How Long Should It Be?

I’m overly-anxious about my length.

Having finished the rougher-than-rough first draft of Untitled Novel, I am now in the process of editing it into an actual first draft. My ‘so rough it’s an insult to rough drafts’ draft clocked in at a hair over 70,000 words. To anyone who is not a writer, that means nothing. To me, not that long ago, it meant nothing. Who cares about words? Books are measured in pages, aren’t they?

No, they’re not.

See, the size and style of your font effects a page count as much as anything else. Same with margins and spacing and all sorts of seemingly-unimportant things. I can tell you that my initial ‘you’re not actually calling this a finished draft, are you?’ draft ran 221 pages. But that tells you nothing about how long it is. I could be using size-48 font. I could be double spacing the manuscript. My margins could be three inches on either side. So we writers live by the word count.

How long is 70,000 words? Well, the only comparison I can do is with the Percy Jackson novels. Someone once showed me this fantastic site that listed the page counts of gazillions of books, but I lost the URL and can’t find it. And I only remember looking up the Percy Jackson novels. (If you know the site I’m talking about, please leave the URL in a comment!)

The first Percy Jackson novel (The Lightning Thief) was about 87,000 words. His second series, starting with The Lost Hero, are all around 140,000 words or more. Most publishers will not publish a middle grade or YA novel above 100,000 words, unless you are Rick Riordan (the author of the Percy Jackson series) or J.K. Rowling.

My book, Doctor Fell and the Playground of Doom (coming to a bookstore near you in August, 2016!) clocks in at around 45,000 words. Excellent Editor has requested I bring this current book in at no more than 55,000 words. As I noted earlier, the ‘rougher than sandpaper’ draft started life at just over 70,000.

So I’ve a ways to go.

The first step, which I’m doing now, is to just go through and nip and tuck, like I’m a plastic surgeon constructing the perfect whatever you want your plastic surgeon to construct. Right now, the book’s dropped 2,000 words and I’ve more than half of it to go. But what do I do if I complete this edit and find the book glaring at me with an overweight 65,000 words? I can’t just say the book is big boned and leave it at that. It needs to go on a crash diet.

That’s when you start negotiating with yourself.

“Alright, I’ll lose this cute little bit here but I get to keep the funny thing in the next chapter. Deal?”

Excellent Editor tells me not to worry. If it’s long, let it be long. But, do try to cut it down to 55,000. Or less. Less is good. It is aimed (I hope) at kids ages 8-12. How many words will they endure before they get bored and refuse to even give the book a try? That’s the delicate balance I’m striving for.

God help me.

Author: neilsendavid

Author of Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom and Beyond the Doors.

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