Friday, May 19, 2006

Q & A 15 Does size matter?

54K? What about the second half of the book? Is it a Saturday Evening Post serial, er sumpthin'? 54K is still solidly in novella territory.

Steinbeck's Of Mice & Men: fewer than 32,000 words.

Obviously it's not how long it is, it's what you do with it.


Emmy Ellis said...

54K is about my limit at the moment. Writing anything longer makes me bored, same with reading long ones.

Hmmm. I've seen 'thin' books on the shelf. Like you say, it's what you do with it.


Rei said...

I've never found a single SF/F agent or publisher which lists their word count and accepts less than 70k. Only one accepted that low. Almost all require at least 100k, as SF/F readers expect long books. Also, as Miss Snark is fond of pointing out, there are ample examples of great novels from the past that one would struggle to sell nowadays.

I would be willing to bake EE a double batch of cookies shaped like "E"s, your choice of cookie type, if you he could go into a B&N and find a mainstream SF/F book (not part of a collection of short stories or anything of the sort) that is less than 60k.

Evil Editor said...

The poster seemed to be claiming that 54,000 words is a novella, not that 54,000 words won't sell. As we seem to be focusing on F/SF, this from the SFWA site:

Q: What's the definition of a "novella," "novelette," etc.?

A: For the purposes of the Nebula Awards, the categories are defined as follows:

Novel — 40,000 words or more
Novella — 17,500–39,999 words
Novelette — 7,500–17,499 words
Short Story — 7,499 words or fewer

Whether a 54,000-word book will be published may be another question.
You may need to look to small presses for current authors, but Evil Editor is confident he could walk into Barnes and Noble and find any Philip K. Dick book, some of which are under 60,000 words.

Anonymous said...

Uh, The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks was a big hit and they made a movie out of it. Warner Books gave him a million dollar advance. It was under 60,000 words and he was careful to point out that the shorter format would be a big plus in this fast paced world where someone wants to have a pleasant read at the cottage in one weekend.
Plus, it was on the same shelves as the thicker tomes. It's still working...

Rei said...

According to Sparks (I've never read the book), The Notebook "is a love story inspired by two special people that recently passed away after sixty years of marriage", "a tender novel set in the Deep South, a love story written in lyric prose. Like most Southern novels, The Notebook envelopes all that is special about the region and its people; tradition, loyalty, kindness, love and remembrance", and "is the first novel that describes the heart-wrenching effects of Alzheimer's disease on two people who had loved each other all their lives". You're calling this SF/F, chumplet? It sounds like either Romance or Commercial Fiction, both of which can comfortably accept a 54,000 word novel.

EE, I'll clarify that it's quite true that an established author could break the rules. J.K. Rowling could probably sell an idea on a coffee napkin, write a 25,000 word novella, and get it in bookstores across the nation. However, that's not what the querier is presenting. They are an unknown. There are always those rare cases of people who don't play by the rules and still make it big, but in general, SF/F is expected to be a lot longer than most other genres.

Just as Miss Snark often mentions stopping reading query letters as soon as she sees "A 220,000 word historical romance" or other such descriptions, "A 54,000 word science fiction novel" would be expected to do the same thing to a SF/F agent.

Anonymous said...

Obviously it's not how long it is, it's what you do with it.

If only editors and agents would realize that this same rule applies to longer-than-normal novels, too.

Anonymous said...

If it's good enough--where good enough means, so compellingly written from the very first page that the editor reading it can't put it down--then I suspect it will at least get read.

If it isn't good enough, why's it going out in the first place?

One way to make it not good enough is to take a story that wants to be 54,000 words, and pad it out to 70,000.

Brenda said...

I think chumplet merely pointed out that there are, indeed, recent and very successful shorter novels, regardless of the genre.

Emmy Ellis said...

54,000 words, and pad it out to 70,000.

A good idea but then won't it be padded with what I would deem, as a reader, 'boring, useless info' like over bearing descriptions of the landscape etc?

If a book is tight and gripping at 54K, why make it baggy with extra wording and risk being rejected for overuse of words?

Then again, at 54K it could get rejected anyway, tight or not.

Luck of the draw, really.


Anonymous said...

The 54K thing was my snipe and I stand by it.

No argument that great novels can be short. I'm working toward that kind of perfect Salingerinain economy myself.

Maybe I just missed the SF/F part. I'm playing in a different sandbox. As REI clearly stated, every scrap of research that I have done indicates that 70 is the minimum word count for submission.

Obviously Yves knows infinitely more about publishing than I do, so I must defer to his experience. But I do so with a passive aggressive mumble because I don't think his single supporting example is very representative.

Anonymous said...

Dang it.

When you are wrong, you are wrong.

I'm wrong.

I went looking for supporting reference material, and instead I found that there are genres (romance, sci-fi) where 54K is right in the submission wheelhouse.

I stand corrected and I bow to the onslaught of much deserved ridicule.

Emmy Ellis said...


Hey, SF/F are usually long so your assumption on that basis isn't surprising.

I've had this discussion before with a writer who asked me how long my novels are and I said, 'Usually around 52-54K.' His answer: '54K does not a novel make.'

I beg to differ on that! But I just let it slide, no point arguing the toss when it's written on various websites that 52K is a novel.

I read a novel over 100K recently. I got bored in places where if the prose was tightened and cut, I wouldn't have. It's a shame that word count 'counts' when a tale can be crafted and be complete around the 50K mark.


Anonymous said...

I agree with She Who Writes Big Books. All I've heard since completing my novel is that it's too long to ever be published, so I've cut characters and subplots and have it down to approximately 157K. I've been dying to ask Evil Editor: when his minions tally their word count, are they using their software count, or the 250 words per page formula? There's a huge difference if you write a lot of dialogue.

I'm not writing sci fi / fan. Mine is romantic mainstream women's fitcion with a paranormal twist - without a single vampire, thank you.

Anonymous said...

The fabulous Agent Query Web site (from which I derived the 70K min thing) has a very definite opinion on word count.

This site makes good points. I'll save you the linking work. It's all about the automatic word counting feature of your software.