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View Full Version : Too dark, too short, too epic?



gambit924
09-01-2016, 09:47 PM
I am coming across several issues with my novel, Tales of the Driss, Krystal Dragons. So after passing it through several readers and editing it and going through it several times, it seems to be completely sound, but I think there are things that might stand in the way of it getting traditionally published. First of all, it's a somewhat dark and depressing story about two young brothers who are betrayed by just about everyone whose supposed to love them. It has some very dark themes like slavery and genocide. While there is a tiny bit of a love story where one brother declares his love to someone and they get married, it's kind of like a classic Asian film where there are very few happy endings by the time the story is over. Also it is very short. 40,000 words. I know it's short, and that is not a problem for me. However it might be an issue for publishers who, for some reason, thing you need at least 80,000 words to tell a good story. Ridiculous. If 40,000 words tells the story then 40,000 words tells the story. If one tries to make it 80,000 or more, that's just a waster of time because the story has already been told in 40,000 words. In fact it's probably been over told. Why do they require so many words? So I submitted to a couple of places and I am waiting to hear, but if it's a no, do you think I should just bite the bullet and self-publish? Note that this is just book one out of three or four. Thank you!!

Aggy B.
09-01-2016, 10:22 PM
Not to be a dick, but I hope your book is better edited than your post here. Repeated beginner errors will cause an editor to reject a book (even if the story is promising).

As far as length: 40k is a novella. There are markets for that. But it's not the same thing as a novel. (The book I have over there as my avvie is a novella - the first of three - and is only 31k. I tried several publishers for it, but I didn't just send it to Baen or DAW and expect them to publish it because it doesn't meet what they are looking for in a novel.) You wouldn't send a book of recipes to an SF publisher and expect them to pick it up as a novel. Likewise, you don't send them a novella (usually books that are 20-40k, but sometimes up to 50k) and expect them to publish it as if it were a novel. Because it isn't. (Just like a short story is not a novelette, and a novelette is not a novella.) The requirements for length may seem arbitrary and restrictive, but different publishers are marketing to different audiences and therefore require certain things to please that audience.

For something as short as what you're describing, I would expect that smaller pubs would be your best bet as there is a returning market for novellas, but it is more niche than mainstream at the moment.

Best of luck.

mpack
09-01-2016, 10:42 PM
I think you're looking at a market question. 40k words puts it too short for most novel publishers, though some ebook pubs might look at it. There are specific markets that look at novella length stories as well. Have you considered any of those? Dark themes are common in epic fantasy, so I don't think themes alone would be a sticking point, but that's a matter of taste and will vary from market to market.

However, you mention this is the first book in a planned series. Is it possible this book could be Part 1 of a longer work? Two-three 40k word novellas that followed a series story line might function as a full length novel, depending on how they are structured.

MonsterTamer
09-01-2016, 10:50 PM
I wouldn't worry about the content. Dark as pitch is common. Evil is evil, and if you're writing about evil things, it should feel dark. As far as the lovelessness, you can't please everyone. Some readers prefer an absent or very minimal romantic subplot.

What feedback have your readers provided? Do they feel it's too dark and loveless? Did they identify any places where more flesh could be added?

Blinkk
09-01-2016, 11:28 PM
Isn't dystopian trendy right now? Lots of things are pretty dark right now. Walking Dead, ASOFAI, Hunger Games - I'm sure we could brainstorm a hundred more.

Personally, I like dark things, especially in books. Content-wise, I think you're fine - there is a market for that.

I agree with you on word count - tell the story in however many words the story needs. I've discovered a pattern in my writing where I'm very comfortable at 30-40k words. Even if I plan a full length novel, I'll manage to accidentally write it beautifully into 40k words. It's like my hidden power or something. I love writing novellas and I can wrap things up really nicely at that length.

However, I'd like to meet market standards and I understand what you're struggling with. The market for novellas is very different than the market for novels. The industry asks for one thing (which, by the way, is driven by sales not "because publishers say so"), but even though the industry demands certain expectations, art sometimes doesn't care about those industrial requirements. I understand that dichotomy because I frequently write novellas by accident. However, I think there's nothing demeaning with intentionally writing to meet market standards. I'm getting an inkling you don't feel that same way because of how you phrased your dilemma in the original post. If you're planning on going into the industry, get to know the expectations and don't view those expectations as limiting boundaries.

