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View Full Version : So my novel is probably going to come out just over 40k.



Mr. Anonymous
12-29-2009, 05:07 AM
Now, before I say anything else, let me throw this out there. I know the typical responses will be

1) Just write the damn thing.

2) A good book will sell.

As for 1, I AM writing the damn thing, and nothing said here is going to change that. It will be done, hopefully pretty soon if I manage to be at least somewhat disciplined. As for number 2, yes there's Of Mice and Men, and apparently the notebook is also pretty short. But let's face it. To claim that all good books get published is to claim that the system is perfect - which is simply not true.

What I'd be very interested to hear are some honest, down-to-earth opinions regarding how much more difficult it will be to get this published, as opposed to a longer work. It is YA, by the way.

One agent that I voiced these concerns to said "just write it," though she also told me that for my previous book and ended up turning it down due to the very concerns that I brought up (that it was a bit plotless.)

Another, however, made a point of saying that it would be very, very difficult to get a novel of that length published, especially from a debut author.

It's ironic because the first book had a story but I couldn't write it, the second book didn't have a story but I could write it, and the third book, well, maybe I'm being presumtious but I'd like to think the writing AND the story are there this time. It's just a question of whether there's enough of both. xP

Also, I'm thinking that when I query I will avoid mentioning the length. Do you guys think that would be a bad idea? My thought process is that if the agent is intrigued and requests the sample and enjoys it, then length won't be an instant deal breaker, especially if he/she falls in love with it. But if I mention it straight up, it might put someone off from requesting it just because of the greater difficulty that would probably go into selling it.

As I said, I'd very much appreciate any and all input.

ChaosTitan
12-29-2009, 05:22 AM
40k for a YA is within acceptable word length, although it is at the short end of the spectrum. YA are often shorter than adult novels.

As for mentioning word count in queries, it is standard to include it. Many agents ask for it, and I recommend you state it. However, it won't always be a dealbreaker if you don't include it. It really just depends on the agent and how they read their queries.

AryaT92
12-29-2009, 05:22 AM
Also, I'm thinking that when I query I will avoid mentioning the length. Do you guys think that would be a bad idea? My thought process is that if the agent is intrigued and requests the sample and enjoys it, then length won't be an instant deal breaker, especially if he/she falls in love with it. But if I mention it straight up, it might but someone off from requesting it just because of the greater difficulty that would probably go into selling it.


This is a good idea. I can't comment on the rest. Is your novel fiction or non-fiction?

geardrops
12-29-2009, 05:33 AM
This is a good idea. I can't comment on the rest. Is your novel fiction or non-fiction?

I thought all novels are fiction?

PortableHal
12-29-2009, 05:35 AM
Mr. A., the truth is, you don't know the length of your manuscript until you write it. If you're like me, a second draft always has a larger word count than the first; and, if you're like me, the third draft will be longer than the second. So, yep, write the thing. But then there's this, too:


To claim that all good books get published is to claim that the system is perfect - which is simply not true.

You're right, darn it. All good books do not get published. A debut author without connections is going to struggle. A debut author who offers a shorter-than-usual novel is going to struggle even more.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't tell the story you want to tell, though.

Mr. Anonymous
12-29-2009, 05:39 AM
Chaos titan- That's reassuring to hear, thanks! I always thought YA were supposed to be round 60k, so you can imagine that I would be concerned about being a third shorter.

Portable Hal - It's true, I don't know the exact length, but I can say with a very good amount of certainty that it probably won't be much over 40k, if at all. To be perfectly honest with you, I'm actually somewhat terrified that it will come out even shorter than that. I say this having already written a good chunk of it, and having an outline of the rest, and knowing that I am a pretty sparse writer. You're right, of course. I am telling the story I want to tell. I guess I just want to know what I'm up against.


This is a good idea. I can't comment on the rest. Is your novel fiction or non-fiction?

It is fiction, yes.

Jersey Chick
12-29-2009, 06:14 AM
Just for the record - ALL novels are fiction. Don't ever put in a query that you've written a fiction novel. Just. Don't. (and yes, I know Truman Capote called In Cold Blood a non-fiction novel.)

