I’m now working on my column for RTB – we’ll see who was the winner in the suggestion pool. If the article comes out. I may have to change my mind on the topic if I get too stuck.

Meanwhile batdog03 commented:
I am writing a large book (estimated 285K), and I am constantly told that it is too large, and as a first time submitter that it will not get picked up. Is this true? It is the genre fantasy. What are the basic lengths for novels and can first time writers get away with writing larger than average books?

I don’t want to sound too flippant… but I developed a query-letter drinking game a while ago, and one of the rules is to take a drink if someone pitches a novel over 250K; drink twice if that’s the first book of a trilogy. Seriously, the average length for a fantasy novel is between 100-150K. If they go much longer, this makes the arcane equation which is used to determine the cost per unit and cover price give back very angsty answers, or so I understand. There are exceptions, of course (Susanna Clark’s Strange & Norrell, for instance — Amazon’s text stats for the book show it to be approximately 330K words). But – to put it bluntly – it’s unusual to make those exceptions for a first time author. In my opinion, it would be advantageous to find a natural breaking spot in the middle of this story and make it a two-volume package.

Here’s a couple factoids to go along with this:

*DAW’s submission guidelines sites their average book length as 80K.
*Harlequin’s fantasy line LUNA lists 100-150K for word-length.
*Betsy Mitchell, editor at Del Rey, has said that 120K is the average word-length for a fantasy manuscript.
*Jennifer Brehl, editor at Eos (HarperCollins) gave 125K.
*Warner Aspect’s guidelines (not online) give 80-100K as the suggested word length.

12 responses to “

  1. *waves* Adding to memories, if it’s oaky.

  2. DAW’s submission guidelines sites their average book length as 80K.
    Of course, I cannot *think* of a single DAW book, off the top of my head, that is not massive. Maybe the 80K ones are just hidden betwixt the big ones. πŸ™‚

    • I thought DAW’s guidelines said that was their minimum, not the average…*goes to take a peek* Let’s see the exact wording is: “The average length of the novels we publish varies but is almost never less than 80,000 words.” which I have personally always interpreted as that’s their low end number.

    • They better not be hidden between the bigger ones! I sold my 85K first novel to DAW (it should be out in January). Granted after revisions it went up to 92K, but still.
      So there are such books . . . but I agree that they are rare from DAW.
      In good news, I also sold books 2 and 3 to DAW with word counts on my contracts of 100K. So they do accept “smaller” books into their line.

  3. I’m getting over my worries over the really long stories — comforted by the possibility that two shorter books earn more money than one big one. It’s the books that insist on hovering round or just over the 120-150k mark I fret about now. ::grins::

  4. I don’t suppose you have this drinking game readable anywhere? I’d LOVE to read that!
    (She said, working on the first draft of a first book of a trilogy, and it’s only halfway done, and already over 100K. But it will be edited like crazy before it actually escapes into the wild, I swear!)

  5. So I have this 500k book…first book in a fantasy decology….
    Seriously, I really wish I’d known all this when I wrote and pitched my first attempt. For some reason my peabrain thought that when publishers said “at least 80k” it was okay to go 60k over that. πŸ˜‰
    (Attempt #2 will not be making that mistake.)

  6. There’s probably a word count margin in there of -10%/+20% before the eyeball rolling interlock circuit is enabled.
    Next week expect an LJ entry from Ms Jackson: Ssshoo dish ashhowe from Hawayee shends me thirdee facke queerieshe wif 300k word countsh aftur redding my LiveJhournal…
    I can neither confirm nor deny… πŸ˜‰

  7. Oh thank you for this post! I tend to write short and thought there was no hope for me. But if there’s more than one market that’ll take 80k, I’m happy.
    And if it’s any consolation, we aspiring writers run into these door-stop writers too. The last conference I went to I tried to gently explain the relationship between word count and production costs to someone who had a 300k first novel. They didn’t want to hear it. I would think it’s because I’m no one important except I know they’re going to ignore the agents and publishers too.

  8. Speaking as a Design Manager (that means it’s my job to pick typefaces, calculate castoff, and arrange typesetting):
    Thanks to the computer era and the age of cheapass paper, mass market books nowadays have to set at bigger typefaces than back in the ’80s. Go on, look at some of the older DAW bricks. They had a real sweet typeface that packed text on the page and made it readable. Can’t do that anymore.
    A book of 100-150K words will typically be somewhere between 384 and 464 pages, which is a decent spine size and price break, both in hardcover/trade and in mass market.

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