By Annalisa Parent, CEO of Date With the Muse
One of the most common questions would-be authors ask me is: how long should my novel be?
It’s an important consideration, as the length of a novel can either make or break you when it comes to selling books.
Why? As an indie author, you’re competing in the marketplace with traditionally published books. It’s important to know what the industry standards are, so your book fits into what is already selling well.
I’m assuming you do want to sell your book, and optimally make a living off your writing. Am I off the mark here? Cozy on up, and I’ll give you the skinny.
The optimal length of your book depends on two things: your genre and how you plan to publish.
The length of your book depends on genre
Each genre has its own industry standard, however, most genre, or commercial, fiction sits firmly around 80,000 words. Once you’re an established author with a firm following and selling tens of thousands of books, you can break free from these constraints. Until then, you’re better off sticking to the rules
Consider this: All of us commuters are stuck with the speed limit, but the tried and true, the trained professionals are allowed to drive at hundreds of miles an hour. Why? They’ve got the track record.
Track record! Ha! Thanks; I’m here all week.
But seriously, until you’re James Patterson, stick with the 80,000 mark as your target goal if you’re writing genre fiction.
Here are the typical word counts by genre:
|Adult Novels (Commercial and Literary)||80,000-89,999|
(Typically slightly longer)
The length of your novel depends on how you plan to publish
In order to understand the way books work out in the world, we’ve got to take a look under the hood of the traditional publishing industry.
Traditional publishing houses have found that 80,000 is the magic number that will get readers to buy books. As much as many authors don’t want to face it, publishing is a business. As such,
publishing houses are less interested in your art and more interested in sales.
Certainly, if you want to go the traditional publishing route, you’ll have to toe the line. The trade off for limiting your word count to industry standards is backing from a big name, and some marketing support.
However, because of the strict rules and lack of emphasis on aesthetics over marketability, many authors choose the indie-publishing route. Many indie authors take the near lack of rules as license for joyriding.
CAUTION! Imagine a car with three wheels, wooden seats, and a furry cloth exterior. Maybe this car works perfectly fine–even better–than the car you currently drive. But it doesn’t look like the other cars you’ve seen. You’re not sure if it’s even a car–and this calls into question its viability to deliver promised results.
Books that are out of line with market expectations are the same as that wonky car. Consumers–including you–have expectations for their beloved genres. A product that lands outside those standards will at the very least give them pause, and in the worst case they’ll give your book a pass.
Why not be the jewel, not the jalopy? At least until, as I said, you’ve got that loyal fanbase who will buy anything you put in print.
While I’m throwing up caution flags, note that if you’re getting assistance in your indie publishing or working with a hybrid publisher, some less-than-reputable companies incentivize longer books because the more pages you publish with them, the more money they make in printing costs. These so-called publishers prey upon the fact that so many authors struggle to tell a succinct story.
Furthermore, though indie authors are not beholden to rules handed down from on high, they are still obligated to their readers to tell a concise and compelling story. Why? The better a page-turner you write this time, the better chance readers will rush to buy your next book–and that’s publishing gold.
Ultimately, a writer’s job is to “tell the very best story he or she can,” as Literary Agent Eric Ruben said in a recent Writing Gym podcast interview. Focus on your story first; be sure that your pacing is impeccable–a real page-turner, and then worry about how to fit within word limits and about how you will publish your story.
Have questions about pacing your novel? Work with a coach to ensure the highest quality story possible and to ensure that you are choosing the very best publishing option to reach your author dream.
Annalisa Parent is the CEO of Date With the Muse and its subsidiaries: The Writing Gym, which helps fiction writers to traditionally publish, and Laurel Elite Books, a publishing house that helps
experts to write, publish and sell their business-scaling book.
She is a two-time teacher of the year nominee, and a recipient of the French congressional Medal of Honor.
Annalisa writes for many local, national, and international publications, has written and produced sketches for a Telly-Award winning television show. She has been featured on Huffington Post Live, CBS, PBS, Associated Press and Readers’ Digest, as well as many podcasts and radio programs.
Her book “Storytelling for Pantsers: How to Outline and Revise your Novel without an Outline” is a recipient of a 2018 CIPA EVVY Silver award for Best Business Book, and a finalist in the humor category.
The views expressed herein are not those of Colorado Independent Publishers Association, its officers or directors. They are solely and completely those of the author. The Colorado Independent Publishers Association will not be held liable for any legal action resulting from information published in this newsletter, and the organization’s insurance will not cover any such action.