Saturday, 18 May 2013

Count On It

(Image courtesy of Larah McElroy)

As the title of this post might suggest - it's all about word count.

A lot of people ask 'how long is a novel?'

That's sort of like asking 'how long is a piece of string?'

But there is a general rule of thumb:

< 500 words = flash fiction
 500-30,000 = short story
30-60,000 = novella
60-90,000 = standard novel
90,000-120,000 = long novel
> 120,000  = excessive

Many people say that 50,000 is the watershed between novella and novel. Though, the majority of standard novels tend to fall between 70-95,000.

Genre makes a difference. Sci-fi and Fantasy often run to the upper ends of the scale, whereas  Young Adult (YA) and Romance often wade in at the shallow end.

These are ballpark figures, and there will always be exceptions. One of the biggest considerations is the typeset. If your book is set in 12pt rather than 10pt, it is going to take up a few extra pages.

See my post on Formatting a Novel.

Sadly, you do have to write a lot of words to make a novel. In my experience, it isn't the wonderful magic trick: one side of A4 equals at least two pages of a novel. I don't know who came up with that oft-repeated phrase, but it's a fallacy. There tends not to be a huge difference between the number of word-processed pages in a manuscript and the number of pages in the printed book.

For example, my novels worked out thus:

(click to enlarge)

The word count is the original, largely un-edited manuscript that went to the publisher, plus the number of pages. The last column shows the total number of pages in print, including acknowledgements and verso.

As you can see with Lucid, it actually worked out less in print!

That's largely to do with font size and removal of double spacing.

For a first time author, it's inadvisable to go over 120,000. This is because larger books are apparently harder to sell (people prefer a quick read) and more expensive to produce. Fewer publishers are likely to take the risk on an unknown.

If you do find you're getting to that amount of words, consider whether you might be better off serialising your story. For example, a fantasy trilogy. This can help on other levels, too. If a publisher likes what they read enough to print the first one, it's nice for them to know that there's another two to follow if it's successful.

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