Also, I noticed you said this is only book one of three. Why not write all three books? I bet after you do that, you'll have a nice 120k story, and that could be published in one swoop.

jjdebenedictis
09-02-2016, 12:06 AM
If the story is too short, the book will be too small to put a spine on it.

Publishers have reasons behind their rules. It's not "ridiculous", and it's not some conspiracy to keep you from getting published. They honestly can't sell what you wrote; the bookstores wouldn't accept something with no visible spine.

SillyLittleTwit
09-02-2016, 07:49 AM
If the story is too short, the book will be too small to put a spine on it.

Publishers have reasons behind their rules. It's not "ridiculous", and it's not some conspiracy to keep you from getting published. They honestly can't sell what you wrote; the bookstores wouldn't accept something with no visible spine.

Technically, the publisher could get creative with font size and margins, add in illustrations and an Afterword or something. On the other hand, that would be blatant padding, which would annoy most readers - the length of the book wouldn't justify the cost (the production costs largely being fixed at that point). The sort of fantasies that do get published at that length tend to be more child-orientated (Gaiman's Coraline), less epic (Rothfuss' The Slow Regard of Silent Things), or else something out of J.R.R. Tolkien's wastepaper basket.

Cindyt
09-02-2016, 08:04 AM
I love dark plots. No surprise my WIP is dark, but I have peppered it with humor, which contrasts nicely with the pathos.

Helix
09-02-2016, 08:24 AM
You could make it a bit longer by changing 'to' to 'too' where appropriate.

Welcheren
09-02-2016, 02:03 PM
As others have pointed out, dark is not dreadful.

Are you quite sure that the story develops each sympathetic character satisfactorily?

From your post, I take it that none of your readers flagged issues about length and/or development?

mccardey
09-02-2016, 02:06 PM
You could make it a bit longer by changing 'to' to 'too' where appropriate. zing!

Latina Bunny
09-02-2016, 02:33 PM
Dark content shouldn't be a problem. There are lots of dark material out there in the market, so you're good with that. :)

However, the length could use some work. I'm surprised that such an "epic" SFF story is only 40,000 words long. That is average MG (Middle Grade--Children's books) length. But there are some MG that can be longer than that, especially some popular SFF series (like Harry Potter and Heroes of Olympus, etc).

YA (Young Adult books--books for teens) are longer than that, average word count-wise.

For most mainstream SFF adult books, that word count is too short. That's more of a novella, which would probably be better suited to smaller pubs, epubs, or perhaps some SFF magazines.

Are you sure you can't add some details or subplots into the story? Whenever I think of epic-level SFF novels, I would think many would be pretty long because there is so much plot stuff happening with so many worldbuilding details and characters, etc. Of course, this is only based on the epics I have been exposed to. (I don't read much epics, but I notice that some of popular or classic epics tend to be pretty long.)

If you're really sure that it's the perfect length, then you may need to look at pubs that accept that length.

gambit924
09-03-2016, 02:19 AM
First off, very sorry about the "toos". It's my first week back at substitute teaching and I already have the most terrible cold, which has basically melted my brain. Anyway, thank you very much for your replies. I appreciate it. Thus far no one has said that the length is inadequate to tell the story. One even said that it sounded rather "Biblical", and in some ways I can see that. As for a spine, consider the books of Louise L'Amour, Agatha Christie, Ian Fleming, and more that were very short that they had no issue putting a spine on. Then again, printing was different back then. So perhaps what I need to look into is novella publisher and not publishers that only publish longer books. I still think it's rather ridiculous, but so it goes. Anyway, thank you very much!!