Fillanzea
12-29-2009, 07:19 AM
Some YA novels are quite short:

The First Part Last, by Angela Johnson, 20,000 words
The Last Chance Texaco, by Brent Hartinger, 43,000 words
(Brent Hartinger pulled a nice trick in "Attack of the Soul-Sucking Zombies / Bride of the Soul-Sucking Zombies" by writing two short novels taking place over the same time period in the same situation and packaging them together, but I don't know what the word count for that was.)


A lot of these are novels in verse:
A Bad Boy Can Be Good For a Girl, by Tanya Lee Stone, 16,000 words
One Of Those Hideous Book Where the Mother Dies, by Sonya Sones, 30,000 words
The Realm of Possibility, by David Levithan, 30,000 words
The Orange Houses, by Paul Griffin, 26,000 words

I think 40,000 is going to be a little bit long, but there's a line of YA books -- "Orca Soundings" -- that are very slim paperbacks.

40,000 is not too short, if you have a story that is just right at 40,000 words, and it can be an asset if your subject matter is going to appeal to the younger end of the age range and/or reluctant readers.

...Or you could try putting in lots of line breaks and pretending it's verse.

BTW, the draft I submitted of "A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend" was 45,000 words. My editor rightly wanted me to expand on some of the characterizations and motivations, and it ended up around 55,000 by the time I was done with it, but it wasn't too short to sell.

Mr. Anonymous
12-29-2009, 07:41 AM
Fillanzea, thanks very much for your post. I'm started to feel a bit more confident now. :)

Birol
12-29-2009, 08:00 AM
The advice "just write it" is repeated a lot, in a wide variety of circumstances. The thing about it is 1) authors often get bogged down in such concerns to the point where they can't, or won't, write and 2) you can't fix something until it is written. So, while you might have had concerns that the first book was a bit plotless, you wouldn't have confirmed this until the book was written, at which point you could go back and fix it, already having a framework in place. If the current book is too short, that can be corrected, too -- after it is written.

veinglory
12-29-2009, 08:05 AM
IMHO a query is meant to include word count. But worry about that when you get to it.

Toothpaste
12-29-2009, 08:43 AM
IMHO a query is meant to include word count. But worry about that when you get to it.

Not only that, but neglecting to mention it will only draw even more attention to your wordcount. I imagine an agent reading a query with no wordcount will wonder what you are trying to hide.

virtue_summer
12-29-2009, 09:47 AM
I'd wait until you've finished any subsequent drafts before you start worrying because the word count might change. Also, YA doesn't generally expect as high a word count as other genres so that's in your favor.

kaitie
12-29-2009, 11:01 AM
Not only that, but neglecting to mention it will only draw even more attention to your wordcount. I imagine an agent reading a query with no wordcount will wonder what you are trying to hide.

Agreed. I actually asked something about this somewhere (don't remember now) and was told typically if it's not mentioned an agent assumes it's because the novel is too short, too. Something else to keep in mind. They're going to find out, so you might as well just be up front about it. :)

Jamesaritchie
12-29-2009, 08:24 PM
Mr. A., the truth is, you don't know the length of your manuscript until you write it. If you're like me, a second draft always has a larger word count than the first; and, if you're like me, the third draft will be longer than the second. So, yep, write the thing. But then there's this, too:



You're right, darn it. All good books do not get published. A debut author without connections is going to struggle. A debut author who offers a shorter-than-usual novel is going to struggle even more.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't tell the story you want to tell, though.

In thirty years, I've yet to find a debut writer who succeeded because of connections. Not one I know had any connections at all. Nothing on earth is less important than connections, and, in fact, connections foten make it more difficult to get published.

Good books, with extremely rare exceptions that always have a solid reason for not getting published, do get published. There's always room for a good novel. More room than there are good novels to fill, in fact.

Jamesaritchie
12-29-2009, 08:25 PM
40K is not too short for YA, but if you think it is, make the novel longer. Length is always a choice the writer makes.

AnonymousWriter
12-29-2009, 08:39 PM
Not only that, but neglecting to mention it will only draw even more attention to your wordcount. I imagine an agent reading a query with no wordcount will wonder what you are trying to hide.

This. It is standard to put the word count in a query.

Libbie
12-29-2009, 08:54 PM
40K is just fine for YA. And there are way more short novels out there than Of Mice and Men.

You may need persistence and creativity to sell a shorter novel, but you can do it just fine. Or maybe you need to try some different agents.


well, maybe I'm being presumtious but I'd like to think the writing AND the story are there this time. It's just a question of whether there's enough of both.

