Stuck at a Cross Roads: “Is 150,000 words too long for my novel?”

canstockphoto18799595Dear Mr. Gatlin,

I conducted a very unscientific poll . . . however, I have a manuscript which is over 90,000 words and nowhere near its conclusion. What kind of experience in selling/marketing should I expect with a 150,000 word ebook? According to my poll, shorter is always better.

The story is a mystery/thriller/dramatic love story (I hope), which I have been mulling over for many years. The story is based on two actual crimes which took place in the 1970’s within several months of each other, which I believe were connected. One case was never solved, and the second went to trial (though the murderer got a not guilty verdict, which thoroughly amazes me to this day.) I know the core story will make a good if not phenomenal crime story. I worry about the length though as more than one person has pointed out that I can get caught up in details which turn out to be largely of interest only to myself. And, I’ve been thinking of splitting it into two novels: Part One and Part Two. Although, to do the story justice, no pun intended, there are many, many details  that I simply feel cannot be left out. Though that might just be me being a detail junky.

So where should I go with this magnum opus? I fear that I’m at odds with the market and don’t want to publish an endeavor that no one will read. Yet, to follow my muse, I know that this is a layered, colossal investigative discovery that requires a level of attention and detail that simply cannot be found in a mere 100,000 words. To put it simply, I’m in too deep to turn back now.

Sincerely,
Stuck at a Cross Roads

Dear Cross Roads,

Stop over-thinking it. Stop conducting unscientific polls. Stop procrastinating. Sit down and finish the story you want to tell.

Until it’s written, no one cares if it’s 35,000 or 350,000 words. Once you have a completed draft in hand, you can put on your editor cap and think about word count, whether it should be one book or two, and if there are too many details. I can tell you though — just editing a couple of paragraphs from your original email — that you’re a verbose writer. It’s not the detail that’s pushing the novel length, but unnecessary words. Hire an editor to go through your 150,000 word draft with a red pen and a pair pruning shears.

On to your next question: I disagree with your poll results that “shorter is always better.” It really depends on your genre. According to an article published in Writer’s Digest, the average adult novel ranges between 80,000 and 100,000 words. Romance novels tend to be closer to the 80,000 mark, while Science Fiction and Fantasy tend to have more leeway and can run up to 115,000. To your point, according to the article, a novel length of 110,000 words or more is probably too long. Personally, I think that holds true for ebooks.

But today, you don’t even have 100,000 words written and you’re nowhere near ready to rev up the sales and marketing engine. So — and I can’t stress this enough — stop dawdling over word count. Finish the story, and don’t worry about anything else until you do.

Good luck and keep writing,
JC

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Got a question for me? Hit the contact button at the top and send me an email. Or do you disagree with my advice? Let me know in the comments. How would you respond to Cross Road’s problem?

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