How Long Should Your Novel Be? What’s Too Short … and What’s Too Long?

 

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For some writers, “how long should a novel be?” sounds a bit like “how long is a piece of string?” They feel that their novel should be long enough to get the job done – even if that means it falls outside the bounds of what readers and publishers might normally expect.

The truth is that, while there’s not necessarily a “right” answer to this question, you do need to stick to industry norms if you’re aiming for traditional publication … and if you’re planning to self-publish, you’ll want to make sure that readers aren’t being put off by a too-short or too-long book.

Where does the word count of your piece fall?

Novel: Over 40,000 words. 80,000 – 90,000 is considered the sweet spot; under 70,000 or over 100,00 will be hard to sell to an agent/publisher.

Novella: 17,000 – 40,000 words. (Longer than 40,000 is generally considered a “short novel”.)

Novelette: 7,500 – 17,000 words. (Rarely-used term; most people would call this a “long short story”.)

Short story: Under 7,500 words. (If it’s under 1,000, then it might be called “flash fiction”.)

The novella form has been around for centuries, and there are plenty of classic novels that are novella-length. For instance:

  • The Turn of the Screw (Henry James) – a shade over standard novella length at 42,000 words.
  • Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad) – 38,000 words.
  • A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens) – 29,000 words.

jf-penn-novellaWith the rise of e-readers, novellas have had a resurgence in popularity: they’re quick to get into and read, and they can be priced very cheaply. Some authors, like J.F. Penn, use a free novella to promote their email list – you can see a screenshot of her Day of the Vikings offer to the right (sign up and get your own copy here).

Print publishers tend to be reluctant to take on novellas, though, because they’re uneconomical to print.

So, if you’ve written a short novel, you may struggle to get a traditional deal … but it could work well for you as a self-publisher.

Marketing Your Short Novel or Novella

In general, you can market a short novel or novella in just the same way as you’d market a full-length one! These are just a few key things to keep in mind:

If you’ve written a 30-40,000 word book, don’t describe it as a “novel” in your sale material: readers may feel cheated! You might want to do what J.F. Penn does and use “book” rather than “novel”.  Phrases like “quick read” or “pacy read” can clue readers into the length (not all readers will necessarily be familiar with the fairly technical term “novella”).

You’ll also want to consider pricing, especially if you also have novels out. For instance, you might price your ebooks at $2.99 for your novels and $1.99 for novellas. Not unreasonably, most readers will expect short novels to cost less than full-length ones.

You might also want to consider using it as a cheap or free entry-point for readers new to your work (for instance, you could put it on Kindle Unlimited for free, run periodic giveaways, or use it as a permanently free incentive to get people to sign up for your mailing list).

Should You Cut Down a Long Novel?

Whether you’re seeking a traditional deal or publishing independently, a too-long novel is a problem.

Novels that top 100,000 words often have more words than they need: most authors over-write, at least a bit, and cutting 105,000 words to 95,000 could make for a tighter, better-paced novel.

(On – excellent – editorial advice, I cut my novel Lycopolis down from 135,000 words to 85,000 – it was a much better novel for it!)

Also, readers have certain expectations of novels. Many of these are structural (e.g. the novel will have an ending, major plot points will be resolved, the protagonist will grow/change in some way) … but one fairly basic expectation is how long the novel will be.

Even if you’ve written a well-paced novel that’s not too wordy, it may not go down well with readers if it’s considerably longer than what they’d normally expect.

In some genres, of course (fantasy and science-fiction especially), novels tend to run long. But in others (romances and Westerns), readers will normally expect shorter books.

Ultimately, you’ll have to decide if your novel really needs to be long – you can’t do justice to the story and characters otherwise – or if you’ve written more words than necessary. You may want to get beta-readers, or a professional editor, involved at this stage.

 

While I can’t give you the “right” answer to the question of your novel’s length, I can offer a quick rule of thumb. Here it is:

Aim for 75 – 95,000 words. This is a “normal” novel length in almost every genre; it’ll work fine whether you’re seeking traditional publication or whether you’re self-publishing.

write-publish-novel-2-yearsAnother big advantage to keeping your novel to a standard length is that it won’t take you a huge amount of time to write. You can complete a 75,000 – 80,000 word novel in two years – from initial idea to publication (or sending out queries) – by working for just 30 minutes every day. Here’s my full plan for doing just that.