Good! Then you've improved since the last time. This time, find some relentless and honest beta readers before you begin submitting.

Libbie
12-29-2009, 08:59 PM
In thirty years, I've yet to find a debut writer who succeeded because of connections.

I know some, although to be fair, it wasn't the connections that made them succeed, but the strength of their own writing. However, the connections got their manuscripts into the hands of agents faster than they would have if they'd gone through the slush pile.

painkillers
12-29-2009, 09:09 PM
The Wasp Factory is pretty short, and of course Heart of Darkness. Neither of those are YA (though you might stretch Banks's work into that genre).

I actually have a 50 000 word novel (First draft done) that I know won't get much longer in the second draft; there is nothing to add except padding and I'm not going there.
So this topic has been very useful to me, thank you.

ETA My MS is not YA though, I'm not actually sure what it is beyond Speculative Fiction.

Cassidy
12-30-2009, 10:17 AM
I think 40,000 is going to be a little bit long, but there's a line of YA books -- "Orca Soundings" -- that are very slim paperbacks.

40,000 is not too short, if you have a story that is just right at 40,000 words, and it can be an asset if your subject matter is going to appeal to the younger end of the age range and/or reluctant readers.




The Orca Soundings are aimed at reluctant readers and are quite a bit shorter--only 15 000 words or so. I've written a couple of books in the series and they are a lot of fun to write. But yes, there are many YA books in the 40-50000 word range. Most of my YA novels have ended up about 50-55 but were often shorter (40-45) as first drafts. I don't think you have a problem here as far as the length of your novel as long as it is as long as it needs to be.

Mr. Anonymous
12-30-2009, 11:43 AM
Thanks so much guys, the responses in this thread have definitely bolstered my confidence level.

Jamesaritchie
12-30-2009, 09:20 PM
I know some, although to be fair, it wasn't the connections that made them succeed, but the strength of their own writing. However, the connections got their manuscripts into the hands of agents faster than they would have if they'd gone through the slush pile.

Faster doesn't mean better, and I've seen agents and editors reject writers because they knew them, or knew a friend. The last thing an agent or editor wants is a bunch of potential clients out there thinking they play favorites.

Jamesaritchie
12-30-2009, 10:42 PM
The Wasp Factory is pretty short, and of course Heart of Darkness. Neither of those are YA (though you might stretch Banks's work into that genre).

I actually have a 50 000 word novel (First draft done) that I know won't get much longer in the second draft; there is nothing to add except padding and I'm not going there.
So this topic has been very useful to me, thank you.

ETA My MS is not YA though, I'm not actually sure what it is beyond Speculative Fiction.

There's ALWAYS something to add besides padding. This is why many stories are written first as award winning short stories, and then written as award winning novels.

Padding is adding length for no reason. But you can always add width, which means adding a new thread that runs from beginning to end.

painkillers
12-31-2009, 02:59 AM
There's ALWAYS something to add besides padding. This is why many stories are written first as award winning short stories, and then written as award winning novels.

Padding is adding length for no reason. But you can always add width, which means adding a new thread that runs from beginning to end.

I understand what you're saying, but this particular story is pretty complete in the first draft. There are some things that can be expanded, but there are some things that need to be cut.

It doesn't help that it is in the first person either, because otherwise I could just add to a secondary character's storyline without messing with the main arc. Even expanding on description will be difficult because the prose is pretty pink already and I'd rather not go full on purple (hell, it might be there already.)

RainyDayNinja
01-01-2010, 01:20 AM
I'm in the same kind of situation. I just finished the rough draft of my second novel (seriously, like 5 minutes ago), and both it and my first ended up at about the 40k mark. I'm going to start revising the first, fleshing it out and adding a subplot, which I think could bring it to the 50-60k range. But for the second, I don't see it coming out more than 45k or so.

However, these aren't intended to be YA. The first is probably light enough that I could push it in that direction if I wanted, but probably not with the second. Is there a market for adult (not "adult") novels of this length?

eyeblink
01-01-2010, 05:03 AM
There are literary novels around 40k, but the examples I can think of tend to be by established names - The Sea by John Banville, On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan. I've just read Truth or Fiction by Jennifer Johnston (all of whose novels are under 70k, in many cases quite a bit under) and I estimate it to be around 38k, around the same length as On Chesil Beach.