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View Full Version : Too short for a novel, too long for a novella



Drachen Jager
04-19-2013, 02:05 AM
What do you do when your novel isn't a novel?

I know Cormac McCarthy gets away with The Road at 58k words, but mine falls even shorter than his (and he had a lot more titles under his belt when The Road was published).

The plot is tight, but I'm not sure if adding some breathing space will help make it better.

Does it matter if it's better? I mean, if I'm not hurting it - much - by adding a few thousand words in slightly richer details, or more fleshed out thoughts, is that better than being too short?

I know publishers prefer to see 70-80k up to 100-110 in general because that's what sells in bookstores, and I'm sure most agents feel the same. Does 50k earn an auto-reject from many agents? Where is the line? If I bring it up to a point where it can be 'rounded off' to 60k like The Road does that make a big difference?

I'm confident in the story and the query (which has knocked the socks off everyone I showed it to). It's just the question of length that has me worried.

Mr. Anonymous
04-19-2013, 09:52 AM
IMO, depends what you're pitching it as.

In young adult, books can be as short as 45k without it being seen as a negative.

In literary fiction, you occasionally get short novels too. An editor at Random House told me he's acquired novels as short as 40k.

But generally speaking, shorter novels are a tougher sell, due to the simple economic fact that publishers can't charge as much for them.

If you're writing adult genre fiction, and you're a debut author, I think being too much below the standard/expected length of 70-80k could (perhaps significantly) hurt your chances.

Chris P
04-19-2013, 09:58 AM
Or, you can add a subplot that in some way supports the overall plot, and weave it throughout the story. I was skeptical when it was suggested to me, thinking it was just filler, but in the final draft it worked really well. It added 10K words or so that deepened the MC's main conflict.

Phaeal
04-19-2013, 05:30 PM
I'd try to braid in one or two subplots that would complement the overall theme and/or explore aspects of the novel that the main plot doesn't. You don't want to just add words -- you want to strengthen and enrich the whole book. The interconnections that develop between the threads of a "well-braided" piece can transform it.

Axordil
04-19-2013, 06:33 PM
My now-agent pointed out the novel I sent him was actually two novellas duct taped together. Okay, he didn't use those exact words, but he was correct about its structure, and about how to make it better.

The R & R for him resulted in the first of those 50Kish word novellas becoming a novel of, as it happens, a little over 80K words, via the addition of a subplot, the addition of a sequence to the main plot, and the expansion of supporting character roles.

The original plot is as tight as ever. It's simply longer now, with a counterpoint in the subplot that highlights certain themes common to both.

So, what Phael said. :)

Drachen Jager
04-19-2013, 08:46 PM
Thanks all. I'll have to give the subplot idea some thought. I'm not sure if it's entirely feasible, given the structure of the novel. It's in first person and the interaction is all down to a fairly limited group of people.

I think I'll edit it up in its current state and send it to a few betas. Maybe they'll see something that my own myopic vision is missing.

@Mr Anonymous: It's an adult paranormal/SF thriller (no werewolves or vampires). The protags are young, but I need to keep them in University, not high school. It would tear too much of the plot apart to have them much younger than early-mid twenties.

Axordil
04-19-2013, 11:39 PM
My novel's in first person. A subplot doesn't have to mean another POV. I had something happen involving a supporting character that sucked the protagonist into it, in addition to the events associated with the main plot.

Walter Mosley is good at this sort of thing, if you read mysteries.

Chris P
04-19-2013, 11:50 PM
My novel's in first person. A subplot doesn't have to mean another POV. I had something happen involving a supporting character that sucked the protagonist into it, in addition to the events associated with the main plot.

Walter Mosley is good at this sort of thing, if you read mysteries.

Walter Mosely's good at a lot of things.

My novel is 1st person as well, and the subplot I added was something that seemed like a good idea to him at the time, but came back to bite him and raised the stakes if he failed in the "famous final scene."

Drachen Jager
04-20-2013, 01:01 AM
As it stands the plot is extremely focused, the only real sub plot is a romantic relationship that evolves. I thought that was a good thing, but that's the main reason I'm short ten-thousand words or so.

Fitting in another sub plot won't be easy.

Thank you for all the suggestions though. I'll have to take a lot of showers until I figure this out. Epiphanies always seem to strike me in the shower.

Axordil
04-20-2013, 03:08 AM
I'm convinced showers are where my brain reads the minutes from my dreams. :)

Williebee
04-20-2013, 03:11 AM
I'm convinced showers are where my brain reads the minutes from my dreams. :)

Yup. Me too.

Debbie V
04-23-2013, 05:51 PM
Showers, long walks, games of Bubble Shooter, and those ten minutes before I fall asleep or after I wake up. But it's not my dreams alone, it's everything my consciousness missed and then some.

Drachen Jager
04-23-2013, 10:47 PM
Yeah, walking is good. I was out for a walk the other night when I realized the theme of my novel. It's funny how you can write something and not really understand it for days or weeks after.

As to the lengthening of the manuscript, I'm finding many places where I've dropped to narrative summary that should probably have been written out fully the first time around. That's a habit of mine when a scene becomes too difficult to write emotionally. I pull back and cut it short.

Anyhow, I'm on track for 55k or higher on this draft. With some beta feedback and a little more exploration of theme in the next draft it should be in a place where it won't get rejected simply for being too short.

gingerwoman
04-26-2013, 11:48 AM
If you have your heart set on traditional publishing than you would definitely increase your chances by fleshing it out to over 80,000 otherwise you can submit what you've already written to good quality digital first publishers many of whom like that length, depending on what genre you are writing.

Debbie V
04-30-2013, 02:38 AM
As to the lengthening of the manuscript, I'm finding many places where I've dropped to narrative summary that should probably have been written out fully the first time around. That's a habit of mine when a scene becomes too difficult to write emotionally. I pull back and cut it short.


I underwrite first drafts too. It all seems so clear to me. Then my critique group tells me where something is missing and I flesh it out and draw the reader further in.

Drachen Jager
04-30-2013, 10:24 AM
I underwrite first drafts too. It all seems so clear to me. Then my critique group tells me where something is missing and I flesh it out and draw the reader further in.

Wish I had a good critique group. I have a few friends and beta buddies, but it would be good to have some face to face with a group of fellow writers.