Got questions? Disagree with me about how long novels should be – or whether it matters? Drop a comment below!

Seven Great Sources of New Ideas for Your Blog

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Do you ever struggle to come up with ideas for your blog?

I think all bloggers do, at some point. Sadly, this is one common reason why blogs get abandoned: the blogger couldn’t think what to write about, and days went by, then weeks, with no new posts … before they eventually gave up altogether.

The great news is that there are tons of ideas all around you, just waiting to be written.

And don’t worry about ideas having already been “taken” by other bloggers. What matters is not having a totally new, never-before-seen idea – but having a solid idea that you can bring your unique perspective and skills to.

Here are seven of my favourite ways to come up with blogging inspiration:

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Freelance Writing: Ten Steps, Tons of Resources

This post was first published in 2010, and rewritten/updated in 2016.

This is the guide which I wish I’d had when I was getting interested in freelance writing. It’s a step by step walk-through for the adventure that lies ahead of you.

You’ll find tips for each stage of your journey, and summaries of great resources to help you along the way.

Tip: You may want to bookmark this post or even print it out, so you can come back and dip in at each new step of your journey.

Ready to get going?

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Should You Be More Business-Like About Your Writing?

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One piece of common advice in the world of writing is “treat your writing as a business”.

But like the idea of striving to write faster and faster … is it really such an equivocally good idea after all?

I have a writing business: for eight years now, my income has come from my writing and from my work with writers. And I’ll readily admit that adopting some “business-like” practices can help most writers.

But sometimes, treating your writing as a hobby – or an artistic pursuit, or an avocation – is better than trying to be super-serious and business-like about it.

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How to Write a Great Blurb for Your Self-Published Novel [With Examples]

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One of the more teeth-pulling tasks of self-publishing a novel is having to write your own blurb (or what Amazon calls a “product description”, and what some people call a “synopsis”).

I spent ages agonising over this when I published Lycopolis, including getting my writing group to take a look at my blurb and offer feedback.

To my surprise, it was really tricky to find advice on writing blurbs. I have a couple of shelves full of writing-related books – but none of them cover blurbs (several deal with the dreaded “synopsis” of the type you send to an agent, but not the type intended to sell books directly to readers).

Happily, I came across Bryan Cohen’s How to Write a Sizzling Synopsis a couple of months ago – more on that, and on my own total-blurb-rewrite in a moment.

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15 Ways to Make Your Characters Suffer (for the Good of Your Novel)

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Do your characters suffer enough?

Even if you’re writing a light and fluffy romance, at some point, someone in your novel is going to need to get hurt.

I’m not suggesting all-out graphic torture here, obviously – unless that suits your genre. Suffering comes in a lot of different forms – and I’m going to go through a bunch of those in a moment.

In general, making characters suffer should do at least one, ideally both, of these:

  • Advance your plot: bad stuff may well need to happen in order for your heroes to get to (and earn) their happy ending. Often, some degree of suffering is what drives the plot: the protagonist is unhappy with their life as-is and wants to change things.
  • Deepen or reveal character: either we see who someone really is when they’re hurt (someone who seemed a bit of a wimp turns out to have hidden strength; someone who was nice on the surface reveals a vindictive side) … or it’s part of their character arc.

Any and all of your characters can get to suffer: heroes, villains, and those with walk-on parts. The main difference is in how the reader will respond.

Our natural reaction to seeing someone hurt or in pain is to feel sympathy towards them. If they’re a particularly nasty character, though, we might well feel they’re getting their just deserts. The more awful they are, the less likely we are to feel sorry for them – even if their suffering is pretty extreme (think Ramsay in Game of Thrones, for instance).

If a minor character suffers, the importance of this may well be how the hero (or villain) responds: do they help? Are they distressed? Amused? Indifferent? Introducing someone who’s in some kind of pain can also be a good way to instantly get the reader’s sympathy.

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How to Plan Writing Time into Your Week [With Downloadable Spreadsheet]

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Do you struggle to find time to write?

That’s probably a silly question: almost everyone I talk to does. And many writers (me included) go through months or years of waiting.

Waiting to have a free weekend.

Waiting until the kids are a little older.

Waiting until life isn’t quite so manic.

