Not the length, but how you use it

First thing, minds out of gutters.  There’s nothing sexual going on here.

Only a few of you left?  Oh, well.

The other day I was browsing various spots online and saw somebody asking about the best way to add 10,000 words to a novel he was writing.  I could relate, because I’ve found myself in that position in the past.  That was the past, though.  Now, I can’t help but see it as a mistake.

Let me explain (and I’ll apologize right now for using the term “words” more than “pages,” just remember 1000 words = five manuscript pages = maybe 3 printed pages).  Since the ’90s, one mass market publisher has been one of the driving forces behind what might be considered “popular horror.” This publisher doesn’t require agented submissions, and they make it a point to be open to new authors.  This makes them quite popular to younger writers.  I know it makes them popular with me.

There’s one catch with this publisher, though.  They like their novels to be at least 80,000 words long, and while some of their novels don’t reach that count, those books are by highly notable authors.  In other words, you’re a new author wanting to break in with them, you better have those 80k words.

Like I said, I’ve been there.  I’ve poured over a finished manuscript, trying to figure out a way to push the word count, get those numbers so I can submit.  I’ve done it once or twice and it’s turned out okay.  More often, it winds up as a novel you have to drag yourself through, a real slog.  Ugly stuff, and I’m ashamed I wrote it.

See, you have to tell the story the way it wants to be told.  Look at Carrie.  That book’s damn near a novella, but it cooks.  Norman Partridge’s Dark Harvest is novella length, and it’s my favorite book of the past five years.  I read a Ken Bruen novel this past weekend that made Dark Harvest look epic-sized by comparison.  And all three of these books were released by major publishers.

I won’t lie to you.  Us young guns don’t have nearly the clout of the three writers mentioned above.  Don’t forget that Carrie was King’s first novel sale, though.  If the work is good–nah, forget that, because good isn’t good enough–if the work is great, really great, it will find a publisher. 

But if you fatten your novel just to reach a word count, you might not have such a great book anymore.  Keep that in mind.

2 thoughts on “Not the length, but how you use it

  1. For the love of all that is holy, please tell me you put some of that wisdom ON that thread. I remember seeing it, but not where it was, so I can’t track it down… just say you did. Lie if you must =)

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