Friday, September 11, 2009

How Long Is Too Long?

No, you dirty-minded scum, I didn't mean that. I'm talking book length here. Sheesh.

When I started out, I figured my book had to be 100,000 words. That's about the average novel, right? When the first draft came in at 77,000 words, I thought, jeez, how am I gonna come up with another 23,000 words? The second draft came in at 90,000 and I thought, whew, that's close enough.

Then I discovered that 90,000 words as counted by computer is not 90,000 words in the world of publishing. They figure word-count by counting pages, assuming 250 words per page. So my manuscript, which ran to something like 414 pages (if done in 12-pt Courier) was actually, in publishing-land, 103.500 words! Like magic. Then I discovered that 100,000 words (or, "words") is actually maybe too long for a novel, especially one written by a first-timer. That 70,000 words, which seems awful short to me, is actually OK, 80,000 better. 100,000 is OK but pushing it. Much more than that and you're in big trouble. (I think it also depends on the genre.)

Confusing. I'm jabbering on about this because I did a quick "fix" to the "B. problem," as I like to call it (see previous post) -- basically threw in another suspect (called him Benny Stencil in an homage to Benny Profane and Herbert Stencil from Pynchon's V., which I happen to be re-reading at the moment). Another red herring, if you will. And it wound up taking the ms. from 89,000 words (I did some cutting on the third draft) to 92,500. As the computer counts. I do the ms. in 12-pt New Times Roman now because it looks nicer and only prints out to about 365 pages. And I've printed it out a lot.

So now of course I'm worried that it's too long. That's if I decide to keep the "fix." I have no idea what those 92,500 words would turn out to be in publishing-land "words."

As I said before, I need that agent/editor to tell me what to cut, add, modify, twist, elasticate (is that a word) or demagnetize....


  1. Just FYI, if your books are as entertaining and well written as your blog posts, I think you'll get published. I'm looking for an agent myself. Thanks for the good links.

  2. According to Agent Query
    agents do want your computer's word count.
    However, if you want to get 250 words per page, you can choose the right font and margin width that'll produce it.

    Miss Snark also discusses word count.