Thursday, June 23, 2011

What To Do With Too Many Words by DL Larson

Long ago, in a decade far past, an editor told me I had way too many words in my book. I didn't understand what she meant, but I trusted her expertise in the publishing business and I did exactly what she told me to do. It took another year to complete her request, but I divided one book into two. I learned a valuable lesson; publishers have a serious mindset on how many words they are willing to put in a book. I had never thought in terms of size and money before then. Foolish of me, I know.

Most publishing houses consider a novel worth 80,000 to 120,000 words. Not many are willing to publish beyond the normal size for a fictional book. I had grown up reading fat, detailed descriptive books and thought that was the norm. I hadn't realized the fad had changed to streamline wording with action, action, action to get the reader involved quickly.

I learned historical family sagas were no longer popular, but series were on the rise. Secretly I thought publishers were playing words games with each other, because, in my mind, a saga was pretty much a series. Series had become the new buzz word and saga had grown grey hair and was considered out-dated, which many times equated to the writer being out of touch with the publishing world if the word saga was mentioned within the query.

Regardless of what popular term is used, having too many words in a book can become a burden. To scoot around this pitfall, consider breaking your story into segments that could possibly become a series rather than one book. YA authors use this technique and have kids eagerly waiting for the next installment. Some of the endings are so abrupt I feel a bit cheated, but the writer in me kicks in and I understand how clever the author was stopping at a small pinacle with another larger obstacle looming ahead for the character to accomplish. Cliffhanger is what they used to be called. Undoubtedly that is an archaic term and __________ (please fill in your preference) is what they are called now.

Whether writing a single title or a series, word count is important. Before your book is ready for an editing session, consider your options if your work is action packed, but word heavy. Maybe you have more than you realize. In series, less is more. One large book versus two or three smaller ones could be an exciting discovery.

How do you deal with word count? Have you considered a series over a single title? Share with us today.

Til next time ~

DL Larson


Emily R. King said...

Word Count. How I've come to hate those words. Here's why: When I finished the first draft of my YA it was 177,000 words. Now it's 89,000. 'enough said.
You are absolutely, positively dead on about word count being important. You have to find the magical number for your book AND the publisher.

Terry Odell said...

Since most single titles hover around the 100K mark, I aim for 85K when I'm writing. I still go over the 100K, but at least I don't have to slash and burn the way I did with my first ms which came in at 143K (published at about 85K, as I recall)

Terry's Place
Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

SBJones said...

My book clocked in at 74,500 words when it was finished. When I formatted it for a paper back it turned into a 310 page book. I think anything in the 75k-100k is where you want to be. If your pushing the +150k mark, then splitting it into two books could be a very smart thing to do. It lets you release the first half and you have a followup book ready to go 3-6 months later to increase sales and boost visibility to the first.

Debra St. John said...

I have completely the opposite problem! I always find that I need to add words to make the appropriate word count for my publisher! (But I'm learning to write longer...

Morgan Mandel said...

I'm like Debra. I have to drag the words out kicking and screaming.

Morgan Mandel

CA Verstraete said...

I tend to write shorter and have to add; journalism training leaves its mark. ha!

Deb Larson said...

Emily ~ Word count means using that part of my brain that doesn't like to work - aka - math! Thank goodness for the program word count!

Terry ~ 100k is a great goal, if only our characters could understand the need to keep things tight and precise!

CB Jones ~ Your thoughts about splitting up a book for extra sales and visibility are right on! Making a profit is soooo much better than not!

Deb, Morgan & Chris ~ I don't know which is more difficult, adding or deleting words in a story. Deleting has always been tough for me, but I rarely miss the lost words once they are gone.

Thanks everyone for sharing.
DL Larson

David DeLee said...

Great topic DL,
Certainly the markets have dictated novel length over the years, and as readers we are now conditioned to expect a novel to be in the 80-100k range.
But, wouldn't be nice if story dictated length.
One advantage I see of the e-generation is the author's freedom to write to whatever length they are comfortable with to tell the story they want to tell.
An author need not pad a story to meet publisher and/or marketing demand, nor trim out good material.
And it gives readers choices they didn't have before. As writers we all know how few novella or short story anthologies there are out there.
That to me is pretty cool.
David DeLee
Fatal Destiny - a Grace Dehaviland novel

Deb Larson said...

David: Well put! Perhaps this is a small step for authors to gain control of their work and destiny!!:)
DL Larson

D.M. SOLIS said...

Dear Deb,

I like the practical suggestion: series over a title, and how you ask for input/ideas at the end.

Thanks, peace,

Unknown said...

I always stop in the 60,000 range and I also have to add, but at this point I can't see myself writing an 80,000 word book again. Many people like to read a shorter book rather that a long one.

Deb Larson said...

That's so true Madison - versatility is a big part of writing. Some don't want to or don't have the time to take on the extra reading of a bigger book. Smaller books have great appeal.

D.M. Solis ~ As a writer, I love hearing from others in our trade. I'm glad to offer a place for writers to speak up!
Thanks for sharing ~
DL Larson