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Thread: How long should fantasy books be?

  1. #1
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    How long should fantasy books be?

    Hello, everyone.
    I am writing a book that probably falls under the young adult science fiction/fantasy category and have several questions on word count and the appropriate length for books such as mine. I have seen suggestions for 120-180 thousand words, and my book is nearing 113 thousand words and not even at the climax yet. I know a way to end my book early and make the rest of the book a sequel, but I was thinking, why not keep it one book? Fantasy young adult and teen novels are commonly an exception to the 120-180 thousand word rule, such as Twilight, Harry Potter, Eragon, etc. Can my book be an exception also or should I end it early just in case?
    Thankyou.

  2. #2
    The Crazy Man in the Sun. Feel me. WillSauger's Avatar
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    Welcome ZDiamond7. Please visit the New Members forum and read the FAQ. (You did nothing wrong, but it's conventional)

    I'll just first and foremost say: Don't worry about meeting word count. The story will ends where it should, regardless of word count. A reader/agent/publisher will pick up a good story, regardless of how long it is and enjoy it.

    Now onto the question:

    Fantasy novels usually fall around 100-180. With YA, I've seen more books under 100K, rather than higher (your examples are well known, long ones).
    It really doesn't matter.


    You're still writing the first draft, right? Finish the book regardless of word count. Period. Don't try to shorten or elongate it in anyway. Write it for what you feel comfortable with.
    Not to scare you, but in most cases, books are cut down as they are revised. And if this is your first novel, I would suspect it might be cut down quite a bit.
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  3. #3
    Mushroom Polenth's Avatar
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    120-180K is not an average or expected length for an adult fantasy book. It'd be considered a very big book, and is more likely to come from an established author. For young adult, the word counts tend to be lower.

    This post is a useful summary of word count issues: http://theswivet.blogspot.co.uk/2008...el-length.html
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  4. #4
    can totally spell Brobdinrgnagrian buzhidao's Avatar
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    Agree that finishing it first is paramount. You can always cut it down in edits and revisions if it's too long.

    I would say that somewhere in the neighborhood of 100K is average, with, of course, a margin for variation also being average; but over 120K is unusual for a first-time author and may turn some agents/editors off. 180K would scare many away.

    For YA I think the "averages" are a bit lower than for adult.

    But yeah--worry about its length when you're done with it. I will say this--I've read some unpublished manuscripts in a variety of genres (not as much as a professional, obviously, but some), and almost every single one had extraneous words, regardless of length. For some it's just a paragraph of backstory or description that didn't need to be there and a few fatty sentences; for others it's entire chapters of unnecessary blah-de-blah. I'm not saying that you don't need all your words--because I don't know your manuscript--but in terms of statistics and likelihoods and all, it's very probable yours can be cut down once finished.

  5. #5
    Who's going for a beer? waylander's Avatar
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    Where are you seeing suggested wordcounts of 120-180 for YA SF/F? That is wildy out. You're best advised to be under 100k.
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  6. #6
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    Thank you so much! I'm sorry I didn't check the New Members Forum; I am a total and complete newbie and this is all strange and foreign to me. Thanks again, this is very helpful.

  7. #7
    ...it's anything but. AW Moderator amergina's Avatar
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    The truth is that a novel should be exactly as long as it takes to tell the story in a tight, compelling way.

    I've seen plenty of debut adult fantasy in the 120K range. SF tends tends to be a bit less, though.

    But everyone is right about YA. Novel lengths are shorter in YA, especially for new authors.

    BUT... you should not worry about that. Finish the novel, then you can work on tightening or expanding, as needed.
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  8. #8
    all hail zombie babies! CrastersBabies's Avatar
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    Depends on the type of fantasy.

    YA, I would think, has far lower word counts.

    Adult epic fantasy? You're not even close....
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  9. #9
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    I would say any wordcount is all right provided the writing is good throughout.

    That said my personal preference is under 110K because I'd be wary of a certain style that's common in books above that length.

