Friday, May 31, 2013

Indie Author Series: Book Length

This week the YA Author Club will be debating the subjective standards associated with the perfect length of a book. It's something we all struggle with, and unfortunately, everyone has a different opinion. There are - however - suggestions and recommendations that can be made and guidelines that can be followed.

Before you begin writing a book, you should create a goal in your mind about it's final length. Base it off the genre and/or your preferred publishers' recommendations. If you're not sure, you can go to the publisher's site and locate their submission guidelines. I should mention that 70-120,000 words appears to be a standard, but there are those who won't take anything more than 85,000 words. If you have publishers you want to target, it's important to find out their expectations before you start. 

As you write your story, you'll want to track your word count (adding your ultimate goal and periodically checking to see where you are with your book). This will help you in two ways. If you create goals for your daily word count, you will stay on track as you write your book. It will also help you keep an eye on the end. You don't want the ending to sneak up on you or the most important part of your book to feel rushed. 

Below, you will see my word tracker for Underground (Secrets, #2) due out in the next few months. I plan for this book to be just shy of 100,000 words. As such, you can tell that I'm 86% done. Knowing I'm this close to the end, I'm working hard to create a perfectly controlled drive toward the finish line.

Below the tracker, I've added the code for those interested. Pay close attention to the numbers in red. The first is the current word count. The second is my goal word count.

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The final length of a book is all about the author's book release goals and creative preferences. I say this because there are authors publishing books a lot more frequently than I'm able to. When I stop and take note of their word counts and/or the number of pages for their books, I notice their books are in some cases half the word count of mine. 

There are many reasons to write shorter books. 1) The author is able to release books more often, and we all know the more books you release the better chance you have of standing out from the crowd. 2) The author will have more books for sale which automatically drives up their sale numbers. 3) There are lots of readers who are willing to commit to a 2-3 hour read. There are not as many readers who are willing to take 6-8 hours to read a book. Their time is precious. They want to begin a book and finish it in one sitting.

There are just as many reasons to write a longer book. 1) An author can start out slower, allowing the reader to bond with the characters through sight, touch, feel, smell, and touch because the author is giving the reader the opportunity to put themselves within the story. 2) The longer story can feel more epic to the reader once they're finished. 3) The author can spend time weaving and creating complex story-lines and  character's strengths and weaknesses, making them more believable as the reader is shown characteristics and moral decisions rather than being told what they are or what they would be. (Not to say a shorter book can't accomplish some of these same things.)

Anyone who has ever read my books knows that I'm all about a 400 page book (approximately 100,000 words). I do this knowing that I'm going to turn some readers off instantly, and that I'm going to sell fewer books than I would if I divided the story up over two/three books rather than one. I mostly do it because I'm comfortable with that word count. At this length, I know I'll be able to start a book off slowly, quietly build anxiety and tension, develop a heart-stopping tale, and end the story on a note that makes it feel like there's a resolution (at least to that moment of crisis).

Tell me your opinion. Would you prefer a short book or a long book? Why? (Include the number of pages you prefer.)