It’s a Thousand Pages (give or take a few)…
Okay, not that long but today’s topic is about novel length, especially in my chosen genre of epic/high fantasy. But if I get the Beatles stuck in your head, I happily take the blame.
So, when I started writing novels (back in 2006), I really didn’t consider things such as word count. I was writing short stories mainly, usually by hand, so I worried more about pages than word count. And whether or not the story was complete, all plot points hit, and if my best friends liked it.
But in 2006, I was introduced to NaNoWriMo by a classmate. She was between majors and had decided that week she wanted to be an author. In early October she told me about NaNoWriMo, and wanted me to join her. Write a novel? Why not?
For those who don’t know about NaNoWriMo (if you exist), it is a challenge to write a novel in a month. And by a novel, they mean 50,000 words. I had no idea what that meant page-wise or paperback thickness-wise so I went with it.
And when I passed the 50k mark in my novel and wasn’t done yet, I panicked. What did I do wrong? Why was my novel not even halfway done and yet I had reached that limit? Everything seemed to be necessary and not extraneous but maybe I wasn’t sure how to read my own writing.
So I dropped that novel. And, when I decided to do more WriMo-related challenges, I actually did research.
Most of my favorite fantasy novels are well over 50k. Sanderson, Lynch, Martin… They write tomes that, when I read, feel as if they are as short as pamphlets. And most of those books are hundreds of thousands of words. So no, I did nothing wrong in my first NaNoWriMo (length-wise, anyway. Stylistic and technical? Eeeeh.).
Which, as I research publishing, leads to a fun little conundrum. Everything you read will tell you that you should submit a first (fantasy) novel that is no longer than 120k. Which is doable, but sometimes hard to adhere to in some of my stories.
The novel I am working on for publication – The Final Rose – is currently at 140k and only will get longer. I could easily see it going to 200k and beyond. Are the words going to be tight and necessary? To the best of my ability. Does that mean it is too long and out of luck? Maybe not. But that’s my problem to figure out. The best I can do is finish, edit, revise, perfect and write an awesome query to hook the right agent.
My other plan, if The Final Rose becomes that long, is to start submitting some of my short fiction to gain publication credits. I know that if the query hooks the agent and the writing is good enough for them to want to take a chance, the word count won’t matter as much. But I think having a few publishing credits under my belt will give them a bit more security in the fact that someone wants to read my writing.