  10. #10
    Benefactor Member Roxxsmom's Avatar
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    I'd try to get the first draft done before worrying too much about word count. Most manuscripts can lose some fat, and even compulsive outliners find their stories and characters morphing. You may find that your story will benefit from some tightening once you begin the revision process.

    My own nip was at 170,000 at one point, but now I'm down to about 124k and hoping to trim a bit more. Suffice it to say that the story has changed a lot as I cut out a couple of side plots and clarified my main one somewhat. There are some things I decided to save for any sequel I may eventually write. And I find I tend to overwrite at first and can cut a lot of unneeded verbage (looking at this post, perhaps I should here )

    I've been told by many people that if you are a first-time author (and haven't won any prestigious writing awards or contests) and are going the traditional "find an agent route," a novel (even an adult fantasy) that's much more than 120,000 words will be a handicap. YA and juvenile fiction tends to be quite a bit shorter. A lot of agents will not read any further when they see a long word count from an unknown.

    There are lots of reasons for this (most related to the risks and costs associated with editing, binding, printing and shipping longer books), and it's wretchedly unfair for budding fantasy writers (especially classic fantasy writers--urban tends to run a bit shorter), because they are trying to compete in a genre where many fans want and expect longer books. There are some writers who wrote breakouts that were longer, and if your novel is really stand out, even by the standards of publishable work, or if you've won writers of the future or something (worked for Pat Rothfuss and at least one other author I know of), you may catch someone's eye.

    If you look at established authors, you'll often see that their first novel or two were shorter than their later works (though the late 80's and 90's saw a surge in really fat novels in lots of genres).

    But GRRM and Rothfuss aside, it seems that fantasy novels are getting shorter again. Many of the fantasy authors I read seem to be writing shorter novels, on average, than they did a few years ago.

    Fads come and go, I guess.
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  11. #11
    practical experience, FTW rwm4768's Avatar
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    They should be as long as they need to be. In my opinion, a great deal of published fantasy actually fails that criterion. Some writers don't seem to know how to write concisely. You can have a long, complex plot without writing 300,000 words (or even 400,000). Some authors need all those words. Others don't.

  12. #12
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    Read Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea novels, and you'll have a pretty good idea how long a really good fantasy novel needs to be.

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  13. #13
    is watching you via her avatar jjdebenedictis's Avatar
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    For adult fantasy books, I've always heard that you want it to be 80,000 to 120,000 words. YA usually runs shorter than adult books, although it doesn't have to.

    For a novelist looking to break into publishing, there's another reason you want to try to keep your word count under 120,000 words. If the book gets much bigger than that, the publisher has to use a different process to bind the book, and it's a more expensive one.

    That means the publisher's profit margin gets smaller when your book gets bigger, and they're already taking a risk on you as a debut author.

    In other words, blowing past 120,000 words raises the bar on how good your book has to be to get a publisher's interest--unless you're already an established writer with a track record of profitable books.
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  14. #14
    practical experience, FTW RobertEvert's Avatar
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    I think this is all good advice. Write something good and see what happens. But it does seem that agents prefer MSs around the 100-120k mark for first-time authors.

  15. #15
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    Wordcount of popular (and hefty) epics

    Many epic series are waaaaaaay too long if you ask me. How about one modest little book? Get in, get it done, get out. I am not that impressed that you can wrap the earth twelve times with your verbiage...
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  16. #16
    The Book of All Omnigon's Avatar
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    I love me a really long, really complex tale with a really unique and detailed world and history, even the first time I'm reading an author. I can usually tell if I'm going to like a book in the first few pages. I don't need to shortchange myself by fearing that 80K words later, I'm going to suddenly realize I hate it, call me crazy.

    But I'm a weird bird, and agents and publishers don't work that way, definitely not for a YA author. Like most have said, 120K or less for epic fantasy and probably under 100K for YA fantasy. It's true though; worry less about the length first than just writing a really good story. You can always cut it back later.