Cindyt
09-03-2016, 02:31 AM
First off, very sorry about the "toos". It's my first week back at substitute teaching and I already have the most terrible cold, which has basically melted my brain. Anyway, thank you very much for your replies. I appreciate it. Thus far no one has said that the length is inadequate to tell the story. One even said that it sounded rather "Biblical", and in some ways I can see that. As for a spine, consider the books of Louise L'Amour, Agatha Christie, Ian Fleming, and more that were very short that they had no issue putting a spine on. Then again, printing was different back then. So perhaps what I need to look into is novella publisher and not publishers that only publish longer books. I still think it's rather ridiculous, but so it goes. Anyway, thank you very much!! Amazon Createspace publishes novellas with an option for print as long as the manuscript has 24 pages without a lot of filler, so I would think traditionals would too. Get well soon and good luck! :Hug2: https://forums.createspace.com/en/community/message/202321

gambit924
09-03-2016, 02:56 AM
Thank you very much. I have already considered that as an option, and it is probably the way I will go if I cannot find someone else to publish it. Self publishing is not a problem with me. While I would like to traditionally publish it, there's nothing to indicate that it wouldn't be fine if I self published it. In fact I am thinking that it might be the best course of action at this point, but I'm just going to give it a bit longer, see about a couple of other people who might be interested. An agent and a smaller publisher.

Cindyt
09-03-2016, 03:03 AM
Thank you very much. I have already considered that as an option, and it is probably the way I will go if I cannot find someone else to publish it. Self publishing is not a problem with me. While I would like to traditionally publish it, there's nothing to indicate that it wouldn't be fine if I self published it. In fact I am thinking that it might be the best course of action at this point, but I'm just going to give it a bit longer, see about a couple of other people who might be interested. An agent and a smaller publisher. I am going to self publish my WIP either on createspace, PDF, or create a website for that purpose. I'm not interested in the money--not that I couldn't use it--it just doesn't motivate me.

gambit924
09-04-2016, 06:49 AM
Agreed. While money is nice, I just want people to read and enjoy. If they do, they do, if they don't, they don't. But at least it's there if they wish to experience it. Anyway, I'm not looking for anything right now that means I can quit my day job. If people like it, that's great!! Bonus!!

Cindyt
09-04-2016, 08:24 AM
Exactly. Writing a book was a dream come to and the rest will be what it will be.

gambit924
09-04-2016, 10:18 AM
Sounds like something that Doris Day once sang about. I use this song when trying to teach over-zealous people to be patient.

https://youtu.be/azxoVRTwlNg

Que Sera Sera.

Old Hack
09-04-2016, 11:17 AM
I am coming across several issues with my novel, Tales of the Driss, Krystal Dragons. So after passing it through several readers and editing it and going through it several times, it seems to be completely sound, but I think there are things that might stand in the way of it getting traditionally published.

*trade published*


First of all, it's a somewhat dark and depressing story about two young brothers who are betrayed by just about everyone whose supposed to love them. It has some very dark themes like slavery and genocide. While there is a tiny bit of a love story where one brother declares his love to someone and they get married, it's kind of like a classic Asian film where there are very few happy endings by the time the story is over.

None of this sounds problematical, so long as the writing is good enough. (And by "good enough" I mean good enough, in the usual sense, and good enough, in the commercial sense.)


Also it is very short. 40,000 words. I know it's short, and that is not a problem for me. However it might be an issue for publishers who, for some reason, thing you need at least 80,000 words to tell a good story. Ridiculous. If 40,000 words tells the story then 40,000 words tells the story. If one tries to make it 80,000 or more, that's just a waster of time because the story has already been told in 40,000 words. In fact it's probably been over told. Why do they require so many words?

No, it's not ridiculous. It's a commercial decision and as publishers are businesses, they have to make all their decisions with business in mind.

It costs a publisher just about the same amount to edit, design, and print a 40k book as an 80k book. But readers of adult fiction are reluctant to pay the same amount for a 40k book as they pay for an 80k book, so if publishers take on those shorter books they have to know they can sell them without losing money. So they'll take them on from established writers with strong followings, but not from unknown writers. There are exceptions: Grief Is The Thing With Feathers, for example. But if I remember rightly it was published by Faber, which has a history of publishing poetry and more literary, challenging works, and so Feathers fits in well with that imprint.


So I submitted to a couple of places and I am waiting to hear, but if it's a no, do you think I should just bite the bullet and self-publish? Note that this is just book one out of three or four. Thank you!!

You could self publish but if you really want a trade deal, why not write all four books and see if you can combine them into two books? Then you'd have books which trade publishers might consider.


