though, hmm... have I cut one? I know I've added...

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  8. Alyson, we talked a lot about that back in January. If you go here: http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/p/write-now-2011.html, there's a list of topics under "Brainstorming" that should be helpful.

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  9. When you started out did you find 55k-60k intimidating? I thought I had a plot & character sketches and all started to write and around 5000 total panicked. I see now the plot needs work but it's like how am I ever going to get a full length book word count????
    It makes me wonder if there is any benefit to starting with short stories?

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    1. In my opnion, it is great to start out with short stories. The first story I tried to write was around 5,500 words. Now that I am working on my main novel, writing all of these short stories helped me be able to kind of "Strech out" my story lines and the whole book overall. I just hit 12k on my novel (Yay!) but I still have a ton more to go. I find 55k really intimidating, but I guess that I will just keep swimming.

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  10. I've been writing since the beginning of the school year, and I have somewhere around 30K. When I started writing I was afraid I would end up with a really short manuscript, but now I'm thinking the first draft will be at least 75K. It's so exciting to watch my novel keep growing!

    ~Sarah

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  11. Tonya, it probably would've been intimidating had I known about word counts and such when I started writing. I was too ignorant to be intimidated :)

    Short stories are their own beast. I certainly don't think there's anything wrong (especially when starting out) with making the book as long as the story demands. If that's 15k, then so be it. Writing a story from beginning to end is wonderful practice, even if it's just 10k.

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  12. Somebody emailed me privately to ask what I mean by "55k." I mean 55,000. Like 55,000 words.

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  13. So, it's more important to work on a story start to finish than focus on the actual length?! Thanks Stephanie!

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  14. Especially if you're just starting. I think that's when I started to really grow as a writer, when I pushed myself to write the whole book instead of just the fun beginning stuff :)

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  15. Tonya, I can so relate! Last year, when this manuscript I'm working on now was just a dream in my mind, I knew that this just might be the one I wanted to carry through to full-novel-length...and that scared me out of my shoes!
    :-) Well, I plunked myself down at my laptop and just allowed myself to write without worrying about wordcount and you know what...Boom! Book-length! So, swallow your fears (they're not tasty, I know), and go for it! You can do it!

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  16. This is great advice, I've heard thing here and there for some genres, but this covers everything! Thanks!

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  17. ...Well... this one book that I would love to really refine as much as needed in order to get it publishing material... it's around 112k *blinks*
    Is that bad??
    Because its not my first novel, but I wrote it back within the years of 2006 through something like 2008.
    But its 112k... and yeah...
    That's not bad is it? Because I'm sure it'll be a bit shorter after I edit it more and delete stuff, but it will probably be somewhere around 100k still by the time I'm done.

    I really hope that's not bad... =/ lol.

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  18. And also, does it really have to be within a certain word count to get published???

    To be honest, I can't work with limits very well on my writing - its whether or not I can find a story to write and get to the end.
    I write until I think I can't get any more good ideas that intertwine with the story well.
    I was just wondering, because if that's the case I might have a problem... haha.

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  19. I figure long-winded me can answer Jazmine. ;-) Here's what I've discovered. Will an agent/editor reject you because of length if they love the story and your writing? Not outright. What they WILL say is, "I like it, but you first need to cut it down to 100K before we look at it seriously." My agent accepted me as a client on the condition that I would turn my 120K MS into a 100K MS. As she put it, "A new author has enough working against them--don't give the editors any other reason to reject you. They have plenty of manuscripts on their desk that are the desired length."

    That said, I still tend to write to whatever length needed and then cut or add. Though the more I write, the better I am at gearing a book to a particular length.

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  20. ...okay... well that irritates me a little. =/ It actually stinks. =/ I thought long books were good, like the 400 page one's. At least that's the one's I like, unless they are a series or something then I don't mind them being shorter.
    I think I had that in mind when I wrote my book. Though I have a feeling once I take out and shorten things it'll hopefully be shorter, thankfully it's not horribly long.
    I do hope I can find someone that will accept it at a certain length, because some ideas are not exactly ones I want to give up. =)
    Thanks for answering my questions Roseanna!

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  21. Keep in mind I speak only for the CBA market--not sure what ABA (mainstream) requires. And yes, there are exceptions--I've just learned not to assume that *I* will be that exception, LOL. That leads to a mindset that isn't helpful in this industry, let me tell you! Better to be the author willing to work with/for the editor than one who says, "But so and so got to do it this way!" ;-) Yeah, we all think that way. But it doesn't get us anywhere with agents or editors, LOL.

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  22. Roseanna, that's a great point. You might be the exception ... but it's not something to bank on. And agents and editors REALLY appreciate an author who's easy to work with.

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  23. Here's a question...how long should chapter's be? I know it might be a personal choice, but is there a length that is more common than others or more preferred over others?

    These posts have helped me so much. Thank you!

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  24. So glad they help, Jennifer!

    Like you mentioned, it's a personal choice. Mine tend to be 1,700 to 2,500 words. Many readers prefer shorter chapters. Others prefer long chapters. I just go by my gut.

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  25. Oh my gosh. I feel like a giant. Mine is 94k... I didn't really think that it was that long but now....

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    1. For some reason, I just noticed this, Madeline :) I think 94k is just fine! For new writers, many publishing houses aren't interested in seeing anything over 100k, but that's the only restriction I've really heard.

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  26. Mine is 78K. I think that's ok for a YA novel, right...?

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  27. I just looked at my novel, my first one, and it's over 114k. Ahhh! But it's kind of my rough final draft, meaning that I want to get all my books published by jayhawk Inc. as a teenager, and then rewrite them as an adult and get them published by a serious publisher. So, for now, is 114k ok?
    PS. Jayhawk inc. has a program with my middle school to publish our books, so it's not like they COULD reject it.

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  28. Stephanie,
    My story idea has gotten so large that It's going to have to be a trilogy instead of a stand alone, which I don't mind at all, but it does make it hard to know where to end each book. If the story concept doesn't have logical finalizing breaks in it already how do I create or recognize them?
    As always, thank you for the work you and your guest writers do on this site. It is inspirational for a teen writer, like myself, to read.

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    1. Hi Rachel! I answered your question on the blog today: http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/2012/11/series-or-stand-alone-book.html

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  29. This is a VERY (underline 3 times) helpful post! I want to do a word-check, but my notebook doesn't have that feature. Lol. My story is about a selfish prince (fictional) who finds true love with a peasant, and she changes his heart. It's a YA book. Or teen? I'm not sure.
    This is helpful. I am always wondering about this part. ;)
    If I'm going to try to write a book, I better get back to it!!

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    1. Ooh, sounds intriguing!!

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  30. This is exactly what I was looking for. I have always been wondering, How long should my first drafts be? How long for YA, teen or adult?
    This post answered my questions. Thanks!!
    <3

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