  17. #17
    practical experience, FTW Benedetto Youssef's Avatar
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    I rather a shorter 60-90k word story that is interesting and catchy than a 200k word novel in which 100k is bland boring filler.

  18. #18
    practical experience, FTW AVS's Avatar
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    I enjoy a well written longer book, especially epic fantasy. 200,000 words doesn't worry me. Agents? I don't know, but if your epic fantasy is less than 120,000 I'd be surprised. Most newbie epic fantasy I've read tends to be north of 120,000. Urban and other fantasy tends to be less. YA also tend to be shorter, though there are exceptions. Science fiction also appears to be shorter (a few space opera exceptions).

    Now that's just me, if you've got a good world, stories and characters I just love to keep eating that pie.

    On a slightly different point: Will the growth of e-books encourage giant sized books 200,000 plus (or perhaps more accurately not discourage large books)?
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  19. #19
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    Tell the story you want to tell.

    You can always fix it in revisions.

  20. #20
    Benefactor Member Roxxsmom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AVS View Post

    On a slightly different point: Will the growth of e-books encourage giant sized books 200,000 plus (or perhaps more accurately not discourage large books)?
    I've wondered the same thing. If e-books begin to replace the "straight to mass market paperback" form that many newer genre fiction writers are consigned to, then the costs of binding and shipping longer books won't be issues anymore. But it still takes work for an agent/editor to read a longer book initially (I can imagine why an agent who has tons of reading to do may get a bit glassy eyed over the thought of having to read a 200,000 word submission, even if a perusal of the first few chapters and a synopsis suggests that the writing and story concept look good), and editing a longer book will still take more time and effort as well.
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    volitare nequeo AW Moderator veinglory's Avatar
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    I think first book in fantasy tend to be a pretty normal novel length (80-100k-ish). But hey, write the story you want to write. Maybe it'll turn out to be a trilogy.

  22. #22
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    How long? As long as it needs to be.

    At least on the first pass. Worrying about the USUAL or the AVERAGE length before you've got the story out will hurt both you and the story.

    Then once you've done rewrites to the satisfaction of your artistic self it is time to consider where and how your book is marketed. It may be that in the long hard process of finishing your book it has metamorphosed into something else.

    And remember that there are exceptions and variations to almost every rule. Most agents and editors will bend or break their own rules for length and other considerations if a likely blockbuster book comes into their house.

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  23. #23
    J'decline l'honneur d'ętre un angel K. Trian's Avatar
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    There's bound to be some extra there, it feels like there always is, so just write on. It doesn't hurt to plan ahead though, think whether some side plot is relevant or riveting enough, whether your chapters and paragraphs all have something to say you feel is worth saying/conveying. If you self-pub it as an e-book, maybe the length won't even matter all that much if it turns out very long (read: epiiic!) Then again, as pointed out, if it's YA... maybe serialize it then?

    Quote Originally Posted by Omnigon View Post
    I love me a really long, really complex tale with a really unique and detailed world and history, even the first time I'm reading an author. I can usually tell if I'm going to like a book in the first few pages. I don't need to shortchange myself by fearing that 80K words later, I'm going to suddenly realize I hate it, call me crazy.

    But I'm a weird bird, and agents and publishers don't work that way, definitely not for a YA author. Like most have said, 120K or less for epic fantasy and probably under 100K for YA fantasy. It's true though; worry less about the length first than just writing a really good story. You can always cut it back later.
    I just have to say that I'm exactly like this too when it comes to length. Usually the longer the better 8)
    But for some reason it's the blurb that usually decides for me if I'm gonna read the story or not. The first few pages, while important, don't make or break it for me, so I do like slow, languid starts too, especially in fantasy.
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  24. #24
    practical experience, FTW Coco82's Avatar
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    I'd say 80K-100K would be ideal for a first time author, I'm working on a scif novel that I'm aiming for 100K because that's what I was told was reasonable.
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