How Long is a Novel?

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How long is a novel?

Well, of course that depends–on the genre, the author’s experience, the publishing house. But if you’re a first-time author and you’re trying to catch the eye of a traditional publisher (okay, okay, a mixed metaphor at best), you need to be concerned about length.

What it mostly boils down to is money. Longer books are more expensive to produce than shorter books. What you may be able to get away with ten years down the road in your career is not what you can get away with now.

In general, aiming for around 60,000 to 80,000 words will get you in the right ballpark. But it’s not getting to the 80,000 words that’s difficult for most writers–it’s cutting down to 80,000 words that’s hard!

So you have a 200,000-word manuscript you want to sell it to a publisher. What’s an author to do? Here are some suggestions: as you move through your beautiful pages:

  • Eliminate non-essential words, phrases, sentences, characters, etc.

  • Remove any clichés.

  • Eliminate qualifiers such as nearly, a little, almost, sort of, along the lines of, etc.

Don’t make yourself crazy. Take it one page at a time and try to reduce just that page. And then the next. And then the next.

Think about what you’re saying. Why use ten words when four will do? Look at where you can be more spare, where you can tighten your language. (Hint: look at all the places you say “that.” You can probably eliminate two-thirds of them.)

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One thing I’ve learned is to come into a scene as late as possible and get out of it as quickly as possible. One easy example to cut, for instance, is something I call the howdy-do elements. In real life, when you go into a shop, you have to go to the door, ask for Mr. or Ms. So-and-So, wait, then tell them what you want, blah blah blah blah, etc. We tend to write scenes like this, too. This applies to all sorts of business with arrivals and departures, getting to the place, finding that place, and so on. I’ve found bunches of paragraphs which can be reduced to a single sentence.

It’s not easy, but it’s not as difficult as you think it is. And along the way, you’ll probably find you’re able to tighten your writing in such a way that the end product is better than the longer one with which you started!

 

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Jeannette de BeauvoirComment