1.16.2006

A short sortie into fiction

Dear Miss Snark,

I recently queried an agent who claimed to like my writing but said my 48, 500 word novel(la) was unsaleable. I believe her, as it’s her job to know these things. So what is the minimum length for a saleable novel these days?


novella? or novel?
novellas are a bitch to sell.
no one in their right mind does that (oh wait, there are some exceptions but few and far between).

Novels run 80,000 words at least. Any less than that you gotta have 16 point fonts to make up enough pages for a book people want to pay $25.00 for

Yes there are exceptions but this is the general rule.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

what about YA/childrens?

Jude Hardin said...

Not every agent and editor uses computer word count to determine length. Play with various methods.
By some, 48K might come up to 60K, considering "white" space. Use the low word count to your advantage, if nothing else, as Nicholas Sparks did with THE NOTEBOOK (see his website). Just because one agent says it's too short does not make it unsalable.

Brady Westwater said...

If one's novel is,.... 78,000 - does that round off to 80,000 - or should one give the exact word count?

Anonymous said...

I have a series of hardcover novels with Simon and Schuster that chime in at approximately 72,000 words a piece so I think 70,000 might be a better cut off than 80,000.

Ilona said...

Traditional word count, the one your copy editor and design layout editor will thank you for:

Put your manuscript into Courier 12. Type 01234567890 on the first line six times. Adjust the margins so exactly 6 zeroes fit on one line - 60 characters per line.

Now go to Word Count feature. Find the number of lines in you manuscript. Multiply by 10. There you go, typographic word count.

Traditionally, printed "word" is 5 characters + a single space. Since you now have exactly 10 "words" per line, word count becomes very easy. Why won't it work with Times New Roman, frex? Courier, although ugly as hell, also doesn't adjust the width of its letters: they all occupy the same space. Times New Roman and most other fonts do not.

Anonymous said...

It would be useful to be able to find out what lengths published novels are. I remember thinking that The Jane Austen Book Club had to be very short, given the HUGE font, SMALL number of pages and OODLES of white space. You bet I felt cheated.

archer said...

Stephen King has a hysterically funny piece on selling novellas. It appears in the back of his novella collection, Different Seasons.

Jude Hardin said...

Amazon has a feature called "Text Stats" on many of its offerings that will give you the word count among other things.

Robert Parker's Spenser novels, for example, run about 50K words. They still fill about 300 pages with a normal-sized font, so there's obviously plenty of white space.

But that seems to be the trend in popular fiction, short paragraphs and plenty of dialogue snippets. The average 2006 reader doesn't have the patience to wade through thick paragraphs of backstory and description. If you open new books by Sue Grafton and Dean Koontz, for example, you'll see that the their text looks much different than it did a few years ago. Today's readers want fast-paced stories with plenty of action and dialogue. So, if you're interested in selling, that's what you go for.

I don't think a novel has to be 80K words to be salable. Depending on the genre, 60K might be a more realistic minimum. And like I said before, 48,500 can be cheated into 60K using a word count method like ilona's.

Elektra said...

Thank goodness, because I'm looking at about 60k, using the Courier times 250 method. I've heard people say that Wrod's WordCount is what you should use, but that doesn't make much sense to me. In a printed book, a single character saying 'what' is still going to take up as much space as the first sentence of a paragraph, even though it has far fewer words

Anonymous said...

I'm the original correspondent, and I'd just like to thank all of you for your comments and the suggestion on word count: I'll try it out and see what the thing comes to. It does seem a pity to pad for no good reason...

Elektra said...

Just out of curiosity: did the agent actually read the full ms and say it was too short, or did you just mention the word count in your query?

Elektra said...

Just for reference: Orwell's Animal Farm comes in at 30,000 words, and my copy is 99 pages long.

Anonymous said...

I second the YA / Childrens question. How long should the MS be?

Anonymous said...

Amazon's pages are so busy that I never saw Text Stats. Thanks, jude!

Apparently The Jane Austen Book Club is 70k. No wonder I thought it was short for a novel. Sorry, Dickens fan here!

It may be 2006 but I still like a book with meat.

Anonymous said...

elektra, she only saw the first ten pages: this was based on the word count i provided in my query letter. that's very interesting about animal farm; somehow more impressive than the notebook -jane.