Sunday, 19 January 2014

How long is a piece of string?

"It's 90,000 I tell you, Fool!"
"We'll see about that," said Roger.
I'm writing a book with a friend. She says it needs to be 90,000 words, and I say it will be as long as it will be. So obviously, instead of the usual pistols at dawn scenario, we turned to Mrs Google.

There are no end of blog posts about the subject, and it actually appears that lots of people agree with my friend, lots of other people think it can be much shorter and lots of people think it can be much longer. What Mrs Google appears to be telling me is that a women's novel can be anything between 50,000 and 250,000, although if it is your debut novel both are unlikely to be published traditionally. (Unless of course it is a work of utter undeniable genius, as ours will surely be.) A more normal range appears to be between 60,000 and 125,000, so although I am loathe to admit it, my friend's middling 90k target was sort of right.

After a hard days work,
Mrs Google enjoys a hearty sing song.
Except that I stand by what I said. Of course. Our story will be as long as it needs to be.

But what I want to know is, do other people write to fit a word count, or do you you write to tell the story? And if you do write to a word count, what do you do if you fall way short or go massively over?

Answers below, or on a postcard please...

Yes, but how long is a piece of string?


  1. Mine is out on submission at the moment. It is 80k, was previously 75k, the only reason the numbers changed was that I edited 5k out and put 10k in... My agent thinks the length is no problem, and of all the editors who have seen it so far, the length has not even been mentioned. The story fits the length, any more would be padding. I think over 70k is generally ok, but there will of course be some publishers who think that is too short. I saw a load of books the other night in Belgravia books that looked like 60k max, judging by the size of them. Hope that helps a bit!

    1. Thank you! Yes, that's really helpful. I don't want to be shoe-horned into something just for the sake of numbers. X

    2. Definitely! I think if it comes down to numbers then there is something wrong with the publisher, not the book. I suppose they want value for money, as well as wanting things that they think readers want, e.g. a 4 hour read, as my English teacher used to say... Personally I like my books shorter rather than longer, and anything with over 500 pages wouldn't even get a look in! x


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