Wednesday, August 27, 2014
How long is your book?
Is 50,000 words long enough?
Is 250,000 words too long?
With traditional publishing, word length is a fraught issue, simply because of the economics. All books cost a certain amount to bring out in print, and the cover price has to include this, plus author royalties, the bookseller's cut, and - of course - the publisher's profit. If the book is only 40 pages, it has to have lots of lovely illustrations or something like that, because the price is going to seem an awful lot for such a little volume. Generally, you can only get away with it if it is a children's book, or really gripping poetry.
There are exceptions. Think Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Even then, though, the author had to wait a few years for the inspiration that made it long enough to tempt a publisher to take a punt.
And if you are really famous, or the book looks like a sure seller, then the publisher will think seriously about your massive opus. Think Capital in the Twenty-first Century, 695 pages and still bestselling.
Most traditional publishers like a book that is 80,000 words, give or take twenty thousand. If the number of pages fits exactly into a press sheet (a big piece of paper that is cut up evenly into pages, after printing), then you have a very happy publisher.
Indie publishers don't have that problem. Writers who are going straight to KDP, CreateSpace or Lightning Source can make their stories as long or as short as they like. But, as Rosen Trevithick points out in her funny but pertinent posts on how NOT to self-publish, it is not a good idea to publicize your 20,000-word effort as a novel.
So, what do you call it?
Here is her list, with a couple of additions (in italics) by me:
1-10 words ..... graffiti
1-99 words – micro fiction.
100 words exactly – drabble.
101-999 words – flash fiction. A "short short."
1,000-7,499 – short story.
7,500-17,499 – novelette.
17,500-49,999 – novella.
50,000-109,999 – novel.
Over 110,000 – epic. A "doorstop."
If you have never heard of drabbles before, go to Indie Book Bargains, a UK site that publishes a drabble every day. You can submit a drabble if you like, as it is a good way of getting your name noticed, but be warned, writing a drabble is a lot harder than it looks.