How Long is a Book?

measuringI write this because I’m trying to talk myself into doing something I’m terrified of.

My so-called “next” book was sent to beta readers in December.

Of 2012.

I wanted to up my game, refine my craft, make it better.

Also, and here’s where the nerves start, to make it longer, because I am (or was) convinced it’s just not long enough.

I am not aiming for scifi tomery. I’ve ready Lord of the Rings 13 times and Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy nearly that many. I don’t want to write that; not yet.

My other three mysteries are each about 60,000 words, short already, and this one is only 45,000.

So How Long IS a Book?

How many minutes do you stay on the bus?

“Minutes” is the wrong measurement. You stay on the bus until you get where you’re going.

You stay in a book until the story is told.

I’ve told a compelling story with characters I care about.

But in this age of “extra-large is our smallest size” I struggle to get past the idea that if my book looks thin when it arrives in the mail, a reader will feel cheated. (For digital versions, I can adjust the price by a buck and feel just fine.)

I want this book to be the best it can be. I’m truly not sure, at this moment, if adding a subplot, telling more of the story, will make it better or just longer.

11 thoughts on “How Long is a Book?

  1. Some time ago I helped someone who faced the same dilemma publish a book. I won’t go into names but it was a good solid book of about 50 thousand words. The dilemma was that this person was convinced that it had to be at least 70K words to qualify as a novel and it grew to that size. You stated it correctly, the story was told at 50k and the rest was not good for the book in my opinion. If you told the story at 45k then it’s finished, at least that’s my take.

    By the way, I am enjoying A Long Hard Look. Thanks.

    Bill

    1. Glad you’re liking it.

      Getting consistent feedback that length doesn’t matter to folks, but quality does. I’ve decided to look for where the story needs more, or different, but not worry one bit about final word count.

  2. There are two ways to look at this (maybe 3). If your are writing for friends or family and its free, who is going to stop you? Do what you wish. But….and I was told nothing matters until after the but…if you are going to take it to the public and sell your stuff, then there will be expectations and standards set by the industry. Short story, novella, or novel?

    I have read complaints in the review section of books where people said they felt cheated for paying 2.99 for 100 page book. One can argue they knew that before they bough it. There are exceptions to the rule….but the big dogs can break rules….small fish like me have to tow the line.

    Best policy is to make it clear to the customer and let them decide.

    1. Expectations are a vital element.

      If it’s extra clear up front that it’s a short book, people can complain but not buy, which is okay, or they can buy and then complain, which means I wasn’t going to please them anyway.

      Do YOU like short books once in a while?

  3. Oh yes! Read ‘Winner Lose All’ by Timothy Zahn. 62 pages, $1.99. Excellent read, it’s a Star Wars based story with Lando and Solo.

  4. But..(here we go again) …but Timothy Zahn is a Big Dog and he has the blessing from George Lucas to do Star Wars novels. However, $1.99 isn’t a bad price…(90 cents gos to Lucas of course) …LOL!

  5. However Bill Benitez is right! If the story was told in 45k words then KEEP IT! Just re-label it to novella or whatever. In the crazy world of science fiction stories, there was an unwritten law (maybe it is written) that a sci-fi novel had to be no less than 90 k words. I don’t know if that still stands today but, it did before.

    Hence why in the past Timothy Zahn wrote 600 page stories. In my opinion the had to add a lot of fodder to make it thick… unnecessary fodder.

  6. Quality certainly trumps quantity, but I personally tend to lean toward longer reads so I can stay with the book longer. Though if that longer book is full of useless filler, I’m an unhappy reader. If your story is finished at 45K, run with it and be clear on its length.

    1. I love long books when they’re done right. I certainly don’t want Lord of the Rings to be a short book; it’s epic for a reason.

      Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries are a good illustration. Some of his books are nearly 100,000 words, but some are so short he put three in a volume. Are his long ones better than his short ones? No, they’re just longer.

      Sometimes I want the “all you can eat” fish fry. Sometimes, I want a snack.

      I’m not too proud for someone to snack on one of my books as long as they like it.

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