So I'm midway through my first novel (or at least I think I'm midway) and I'm starting to fret about what its proper length should be. Is it going to end up too short, too long, or just right? What's the best length for a first novel? How long should it be?
I know, it should be as long as it needs to be, and no longer.
But like many first time authors, I want to know what the "right" way is. If only as a guide. One tip I found very helpful early on was numerous experienced authors (including Stephen King) said you need to write at least a thousand words a day (and work up to two thousand). I haven't been able to do that, because I have a "real" job that makes it almost impossible to write everyday. But it is helpful to me when I do find a day or two to do some serious work on my book. If I can push myself to a thousand words, I feel like I've accomplished something. So I've become a little obsessed with word count.
While it's taken me longer than I hoped, my unfinished novel Eve's Hungry is now exactly 35,552 words. Story wise, I think I'm a little more than half way through. Years ago I read something about novels needing to be a minimum of 100,000 words to be considered by a traditional publisher. A sci-fi publisher I really respect, Baen Books, says submissions should be between 100,000 and 130,000 words. (Sci-Fi books tend to run longer than some genres.) At the rate I'm going, I don't think I'll hit 100,000 words unless I start padding or come up with some other plot twists or subplots.
But I'm not planning to submit Eve's Hungry to a traditional publisher. I'm going to self-publish. So I can pretty much do what I want. On the other hand, I do want it to read like a professional novel. So should I try to quickly wrap it up and be done with it, or should I stretch it out so it seems more professional? Worrying about such things is a good way to put off really writing. Or… maybe if I find the answers, I can hopefully get on with it without second guessing myself every moment.
A quick Google search turned up a few good articles on the subject:
MIKE SHEVDON: WORD COUNT WORRIES
D. ROBERT GRIXTI: WORD COUNT
STEVE TRUELOVE: A WORD ABOUT WORDCOUNT
Basically, anything under 40,000 words is a technically a novella and anything over is a novel. The "average" novel is said to be 64,000 words. I'm sure Eve's Hungry will end up over 50,000 words (probably over 64,000), so I'll technically be in the official "novel" category. The most interesting thing I learned was that Ian Fleming's Casino Royale was 42,000 words and Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is 46,000. Since Eve's Hungry is kind of a cross between James Bond and Hitchhiker's, that would seem to argue that shorter is better. If prior success is any indicator. Plus, both are great fast reads. Something worth modeling.
Dean Wesley Smith has a great article on the history of novel lengths:
DEAN WESLEY SMITH: BOOK LENGTH
Basically, he states that novels got longer from 1960's on so publishers could charge more for supermarket paperbacks. Now, between changes in the traditional publishing world and the rise of self-publishing, he predicts novels will get shorter. And he concludes with: make it however long you want.
So, where does that leave me with Eve's Hungry? How long should it be? I guess I'm back to: as long as it needs to be, and no longer.