But a few spare hours won’t magically appear in your schedule. You need to make that time in your week.

Once, I used to be able to write for hours at a stretch, if I wanted.

I could head to a coffee shop for a few hours and draft a whole mini-ebook (that’s how the first version of my free ebook Time to Write came about – you can get that when you join the Aliventures newsletter).

I could write all day long on a Saturday, and come away from my desk in a daze after six hours of novelling.

These days, with two small children, getting hours at a time to write is … not quite an impossible dream, but at least a very rare occurrence!.

Instead, most of my fiction is written in half-hour chunks, between 5.15pm and 5.45pm on weeknights.

That might sound confining and stifling … but actually, the past seven months have been the most productive novel-writing months of my life (and I’ve been writing novels for the past 17+ years).

Having a regular time slot for fiction, instead of just grabbing haphazard chunks of time, has made working on my novel a natural part of my day – and something I really look forward to.

I strongly recommend that you plan writing time into your week – and in this post, I’ll be suggesting some ways to make that work for you.

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How I Make a Living as an Online Writer (And How You Could Too)

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Fully updated and republished in August 2016.

This week, the start of August 2016, marks the eight year mark since I left my day job.

Ever since then, I’ve been supporting myself through writing. It’s my dream career – and I love being able to set my own hours, work from home, and have a huge amount of flexibility and freedom.

In the past four years, I’ve been particularly glad of my career: I now have two young children, and I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with them while continuing to do what I love for a living.

I haven’t written much here on Aliventures about how exactly I actually make money. Maybe you suspect that there’s some amazing secret skill involved, or some sort of dark art.

But there really isn’t. Turning words into money might sound like spinning straw into gold … but it’s a darn sight easier.

And … if you want to … there’s no reason why you can’t do exactly the same as me.

In short, over the past eight years, I’ve had a bunch of different revenue streams: some for a year or two, some for the whole time. I’m going to explain the basics of each, and provide some links to places where you can get further information or try these methods out for yourself.

I’ll start with the ones that were easiest to get going with, and work up to the methods that take a bit more time.

Note: for each method, I’ve indicated when I did it and, if I stopped, I’ve noted why.

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When Dialogue Gets Weird: Representing Unorthodox Forms of Speech on the Page (Text Conversations, Psychic Communication, etc)

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Whether you’ve written any fiction yet or not, you’re probably extremely familiar with how dialogue appears on the page: it’s surrounded by quotation marks.

Even if you’re not quite confident with all the finer details of formatting spoken words on the page, it’s probably perfectly natural to you to wrap these words in quotation marks. You likely don’t think twice about it, although this isn’t actually the only option you have.

“Standard” dialogue is, generally, represented in one of three ways:

Type #1: The Most Common Style for Novels and Short Stories

“Excuse me,” John said, “is this the train for London?”

“Yes, though it’s the all stopper,” Daniel said.

Type #2: Standard Format for Scripts, Occasionally Adopted by Novelists / Short Story Writers

John: Excuse me. Is this the train for London?

Daniel: Yes, though it’s the all-stopper.

Type #3: Used in Some Literary Fiction, Particularly Short Stories

– Excuse me, John said, is this the train for London?

– Yes, though it’s the all stopper, Daniel said.

(Type #3 takes some getting used to, and personally, I’m not entirely sure what benefit it has over standard quotation marks … other than, perhaps, lending a clear “literary” stamp to the novel or story. You can see it in use part-way through D.W. Wilson’s essay On the Notoriously Overrated Powers of Voice in Fiction or How to Fail at Talking to Pretty Girls.)

Chances are, you’re using type #1, and that’s all well and good.

But what do you do when you want to represent an exchange of words that isn’t quite so conventional as a face-to-face chat?

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Should You Write Faster? Here’s What Four Indie Authors Do (Plus My Take)

 

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By a lot of people’s standards, I’m a pretty fast writer. For the last 12 years or so, I’ve been able to comfortably produce 1,000 words an hour (sometimes to the envy of writing group peers). I write most days – though I don’t always spend as much time on my fiction as I’d like.

In the indie-author world, though, I’m not exactly what you’d call fast. Lots of indie authors produce multiple books per year (and many imply, if not outright state, that this is necessary if you want to build a successful indie career).

Let’s take a look at what four different indie authors – all excellent ones – say about writing fast.

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