Book Length (Word Count)

Discussion in 'Writing' started by Optimutt, Aug 28, 2006.

  1. Optimutt

    Optimutt Registered User

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    I am writing a book. Seriously. The biggest problem with this little book of mine is that it is nowhere near little. It's about 80,000 words right now, and may have concluded the first quarter of the overall tale. Yes, I have already taken into consideration the notion that books are as long as they need to be. The main reason I'm writing this is to inquire about the lengths of some famous novels, not in pages, but word count. For example, how long is Steven King's "Gunslinger"? or Papa Tolkein's "Lord of the Rings" in words?

    What are some averages or rough figures of some greats?
     
  2. Werthead

    Werthead Registered User

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    I believe that The Lord of the Rings is over 300,000 words in length.

    Some other word counts:

    Paul Kearney's The Mark of Ran (390 large-type pages): 90,000.

    Robert Jordan's The Shadow Rising (1,008 small-type pages): 393,000
    Robert Jordan's The Path of Daggers (704 medium-type pages): 226,000.

    Peter F. Hamilton's The Reality Dysfunction (1,230 medium-type pages): 320,000.
     
  3. BrianC

    BrianC bmalone.blogspot.com

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    Optimutt, it's probably a good thing that you are thinking of this now, and not when you are 90% finished. I have a few questions:

    1. Is your book science fiction or fantasy? It does make a difference. The average fantasy tends to be 1/5 to 1/4 again as long as the average science fiction. Lately the difference seems to be shrinking as more science fiction novels are getting longer and longer. But fantasy is, as I understand it, still allowed a little more leeway from publishers.

    2. How certain are you that you will keep substantially all of the current 80k words? If this is a rough draft, then you may end up cutting a good bit. If not, then you may well need to rethink your storyline.

    3. Is there, or will there be, a natural point where the story can be chopped in two or three? My just-finished novel weighs in at a little under 158k words. Based upon my research this seems to be at the upper end of what publishers like to see from a debut, stand-alone fantasy novel. Any more than that, I have been told, and I will have to chop it in half and make a duology. So, are you sure that you are writing one book? Maybe it's really two books.
     
  4. Optimutt

    Optimutt Registered User

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    Actually...

    The book is already split into <cough> seven books, and this is only the forerunner tale that is absolutely essential for the overall legend. And this is only the first part of the first book. And, until an editor tells me that I NEED to cut 1/4; I'm not going to.

    Once the book makes a killing, then I'll go George Lucas on it and rehash the extended version and the super-added scenes version. Or else, I'll toss in the "Added tales" afterwards that fills in all the little plot holes that the editor made me cut out. No; I hope they won't see all the characterization as shit and will be able to keep the bulk of it. Perhaps this is one of the single greatest drawbacks that a writer faces. Certainly, you can tell yourself that you're not going to be rejected, but if you find one that is willing to help you out on it with only the words "This is too big"; I'd say you're in a pretty good bind. You always do have that resale and re-Mastered option once you make your million. If we learn anything from him, let it be that. And that toys are the way to go.
     
  5. Sidmyster

    Sidmyster Registered User

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    imo (if its your first novel)
    Your overall length will be quite a bit too much
     
  6. James Barclay

    James Barclay Moderator

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    I'm moving this thread to the Writing forum... there are other threads in there about word count etc.

    My view... doesn't matter how long anyone else's book is. Your books will find their own length. Caveat... if it's a monster length you might have more difficulty placing it. Might. It depends how good it is.

    NOM
     
  7. JBI

    JBI Lord of Chaos

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    Just think, Robert Jordan has something like 2.7million words in the Wheel of Time.(Just an estimate, not accurate at all)
     
  8. KatG

    KatG The Bony Hand of Death Staff Member

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    It depends entirely on what you're writing. King's "Gunslinger," which was then dark fantasy but probably today would be considered contemporary fantasy, was originally four serial novellas published in the Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy. As such, it's not particularly long, but not as short as say, Peter Beagle's "The Last Unicorn." Lord of the Rings was a children's book, a sequel to "The Hobbit" which got out of hand and became a massive tome. Someone then got the bright idea to break it into three volumes, which made it much easier to sell in paperback. Nowadays, though, people are willing to buy a novel the size of Lord of the Rings in its entirety, and yes, even do so from a relative unknown making a debut, such as Susannah Clarke with her "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell." But it's not required that anyone go that long and the range greatly varies, though secondary world fantasy -- which it sounds like you are writing Opt, is on average on the long side.

