Word Counts That Sell
When people ask me how many pages my novel is, I roll my eyes. In the digital age, page lengths change depending on the settings on your kindle, or what you’re reading it on. It’s also not a good guide on length. I might not be able to give you a figure on page lengths, but I can tell you how many words it is. In writing, it’s all about word length, not page count.
I’ve discussed previously how knowing your novel word count is very important to structure and planning. In fact, I think it’s more important to know this number instead of writing an outline. The word count will let you know where you are in your novel and how to write to a climax.
In this article, I’ll tell you what you should be aiming for as a writer. But first….
Mastering Short Stories
I used to write a lot of short stories, which is important to do before you embark on the mammoth task of writing a novel. A short story can let you learn your writing style, but more importantly, it lets you work with word counts. Pardon the cliche, but you can’t run before you walk.
Short story competitions are great because they give you a word length to stick to. One of my favourite magazines, Writing Magazine, they have regular competitions with a word limit normally set to 1,750. When an average novel is 90,000, then it’s a more manageable size. It should be easier, right? Well, you’ve got to fit an entire story into that length with a strong beginning, middle and end. By practicing with these competitions you can learn various techniques, but the most important one being knowing where you are in your story. If you’ve only got 50 words left in your story, you better be making sure it’s getting to the conclusion. If you’re only introducing your characters at the 1,000 word mark, you’ve got problems.
Get used to setting yourself word limits in short stories and sticking to them. Use my 25/50/25 model as discussed in my secret novel writing formula blog. Size does matter.
You’ve mastered the short story and now you want to embark on that epic task of writing your novel. Like the short story, know the word count you have to aim for. To make this easy for you, there are already set word counts for specific genres. Firstly, anything above 40,000 words is a novel. Between 17,000 and 40,000 words is a novella, below that count, it’s a short story.
What the Market Wants
You’re not going to be very successful with a 40,000 word novel. It’s too short! No reader can get involved in a plot with so few words. As a writer, between 75,000 and 120, 000 words is a good guide. This will vary from genre to genre. If you’ve written an epic 200,000 word novel, you might want to consider cutting this down or splitting the book into parts. The added advantage to this is creating a series and they are very popular in the indie world.
In my experience, a good length for a novel is 90,000 words and it’s certainly what most agents want. At 90,000 words, your novel won’t be overwritten and the plot should be fast paced. If you’re writing SF or Fantasy, then you can go well over 100,000 words as readers expect a massive epic. But as an Indie Author, you can’t expect people to offer so much of their time on an unknown author. You want them to finish your book, right? That’s why I think 90,000 words is perfect for the indie market and certainly no lower than 75,000 words.
It will help your sales in the early days of publishing. If you’re not worried about selling as an indie author, go ahead and write 200,000 words and not see any reviews.
I wrote a 110,000 word horror and I’ve been told it’s too long. Looking back, I think it would be much better cut down to 90,000 words, dumping pointless plot arcs and focussing the story more. I’ll probably go back and rewrite that one. Take a look at your own first draft and see if you’ve gone on for too long. They recommend cutting 10% of the first draft. If you’ve only written 40,000 on the first draft, then it might not have a strong enough plot in the first place. By trying to add more to that story to get to at least 75,000, you might be adding pointless scenes. Every scene should drive the story, not bore the reader. If you find yourself struggling to boost the count up, then go and rethink your initial idea and consider other options.
My advice is this:
Write lots of short stories
Learn to stick to word counts
Know your novel length
Kevin Grover is an indie author of supernatural thrillers. His books are on Amazon and his website, Indie Bookshelf, shares various tips and experiences about his indie career.