A fellow writer asked a question yesterday in the Idaho Writers Guild (IWG) forum regarding how long a novel should be. The snarky answer, and maybe the best one, is: As long as it needs to be.
However, there’s the market to consider. At recent a IWG writers conference a panel of agents addressed this question. They said the market is looking for books in the range of 40,000 to 60,000 words. Books over 100,000 words are strongly discouraged. The three books in my YA series The Wizards Trilogyranged from 100,000 to 125,000, so I broke that rule. Gone With the Wind has more than 425,000 words, so Margaret Mitchell broke it, too. Rules change.
Cruise the internet for a minute and you’ll get all kind of answers and quibbling on this subject. Well, any subject. It does seem that the big five publishers are looking for shorter books these days. My latest book, Anjel, has just short of 70,000 words. The one I’m working on right now will have about 45,000 words.
As with most things in life, the slimming down of novels has aspects both good and bad. Clearly, it’s good for publishers to keep the page count down, especially for books sold online where you don’t get to heft them. It’s bad for readers who want to wallow in the next Game of Thrones, or who are listening to a book on a 10-hour trip.
Overall, the trend is probably positive. The best advice a new writer can get is to cut their manuscript mercilessly. If shorter books mean writing is sparer, that’s usually a good thing. It worked for Hemmingway. I hope it doesn’t discourage the next Dickens.