Tuesday, November 16, 2010

How long is a novel?

So you’re working on the next big novel, it’s full of awesome swordfights, princesses being rescued, and dragons enjoying ketchup. Great. So how do you measure your progress. I too am working on a novel, its called The Next Progression, and it deals with the continuation of the Course Books which I have mentioned a few times here.

Well, something many of you are probably wondering; is just how long does something have to be, in order to be a novel? “I have an entire spiral-bound notebook full of stuff,” you say. “Is that long enough?” And I tell you I have no idea.

We are trained in school to measure books and reports by counting the number of pages. All throughout primary school and even into college and graduate school, requirements for reading assignments, reports, essays, etc, is always given in pages. Students have developed quite a few exciting techniques for circumventing these requirements; double spacing, huge fonts, adjusted margins, we all know at least a few techniques.

Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but writing doesn’t work this way. The page-count fallacy was created to by teachers to quickly gauge the length of a report. Publishers are going to ask you for an entirely different metric.

Specifically, they are going to bring up word count.

My latest novel, The Next Progression™ has just now crossed the 40,000-word threshold, which is roughly the minimum length for a novel. Notice how I use qualifiers like “roughly”; in truth there is no specific minimum length.

Now, 40,000 words translates to about 80 pages of size 12, Times New Roman text, written in standard Microsoft Word® 2003. No modifications to margins or anything, this is just the default. But no one cares about page count, word count is where it’s at.

You see, page count changes drastically according to all sorts of easily adjustable factors. Font type, style, size, kerning, and a bunch of other terms that printers know and you have never heard. Author of the Gust, one of my finished pieces, offers up a fantastic window for comparison.

The novel is roughly 90,000 words in length. That translates to 187 pages of size 12, Times New Roman text. The finished book, if you go out and buy it today(and I suggest you do), is actually 360 pages. Gwuh? You may be asking yourself. Well, that 187 page count was from a standard 8.5x11 page, the finished book is only 5x7 and uses a very different font.

So, now that we understand why publishers go by word count, let’s return to the original question: how long is a novel? There is no right answer, there isn’t a single rule or law anywhere that puts even a minimum or maximum length on anything. If someone says there is, they’re either lying, uneducated, or full of it.

That being said, each publisher will have a different length in mind, which varies according to genre, target demographic, and a whole slew of other factors. I keep quoting the 40k figure, and here’s why: based on my research, that is the minimum that most publishers have listed. If it isn’t 40,000 words, it isn’t a novel.

That also doesn’t mean you should stop at 40,000. There is no upward limit.

The number is not true across the board. Some publishers want 50,000, some want 80,000, some won’t touch anything under 100,000. It depends entirely n the publisher, and don’t try to argue with them otherwise.

There are various classifications. Some publishers will use the term “light novel” or “novella”, again there is no agreed upon length. It basically comes down to what this particular publisher wants to call a novel.

And it varies with demographic, too. Author of the Gust is intended for the roughly 11 and up crowd, so the average fourth grader. It’s a bit long for that age-group at 90,000 words. The books I was reading in 3rd and 4th grade were probably closer to 40 or 50,000 words.

Now, it is also important to keep in mind, as you work on that novel, that the rough draft is far from finished. Again using Author of the Gust for an example, grew considerably. The oldest finished master that I can find(marked as version 3), is 70,000 words. That means between version 3 and version 10(the finalized print version), the story grew by 20,000 words. The Next Progression, currently at 43,000 and not finished, will probably come close to 60,000 by the time the first draft is done.

So even if you’ve finished that rough draft, and the word counter displays a disheartening 36,000 words, fear not! Now the hard work really begins.

I will leave you today with a short sneak peek my next novel:

Aden, having transformed back into his more frequently used human-shape, slipped something back into his sleeve and walked around Diego, carefully side-stepping the rapidly expanding pool of blood.
Diego groaned as he tried to move, managing to raise his head a few inches by opening his jaw. He seemed as yet unaware that his spinal chord had been severed, but was clearly much more concerned about his carotid artery and jugular vein, both of which were spilling a massive quantity of blood over the black stone floor.
Leaning in as close as he could without getting his shoes dirty, Aden whispered to Diego as he stood next to the dragon’s head.
“Your one mistake, was expecting me to fight fair,” he said quietly. “You killed my mother, and you still expected me to fight fair.”
There was a strange look of fear in Diego’s eyes as he swiveled them to meet Aden’s gaze. And it wasn’t fear of death, or fear for the life rapidly draining out of him. There was something else that seemed to be making Diego very, very afraid.
Though for Aden, who had never before taken the life of another dragon, there was no fear. He met Diego’s gaze, and watched the very life drain from his eyes, and he was neither fear, nor shame over the act, only the slightest bit of disgust over the pleasure hat it brought him.
Once Diego was dead, he moved out past the corpse and in the direction of the main gallery, but before he could continue he knelt in fervent prayer. He could not bring himself yet to as the Broodmother’s forgiveness for taking the life of another dragon, but he begged her to forgive him for enjoying it.

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