    What you seem to be estimating, is that you are writing the first book in a seven book series and this first book will be around 320,000 words. Which means you probably are writing more material -- detail, background, character info, etc. -- than you really need, as you work out how everything is going to function. But since it is a first draft, it doesn't matter. You can write long and then deal with possible cuts you want to make in revision. Other parts of the story may take less narrative space than you are guessing they will, especially as you keep going.

    If you find that the finalized ms is still around 300K, then you can consider whether there is a natural breaking point in the story, which would allow you to cut the book into two (giving you an eight book series.) Or whether you want to go out with the ms. at that length. If publishers like it, they will be able to deal with it at that length, though it may be a little harder to market than a shorter length.

    One thing to consider is how long it took you to write 80,000 words and how you want to apportion your time. This may or may not be an issue for you, but on a long series, it sometimes is. (I sympathize.)
     
  9. Cshawns

    Cshawns New Member

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    okay heres the whole deal dude.

    This is what I found.
    and it explains everything pretty much. I thoguht I would give you this format site too, because i dont think u did it, and its very very important to do.

    and i'll just tell you... your novel is heading towards... 320,000 words
    that is if you counted your words correctly... there is a special way that publishers and editors count words, and that is explained in the second link down there.
    320,000 words is completely fine. IF you are confident as to how good your book is. if you have 320,000 words of awesomeness. you're fine.

    here are the links that helped me out:

    I put these 2 formatting instructions together to help me out.
    http://www.shunn.net/format/novel.html
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom/scriptsmart/novel.pdf
    The BBC one is mroe helpful.

    and this is prolly what you're really looking for.
    http://www.pwcwriters.org/penpoints4.htm
    in this one scroll down to the chart.



    and yes, i did sign up to this forum just to tell you what i had to. haha. in a search for something i found this and thought i'd try to be helpful.
     
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2006
  10. Optimutt

    Optimutt Registered User

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    Unfortunately, the Great Firewall of CHina prevents me from accessing the BBC, so that link is useless for me for the next year. But many thanks for the others.
     
  11. Cshawns

    Cshawns New Member

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    oh! thats harsh.
    here i'll give u what u need...
     
  12. Cshawns

    Cshawns New Member

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    A novel should be written in these guidelines

    Double spaced
    Courier New size 12 font

    Each sentence should end with 2 spaces, not 1.

    no messing wtih any of the formatting or anything, no 'justification' etc.

    Every scene change should not end with a blank line but a single (double spaced) line containing a centered “#”

    every paragraph should start with 5 blank spaces, not a 'Tab'

    every page should have a header that looks like this
    Real Last Name / TITLE IN CAPS / page number
    if you want to use a fake name, put that on your title page in your ‘by line’

    every new chapter should be on a new page and start with the chapter number about halfway down the page.

    any words you want to be in ITALICS in your finished product must simply be UNDERLINED

    the way editors and publishers count words is not with single words. What they do is use this format to count. This format give you 25 lines per page. 10 words per line. So 250 words per page. And they count every page even the pages that start halfway down. The last page of chapters that end about halfway down the page are considered 125 words.
    the number gets rounded to the nearest 1000, and goes on the title page of the manuscript. Make sure you do that.

    all this formatting will make it so the editors and publishers don’t throw it away at first look.


    that’s all u gotta know.
    Peace!
     
  13. Susan Boulton

    Susan Boulton Edited for submission

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    Maybe I am being pedantic here, but while what you say, Cshawns, is the basic, it is not that’s all u gotta know

    I can't stress hard enough to any want to be writer to CHECK the agents/publishers, you are submitting to, own submission guidelines, these might differ slightly from the above.

    It is a matter of "when in Rome" with submissions, especially email ones, as often these are requested in RTF and a different spacing.

    Also you can set the first tab on word for five spaces, if you can't do that :rolleyes: :rolleyes:

    You also forgot to mention the following;

    You should not split a paragraph over the end of a page. Start each new page with a fresh one.

    Some publishers prefer the page number centred at the bottom, so again check the agents/publishers guidelines.

    When submitting in hard copy don't send double sided printed, one page per page single sided. Also some publishers state the weight of paper and don't like photocopies. Do not staple, bind or hole punch your manuscript, just a rubber band to hold it together.
     
  14. KatG

    KatG The Bony Hand of Death Staff Member

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    Again, I have to stress that editors and agents are not quite as hung up on formatting of the manuscript as they may seem to be. They tell people they are, and it's a good idea to have the basics down, but if your margins are not perfectly one inch, etc., it's not an issue. That split paragraph thing too, that must be a British thing, Holbrook.

    There are not a lot of standardized ms. formatting practices beyond having your ms. typed and double-spaced. They do prefer the ms. isn't bound in any way, because it's probably going to need to be copied, and it's easier to do that if it's loose. A stationary box to keep it in, with a lid for the read pages, is nice, especially on a big ms. (That was always my favorite anyway.) If you're submitting to someone, you have to check what their requirements are, because they may be different. When in doubt, ask. When you can't get the information, don't worry about it.