First off, very sorry about the "toos". It's my first week back at substitute teaching and I already have the most terrible cold, which has basically melted my brain. Anyway, thank you very much for your replies. I appreciate it.

It happens too us all, gambit. Don't worry about it. But note that you should be able to edit your thread title if you want to. Or you could ask a mod to do it for you, if it bothers you.


Thus far no one has said that the length is inadequate to tell the story. One even said that it sounded rather "Biblical", and in some ways I can see that.

I would guess that it was described as "biblical" because of the language you used, not because of the story.

And if the length works for the story, that's fine: don't be tempted to pad it out to make a longer book. You won't get good work that way. But recognise that there are good reasons behind publishers wanting books of a certain length.


As for a spine, consider the books of Louise L'Amour, Agatha Christie, Ian Fleming, and more that were very short that they had no issue putting a spine on. Then again, printing was different back then. So perhaps what I need to look into is novella publisher and not publishers that only publish longer books. I still think it's rather ridiculous, but so it goes. Anyway, thank you very much!!

As I've already explained, the spine isn't the issue behind publishers wanting books of a certain length; and I doubt that any of the writers you referred to wrote books of 40k.

There are publishers which specialise in novellas, and they're probably a good match for you. But please stop saying it's ridiculous for publishers to want books of a certain length: it really isn't.


Thank you very much. I have already considered that as an option, and it is probably the way I will go if I cannot find someone else to publish it. Self publishing is not a problem with me. While I would like to traditionally publish it, there's nothing to indicate that it wouldn't be fine if I self published it. In fact I am thinking that it might be the best course of action at this point, but I'm just going to give it a bit longer, see about a couple of other people who might be interested. An agent and a smaller publisher.

You're not likely to find an agent willing to take you on if you've only written a novella, and you're focused on smaller publishers. There's not enough commercial potential there to make it work, I'm afraid.

Once!
09-04-2016, 12:01 PM
Some very good advice there.

Bolero
09-04-2016, 06:10 PM
When I saw the title of this thread, I was hoping for a somewhat whacky discussion, based on the new verbs "to dark" "to short" and "to epic". :) That's not snark, that is really what I hoped for. Ah well. :)

gambit924
09-05-2016, 06:16 AM
I actually thought about the "tos" for about two seconds. Then it was like, either it's right or it's wrong. Sadly it can't be both. We can still have a whacky discussion, haha. It just hasn't started out that way. In all truth, I like a bit of fun. I'm just a bit miffed that I'm just starting out back at work and I'm already sick. So much fun!! Thank you Old Hack. I see what you're getting at. The publisher must think of the profit I suppose, and what matters to them isn't necessarily what matters to me, in some respects. While they expect a good story, they also expect to get their moneys worth. For me it's just the story that important, so it makes sense and it's logical, however, for someone who isn't necessarily out for profit, it may seem a bit unfair. But so it goes. That's the nature of things. Thank you!!

Maryn
09-05-2016, 06:20 PM
(Sorry to hear you're sick. That's what happens when you re-enter that big germ pool of work, huh? Take care of yourself and try not to pass it along.)

H.G.Aguilar
09-23-2016, 01:32 PM
I struggle with "too dark" also.
My novel is meant to be a Lord of the Rings for a new generation, assuming we've matured as a society enough to accept some very violent and even taboo scenes. But none of the great classics seem to include any of the most foul pits of the human psyche. Therefore I sometimes think my work can't become mainstream. (too dark)
I envision it as a movie someday. Thus, I've changed an unnecessary disemboweling scene to his femoral arteries being cut.
However, the attempted rape and subsequent cannibalism I feel is an important plot point. Neither are explicit in their descriptions but I feel it would probably earn the movie an R Rating, and keep it out of high schools and under for reading. A child dies in very graphic way. It is meant to jar the sensibilities. The theme is largely about death, which is very sad and awful until the characters learn the truth, and can think of it in a different way.
So I don't know. Can one attain Harry Potter popularity while including some very adult themes and scenes?

