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  1. #1
    Aaron Cerny
    Guest

    How many words should a novel be?

    A couple questions...I've just started on a new novel and my chapters usually run to about 4000 words. The questions I have, because I have heard so many different answers, are: how many words should a novel be, and how many words usually correspond to one page in print?
    It would be nice to get some clear, concise, general answer to this.



  2. #2
    Ron Starkey
    Guest

    Re: How many words should a novel be?

    Aaron,

    The pat answer for a novel's length is that it should be as long as it takes to say what it's supposed to say. That's the cliche, but, to me, it's also the truth. Whatever number of words that happens to be is the right number for the novel. It's been my experience that publishers like first novels to be under 120,000 words but there are wide variations to that, too. A good estimate for your words-per-page is about 250-275.

    Good luck with your writing.

    Ron

  3. #3
    Gary Kessler
    Guest

    Re: How many words should a novel be?

    Aaron,

    I wouldn't disagree with Ron's a novel's length should be "as long as it takes to say what it's supposed to say." And the more high-selling novels an author gets published, the more successfully she/he can make that assertion to literary agents and publishers for succeeding novels (with some limits even here, however--even at the height of his marketability, Michener's "Alaska" was deemed too long to get between two covers and another novel--either "The Journey" or "The Legacy," I can't remember which off hand--was spun off into another novel. "Alaska" was still so humongous that the profit line wasn't all that impressive--and I don't think the spin-off novel turned a profit, even though I thought it was a better, tighter novel than "Alaska" was).

    That said, An early-career novelist who wants to minimize the trouble of getting literary agents and publishers to look at the manuscript will try to keep his/her novel between 75,000 and 90,000 words. Much of the reason for this involves the cost of production and marketing per unit in relation to the estimated sales (and retail price) of an author who hasn't already gathered a following. These are artisitically objectionable but real world-controlling considerations. Few publishers will risk their businesses on a new novelist. There are some other, more hard and fast, word limitations. Anything below 40,000 words won't be considered a novel at all, but a novella, and an adult work this length has little chance of being published by a traditional publisher. A novel below 60,000 words is almost certainly considered unprofitable to produce by traditionals. There are exceptions to point to--"Jonathan Livingstone Seagull" springs to mind, but the story of how hard that one was to sell to a publisher should, in itself, be enough to give an author second and third thoughts about trying it. Novels that don't take longer than that to say what they're supposed to say have been saved a bit by electronic publishing, which has no financial impediments to "publish" shorter pieces. Even POD production can help shorter novels into print. The traditional publisher's cost/profit estimates usually will kill the chances of an early-career novel in excess of 120,000 words--unless, of course, the author already has a public persona that will guarantee high sales.

    Using the format standards generally specified by most publishers for manuscript submissions should put you close to a 275 words/per/page computer program-generated figure.

  4. #4
    Wallace Cass
    Guest

    Re: How many words should a novel be?

    I have seen estimates between 60,000 to 100,000 for paperbacks and 85,000 to 120,000 for hardcover.

    However, in spite of the numbers I agree that that story should be as long as it needs to speaks its peace.

    Wallace

  5. #5
    Gary Kessler
    Guest

    Re: How many words should a novel be?

    Sorry, but I've never known a publisher to consider length in the decision on whether or not there would be a hardcover before or instead of a paperback.

  6. #6
    Wallace Cass
    Guest

    Re: How many words should a novel be?

    I got my numbers from the Beginning Writer's Answer Book by Writer's Digest Books. On Page 312 under Average Manuscript Lengths, it gives a table with average lengths.

    Also, to amend my numbers, this book says:

    Novel-Hardcover 25,000-150,000
    Novel-Paperback 35,000-80,000

    If there was not a need for these numbers, they would not be provided.

    Certainly no need to apologize, Gary

    Wallace

  7. #7
    Gary Kessler
    Guest

    Re: How many words should a novel be?

    Wallace:

    Glad you provided a citation. I'll have to ask around among my publisher clients why they would make such a distinction, because, again I've never heard them use that factor when they decide how/whether to mix hardcover and paperback. The only technical reason I could think of for such numbers would be limitations of binding systems. Maybe there's a whole new facet out there for me to learn (which is another good reason to continue following this discussion forum).

  8. #8
    Patricia Cooper
    Guest

    Re: How many words should a novel be?

    It also depends on the genre. And the publishing house.

    For example Harlequin and the like have to be 60,000 -75,000 words I believe.

    Regular "who dun its" are much shorter than, say a psychological thriller.

    if you look in the writer's market, guidelines as to acceptable length are usually given for the specific genres that particular publishing house markets.

    patC

    And of course there are exceptions to every rule. Diana Gabaldon's latest "The Fiery Cross" clocks in at 300,000 pages and is a tremendous and exciting read. But then she has sold 10million world wide of the first four in the series and has a great following. I think she has two more to come.

    patC

  9. #9
    Ron Starkey
    Guest

    Re: How many words should a novel be?

    Pat,

    Please tell me you meant "words" instead of "pages" for Gabaldon's latest book. My hernia started acting up just thinking about the size of that baby. :-)

    Ron

  10. #10
    Jen Nipps
    Guest

    Re: How many words should a novel be?

    I thought that too. THen I re-read it. It seems that this is a series of books that currently has four on the market and two soon to come.

    Still, pretty long books!

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