    The publishers' word count you mention, Cshawns, is a quick way of getting a rough word count, by assuming an average page word count of 250 words. It is not the method a publisher's production department uses to format the ms. into an actual book. It is a way an author can estimate word count, but it's just as easy these days to use the Word Count function on your average word processing program to get a pretty accurate count.

    Opt already knows how many words Opt has in the ms. and can estimate from there. The question is, is a 300,000+ word ms. for the first book in a series workable. And the answer is, as always, maybe.
     
  15. Cshawns

    Cshawns New Member

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    I like u KatG
    u seem so wise!

    but im under the impression that the format of courier new-double space etc. being used for word count is quite important because it gives the publisher a good look at how many pages the MS will be in whatever font they choose, adn whatever size they want, and margin etc.

    you probably know better than I. But I know this is the way I will always be writing... for sake of simplicity and quick estimates.
     
  16. James Barclay

    James Barclay Moderator

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    For what it's worth, I submit my work on a very simple Word template in times new roman 12 point, double spaced. No one seems to mind. And the Word word-count feature is good enough for them as it is a reasonable estimate.

    Like KatG, I wouldn't get too hung up if I were you. It is always good, as Holbrook says, to check submission guidelines and many sound points are made in that post (no crap photocopies, no staples, no double side printing for starters). But in the end, if it is easily legible and can be edited on page without obscuring the text, that'll probably be just fine.

    Never worried about that paragraph thing... I think Word does that automatically anyway. I really must go and check :)

    NOM
     
  17. KatG

    KatG The Bony Hand of Death Staff Member

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    As we've brought up before, publishers don't rely on authors for accurate word counts of manuscripts or for any aspect of production usually. In fact, there are often contract clauses that forbid the author from being involved in production. The number of pages in a manuscript is irrelevant, as is the font that is used for a manuscript. Courier is generally the preferred font for manuscripts because it is large and widely spaced and thus easier to read.

    Right now, my ms. is in Time New Roman. If I switch it all to Courier, the ms. will have a lot more pages. A printed text, however, will have many fewer pages because it is usually smaller than 12-point Courier or Times New Roman. There are numerous ways publishers can set up a printed text that effect the number of pages, which is why different editions of the same novel will have different page lengths. The only number that counts is word count, and all the author has to do there is give the editor or agent a reasonable estimate. The publisher may do their own estimates of the word count of a submission, rough or more precise, separate from whatever the author tells them, but on a submission, they are unlikely to bother unless they are seriously considering a project.

    So use Courier if that makes you comfortable -- it's the most common type used. Use wide margins and true double-spacing, so they can write in the white spaces and read it easily. Don't bind the ms. so that it can be copied easily. Find out what other particular requirements they have for submissions. And you might as well be honest about the word count, which your handy-dandy computer can give you.
     
  18. Optimutt

    Optimutt Registered User

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    The first draft came out to be about 2/3rds the size I expected it would: about 210,000 words long. Shifted to Double-spaced 12 point Times New Roman font, it's about 620 pages long (I think. I haven't actually shifted it since completing the draft).
     
  19. Tony Williams

    Tony Williams Greybeard

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    I read on another site recently that the typical new SF novel is in the range 80,000-120,000 words - that's apparently the easiest to sell to publishers.

    I also have to admit to a personal preference for novels of this kind of length over the massive doorstops. I think it is very difficult to write a very long novel without either introducing so many characters and/or events that it becomes confusing, or focusing on so much detail that the action slows right down. On the other hand, perhaps I've just got a short attention span :)
     
  20. jallenw

    jallenw Registered User

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    Samurai

    At least you have the butter-side up part of the dilema. Some writers can't write a book long enough. It's easier to cut parts out that it is to go back and try to write more or make scenes longer in my opinion. My first novel is 78,000 words (unpublished) and my second is 108,000 words(published 278 page paperback). I believe that the shorter one needs about 20k more words added in the next edit before I even begin to be happy with it. I think the longer one is nearly perfect, but the rough draft was around 114,000 words.

    My advice, write as much as you can every day until the story is finished, then if the work is too long you can always go into samurai mode. If you have a hard time deciding what to cut out then try joining a writing circle or writer's club. You can trade copies with the other writers and cut parts out of their books. It's easier to deface someone elses property than it is your own. Then you swap back and look at their suggestions at what they would take out. This developes your editing skills and makes friends at the same time.

    IN FACT... You can probably get someone on these forums to read it and tell you which sections seem the weakest and need to be removed or shortened.