It’s Not The Size That Counts…

Before I began writing my novel, I did a lot of research into “how long should my novel be?” What constitutes a short story? Can a novel be too short or too long?” What’s the difference between a novella and a novelette? For anyone starting to write a novel these questions can be a bit daunting, especially since there really is no exact answer for how long your book should be. That is putting it rather frankly, but it’s actually true, to a degree. So let’s break it down into a number of different categories: flash fiction, short stories, novelettes, novellas, novels, and sagas / sequels. In my research I have found many definitions for each of these categories and have put together, what I feel, is a good scale to gauge story lengths by.

Now, there’s something important to mention here, and I can’t stress this enough. There is no set rule or specific length to classify your works by. Everything mentioned below is simply a guideline. Publishers may classify their book types differently than what you find here, or they may be exact, you just wont know until you work with a publisher. Sometimes they state their novel length preferences upfront, on their submission page, other times it’s a simple luck of the draw.

Additionally, there are always exceptions to the rule. Just because a certain type of book is harder to sell than others, doesn’t mean that a unique novelette wouldn’t grab a publisher’s attention with ease. So, here we go, a few guidelines to help classify your work and give you a goal to shoot for when writing.

Flash Fiction – Under 1,000 Words: Flash fiction is a type of story that is often found in magazines or publications to fill a single page. I’ve found that writer’s often tend to take on flash fiction (and short stories) as a sort of challenge. It can be difficult to write an exceptional story in under 1,000 words and still have a beginning, middle, and end. Being able to include those, and still develop a sense of character is a worthy challenge for any author. (I even plan on undertaking this challenge eventually)

Short Story – 1,000 to 7,500 Words: A short story is, obviously, short. If looking to get published, short stories can be a bit more complicated. Unless you happen to have a number of completed stories. Publishers usually aren’t looking for a single short story, only coming in under thirty pages, it’s often hard to justify the cost of publishing. A number of publications, such as magazines, newspapers, websites, and e-magazines, accept single short stories and are great ways to publish them. If, however, you have a number of short stories, that can add up to the approximate length of a novel, a number of publisher do publish compilations.

Novelettes – 7,500 to 20,000 Wrods: Novelettes are a tad easier to write than short stories or flash fiction, because you have more pages to work with. The trouble with novelettes is that they may be harder to sell to a publisher. The reason being is that they are too long to fit into a magazine, and they are too short to be published as a novel. From the research I’ve done, it seems that authors often times combine a few novelettes into a compilation. But, as stated above, there have been novelettes published by themselves. In my opinion, they’re actually perfect for a majority of modern day, on-the-go readers. A short, easy, good read that you can finish quickly and pick up a new one.

Novellas – 20,000 to 50,000 Words: Novellas are excellent for modern day readers, just like novelettes. They’re good for an easy read, but can be just as in depth as a novel. Characters can be deep, plots can be complex, but can still be finished in a couple days depending on how fast you like to read. While many publishers won’t bat an eye at a novel this short, novellas are excellent for e-books. Just like novelettes, they’re easy to pick up and put down, and reading it in your spare time on a screen just seems to work. Additionally, there have been many novellas published as standalone books, so if your story fits this category don’t try to stretch it out any longer than you need.

Novels – 50,000 to 120,000 Words: Now we get to what many writers, including myself, aim for. Novels are the easiest to publish (easy being a relative term, most accepted book length to publish, if you can get a publisher to read your book). The most recognized range of published novels would be between 70,000 and 100,000 words. As I said previously, I can’t overstate the fact that just because you’re not in that “sweet spot” doesn’t mean you won’t get your novel published. My Novel, “The Drive Home,” comes in just over that 50,000 mark. If your work is nearing the higher end of this range, you may want to consider some strict editing and cut your word count back a bit. For a first time author, or an author with little credentials, a publisher might be wary to publish anything over 100,000 to 110,000 words.

I decided on 50,000 words for my goal, because over the last couple years, I have participated in the NaNoWriMo competition. Thirty days, at least 50,000 words, that was the goal. So, that was my goal for my first novel. 50,000 words for someone who hasn’t written a full length novel before can be pretty a daunting task. When I began writing “The Drive Home,” I thought that goal was impossible. Now that I have finished, that seems like a piece of cake. During the time between finishing my novel and beginning the editing process, (“they” say you should put your novel away for two months or so, I took two weeks) I took the free time to start writing something more science fiction oriented. In that two week time period, I wrote one hundred pages, which came in just under 25,000 words. And I have only progressed through about 30% of the story line. By completing my first project, my confidence, my writing, and my speed have increased exponentially.

Epics / Sequels / Sagas – Over 120,000 Words: Novels of this length are often turned away when written by first time authors. If you fall into this category, you may want to consider separating your novel into a sequel or trilogy. Writers who create this type of novel are often well established, to the point that the publisher doesn’t really care how long your novel is, because they know it’ll do well. The most obvious and overly used example: Stephen King. If he wants to publish a novel that’s under 50,000 or over 150,000 words, his publisher will take it on faith, because he’s good at what he does. Personally, I love the idea of writing something that matches the weight of a newborn baby. A book that when you set it down on a table it shakes and lets everyone know, “Hey, I’m reading an enormous book!” But, until I make a name for myself and sell millions of copies, I can be satisfied with writing a trilogy of shorter novels, rather than a something this size.

