Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Q & A 55 Minimum Word Counts.


I know authors are supposed to tell the story until the tale is told and not worry about word count. Still, while concerns on the upper volume of word counts are often mentioned (i.e. 120,000 words is too much for a genre fiction novel), minimum word counts are rarely discussed. I once read that a submission to a publisher with less than 80,000 words will not be taken seriously as a novel. If the story is completed around 75,000 words is an author likely to get a better response by adding scenes to get it to 80,000 words? Truth? Urban myth? What is the minimum word count that you feel differentiates a novella from novel?

Minimum word counts may rarely be discussed elsewhere, but the subject seems to come up here every time Evil Editor critiques a query for a book shorter than 60,000 words. Rather than provide the usual examples of short novels, and engage in the usual arguments over whether these qualify as novels, and whether the same rules apply to first novels, Evil Editor now definitively declares the cutoff between novella and novel to be 50,000 words. Any fewer, and the book will be so thin you can't read the title on the spine.

Obviously it's cheaper to produce shorter books, but if people don't buy them, publishers won't print them. Evil Editor's bookcase seems to be 80% thin books, so someone is publishing them.

If you find your 50, 000-word book needs another 30,000, you're pretty much stuck unless you've left some gaping plot holes that can be filled in with several long chapters. But if you're merely trying to get your 75,000-word novel up to 80,000, try this:

At the beginning of the first paragraph on each page, place the sentence, It was raining again, hard, as if it would never stop. At the beginning of the last paragraph on each page, place the sentence, The rain had finally let up. That should do the trick.

17 comments:

Frainstorm said...

I love this advice, and so will film producers so they'll option your book in a heartbeat. They just love making it rain on the set. Love it.

Oh! Gotta run. I'm typing outside and it's starting to rain, hard, like it won't let up for an entire page. I could go on about it forever ... or, at least, for 5,000 words.

John

Anonymous said...

That is one of my biggest movie pet peeves!

They show a couple out all day enjoying a bright sunny picnic. Then the show him dropping her off at night on streets as wet as the Evil Editor's bathroom floor (I hear he drip dries).

BuffySquirrel said...

If there isn't any consumer resistance to short novels, I wonder why those who published The Jane Austen Book Club padded it out with vast amounts of white space so it looked like a decent-length book. Not to save money on printing costs, presumably.

Manic Mom said...

Hilarity ensues! As usual!

Sherri said...

I certainly feel cheated when I buy a book for a goodly amount of money, only to find each page half-filled with words.

Mom of Three said...

That last paragraph reminds me of the Bad Hemingway contest.

Stephen King's books have, like, seven bazillion words each.

I confess: I am more apt to download a novel from audibles.com if it is longer than shorter.

That being said, the books I physically read--size doesn't matter.

And my favorite book of all time, "A Death in the Family" by James Agee, is not so very long at all.

poohba said...

I will have to remember that trick the next time I do NaNoWriMo.

Brenda Bradshaw said...

If I had a book that's 70K words and they required 80K, I'd say "approximately 80,000 words". Definitions of "approximately" can vary. (grin)

Bernita said...

I tend to write lean, on the logic it's easier to expand than shrink.

Anonymous said...

Thanks all (especially Evil) for your helpful comments. And (per usual) the punch line made me laugh out loud (and get in trouble at the office).

:-)


- Questioner 55

Anonymous said...

I certainly feel cheated when I . . .find each page half-filled with words.

You see, I'm exactly the opposite. It bugs me when I find each page half empty.

Just goes to show, you can't please everyone...

Kirsten said...

You can also make your main characters say "uh" and "um" a lot.

Dwight The Troubled Teen said...

You're honor, please let the record reflect that I had nothing to do with this thread.

D'OH!

kis said...

Anon the first,

I grew up in a place where such weather was the norm during the summer months. Hot all day, then heavy winds, downpours, lightning, maybe even a tornado to round out the evening. Now, if they showed him dropping her off only to see her brained by a piece of flying debris--say one of those whirly-gigs shaped like Wile E. Coyote my neighbor chooses to crap up his yard with--now that's believable fiction!

Watercolorz said...

Then the show him dropping her off at night on streets as wet as the Evil Editor's bathroom floor (I hear he drip dries).

No… those are the tears of slush pile aftermath ~W

Indie Tom said...

At 58,000 wds and hope to make 60,000 wds by the end of the day. That's assuming I don't spend all day narcistically staring at the word count... willing it on, but not actually typing a damn thing.

Nice and useful post, thanks!

webtelly said...

Technically, the definition of novel is anything over 40,000 words. And just to be clear, Hemingway won the Nobel in Literature with The Old Man and the Sea, which was classified as a novel at 125 pages: Well under the accepted standard.

So, it is the quality of the writing that is important. I recently submitted my "novella" which fit all the criteria to one of the few "novella contests" that exist. It was won by one of their cronies, with a book that for all intents and purposes, looked like a big novel to me! So just write, create, break the mold, but never, never disrespect your readers.