SillyLittleTwit
09-23-2016, 02:13 PM
I struggle with "too dark" also.
My novel is meant to be a Lord of the Rings for a new generation, assuming we've matured as a society enough to accept some very violent and even taboo scenes. But none of the great classics seem to include any of the most foul pits of the human psyche. Therefore I sometimes think my work can't become mainstream. (too dark)
I envision it as a movie someday. Thus, I've changed an unnecessary disemboweling scene to his femoral arteries being cut.
However, the attempted rape and subsequent cannibalism I feel is an important plot point. Neither are explicit in their descriptions but I feel it would probably earn the movie an R Rating, and keep it out of high schools and under for reading. A child dies in very graphic way. It is meant to jar the sensibilities. The theme is largely about death, which is very sad and awful until the characters learn the truth, and can think of it in a different way.
So I don't know. Can one attain Harry Potter popularity while including some very adult themes and scenes?

Please don't take this the wrong way, but including wall-to-wall rapes, disembowelling, and cannibalism does not inherently make a work more adult. Rape in particular is a very sensitive area, with substantial psychological issues associated with it - it should not simply be used for shock value.

Also, what, exactly, do you mean by "great classics"? Taking The Lord of the Rings as a starting point, you have catapaulted heads, an on-screen suicide, a cannibal major character, and a swamp full of corpse-ghosts. The Silmarillion is darker, with nearly everyone dying, multiple on-screen suicides, incest, allusions to rape, and so on. A Song of Ice and Fire and The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant are pretty dark as well, and if you are into more recent stuff, there's the likes of Joe Abercrombie and Richard Morgan.

H.G.Aguilar
09-23-2016, 03:42 PM
I don't recall the cannibal major character? these are only the most extreme parts of the story, and they are not merely for shock value, it is an important part of the plot. Another of the classics i was thinking of was CS lewis, so clean and yet so popular...

SillyLittleTwit
09-23-2016, 06:50 PM
I don't recall the cannibal major character? these are only the most extreme parts of the story, and they are not merely for shock value, it is an important part of the plot. Another of the classics i was thinking of was CS lewis, so clean and yet so popular...

Gollum. Who cheerfully eats anything he can get his pale fingers on.

Narnia is children's fantasy (and Christian children's fantasy at that). There are disturbing scenes, but the disturbing scenes involve implications (Susan's damnation, the extremely negative view of sexuality, Muslims who worship Satan, the potshots at atheists, et cetera), rather than Lewis deciding to be dark. So it's a whole other kettle of fish.

jjdebenedictis
09-23-2016, 10:32 PM
I struggle with "too dark" also.
My novel is meant to be a Lord of the Rings for a new generation, assuming we've matured as a society enough to accept some very violent and even taboo scenes. But none of the great classics seem to include any of the most foul pits of the human psyche. Therefore I sometimes think my work can't become mainstream. (too dark)


Have you been reading much current fantasy? Because as SillyLittleTwit mentions, Joe Abercrombie and Richard Morgan are already doing exactly this, as is Mark Lawrence and Kameron Hurley (in fact, she has ritual cannibalism, specifically, in her latest series). The "Grimdark" trend has been very popular in fantasy in the past decade, so society is ready.

gambit924
09-26-2016, 02:26 AM
Well, here's the thing. Kids will read whatever they want to, or are capable of reading. I was reading Tolkien when I was in the fifth grade, Memoirs of a Geisha in high school. Slaughter-house 5, Catch-22, Along with authors like C.S Lewis, Terry Brooks, and so on. That's why I dislike all these genre distinctions as it pertains to age groups. While there are some things that are definitely for young people, and some things that are definitely for elder people, there's no reason why the lines can't blur. My book would be fine for a young person, as there are only a few naughty words and maybe one dismemberment. By the age of 16, I had read worse. And the worse word there was the word "cock". And everyone knows and understand that word. It's not like it's the worst word. So kids will read what kids will read.

gambit924
09-26-2016, 02:32 AM
Rape is one thing I would almost draw the line at though. While it is part of the human reality, we must be careful how we use it and how it is portrayed. Anyone who would use it as a primary plot device is not using good story telling. Not that I am saying that you are, but just in general. Anything that detracts or desensitizes rape from the terrible crime that it is, well, that's not good. It makes rape merely something that happens rather than the terrible crime that it is.