Wow! That was a lot of information. Hopefully, this sheds some light on where certain word counts are classified. But the bottom line really is, that the story dictates the length of your novel. You don’t want to stretch something over 300 pages when it really should have only been 150 pages. The reader may get bored if you drag your story on. The opposite is true as well. Don’t upset the reader by denying them deep characters or climactic plot points, when you have enough content for a 250 page novel. Either of those scenarios could very well affect the sales of your current or future works.

That’s it. That’s your cue to start, or continue with your writing. No matter what the length, genre, or content, get it done and enjoy what you’re writing. It’ll be finished when it’s supposed to be finished and not a moment sooner.

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Thanks, But No Thanks

Something that comes with being an aspiring author is rejection. I began by submitting a query letter, with a portion of my novel, to a few literary agents and a few publishing companies. Within approximately two weeks I received my first rejection letter. While the idea of a rejection letter has no affect on my morale whatsoever, my first rejection letter was… let’s just say, less than comforting.

At very least, I expected to receive a form letter:

“Thanks so much, we read your work, unfortunately it’s not for us, thanks anyway, etc., etc.”

My first rejection letter was much more impersonal. More impersonal than a form letter? Yes. My first rejection letter simply said:

“Thanks, but no.”

Nothing more, nothing less. Again, this doesn’t bother me because I was rejected, this particular literary agent knows what they’re doing, they’ve been in the business for some time, and knows what they’re looking for. The reason this irked me, was because it was so severely impersonal, and “empty.” But, I’ll live and I’ll persevere.

Additionally, I received my second rejection letter.  (Yay!!) This one filled me with excitement. I’m almost certain it was a form letter, but it was thought out. A full email page, four paragraphs worth of:

“Thanks, but unfortunately not what we’re looking for,” and “Keep trying, just because it’s not our forte doesn’t mean it’s not good work.”

As I said, a form letter, but I read this and thought, “Thank God, that this was a thought out, full letter.” It made me feel that the work I put into my novel was worth it, not just brushed aside with a few words. Hell, it even made the anxiety from simply seeing the bold “new email” font in my inbox, worth it.

So, the moral of the story is simply this: Keep trying, don’t let rejection get you down. You can scour the internet for aspiring author stories, and ninety percent of them will say that they received dozens of rejection letters from agents and publishers. What I’ve come to realize is, that rejection letters shouldn’t be viewed as failure, rejection letters should be viewed as a milestone, as a rite of passage. The number of rejection letters you receive will showcase how hard you worked to prove that your story needs to be told. But I guess that’s just one authors opinion. And this author, I’m going to shoot for ten rejection letters. I think that sounds like a nice round number to aim for. Ten rejection letters, then the world will be ready for “The Drive Home.”  If it comes sooner than that, perfect. If it comes later, let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, but I’ll still persevere and I guess I’ll have to raise that expected number by a few. Coming up soon I’ll examine the research I’ve done in regards to sending query letters and book proposals. See you then.

You’re Such A Character!

Let’s talk a bit about our main character in ‘The Drive Home:’ Ben. Who is he and where does he come from? Ben lives in Grants Pass, Oregon and has for the better part of his life. During high school, he moved up to Spokane, Washington, to live with his father for a couple years.  During his time in Spokane, he met an amazing girl that loves him, takes care of him, and most importantly, calls him on his bullshit. That was Lynn.  Although she says that she supports his dream to become a writer, she often feels that she knows best and tends to plan Ben’s life for him. This is apparent when he quits his job of seven years as a line-cook at ‘Frank’s Restaurant.’ He feels as though he’s wasted his life there, so he quits. But she takes it upon herself to secure his former position, “just in case writing is only a fad,” and he comes to his senses.  She just doesn’t seem to realize that Ben quit his job for a reason:  to write his first novel and hopefully, one day, become a well established author.

Ben has never rubbed anyone the wrong way; he never was one for conflict. That’s why his decision to quite was such a shock to everyone.

His friends and acquaintances enjoyed his company, and he enjoyed everyone else’s.  Ben is just a normal everyday guy, who finally made a decision to change his life. Who can say they haven’t wanted to do the exact same thing?

Taylor, his best friend, has known him for years. They have supported each other for their entire lives; even after Taylor left his job at Frank’s to work at a bank. They had the type of friendship that is rare, so when Ben told Taylor of his plans, Taylor climbed on board for the road trip immediately, even though he wasn’t initially invited to tag along.

These two pals embark on an ideal road trip to Washington, stopping wherever they please, enjoying good beer, beautiful scenery, and the freedom of the open road. The trouble begins when a strange trail of bodies begins to follow them up the west coast. Ben’s focused attention keeps him oblivious to the terrors trailing behind them.  While he keeps his nose in his notepad and his mind in the clouds, Taylor quickly and abruptly realizes what’s happening. Suffice it to say, their problems only amass from there…

And, so ends my first character analysis. I hope you enjoyed this fun way to explain a bit of my protagonists background, and give everyone a bit of insight into the beginning of my story of: ‘The Drive Home.’