Typical word count of traditional European-style pulp detective novels?

Norsebard

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:hi:

My NaNo project this year is an homage to the pulp detective novels I devoured at an alarming rate in my youth. Thirty-five years later, I still have an entire bookcase dedicated to the types of thrills that may have been assembly-line products but that were just as riveting as the so-called 'respectable' books - IM-H-O, natch.


I've only just realized there were / are huge differences between the types of pulp releases known in the US and Europe (and maybe elsewhere as well). I take it the US mostly had monthly magazines that were popular up until the mid-1960s or so, but a majority of the European pulp releases were pocket-book-sized paperbacks of 125-180 pages. These European releases had their heyday in the 1970s and 1980s and in fact continued all the way up to the mid-1990s here in Scandinavia.

I'm sure that series like FBI Special Agent Jerry Cotton, Larry Kent, Nick Carter (not the same as the US N.C.), S.O.S., Hawker and Hank Janson will still ring a bell for many Europeans - I believe FBI Special Agent Jerry Cotton is still going strong to this day in Germany!



So, here's my question to all the clever people here:

- What would the typical word count be for a pulp detective novel of the type most commonly known in Europe, i.e. the 125-180 page pocket-book-sized paperback? (US measures: 4 x 6,5" or so with a half-inch margin on all four sides of each page of text).

I'm guessing they were mostly set using Times or an equivalent font in a 10pt size... but I'm not a typographer so I could be talking out of my belly button.

I'm just looking for a ballpark figure / guesstimate so I can tweak my NaNo story to fit into the good, old framework.


Thank you in advance! :hi:
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Maryn

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The US had a similar pulp period. My dad used to read those and give them away, but my shelves still have a few of his old paperbacks. I'd guess them at 60,000 words.

But there's still the old-fashioned method. Literally count the words on five full pages, chosen at random without regard to dialogue and other white space, then average. That's yours words per page. Multiply by the number of pages, then subtract half a page's count for every chapter, since the end of the previous chapter and the start of the new always involves white space.

If you do that, I'm curious to know if the count is similar to the US version.

Maryn, who liked a bit of pulp
 

Thecla

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Not exactly pulp fiction, although from a similar period, but couple of 20C UK examples. Agatha Christie wrote in her Autobiography the best length for a detective novel was 40,000- 50,000 words. She's discussing this in terms of market, rather than art. Murder on the Orient Express is ~ 43,000. Ian Fleming's Bond novels clock in at similar lengths; for instance, Casino Royale is ~ 48,000 words.

I think Simenon's Maigret novels (French) have an equivalent range i.e., c. 40,000 to 60,000 words, but I've only read them in translation.

In other words, a NanoWrimo novel is the perfect length if you're emulating 20C norms.
 

lonestarlibrarian

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50k, give or take 5k, is probably a good target for an American detective pulp novel from the 30's-40's. The closer you get to the 80's-90's, the longer novels get in general. But that's actually one of the reasons why I like the older vintage stuff of a certain period--- it's not hopelessly spun out like the serial fiction collected into novel form from even further back in time, but it's also punchier-and-to-the-point in comparison to modern books that would have made a great novella, except they were advised that novellas don't sell, so they had to pad it into a novel. Also kind of like the difference between "Prisoner of Azkaban" vs "Order of the Phoenix." One of them jumps from action to action to action, and the other one tries to be psychologically complex. So, I really like the flow and focus of the shorter narratives.

Talking about vintage mystery fiction in general, some series tend to be very structured and formulaic-- ie, any of the Stratemeyer Syndicate juvie fiction--- and others tend to have a huge span even within the same series-- ie, the first Perry Mason book is 141 pages long; the second Perry Mason book is 302; the third is 320; the fourth is 176 pages.

Occasionally, what would happen would be that an author would write a series of short stories for magazine publication. Then they would either (a) develop them into novellas (or, in reverse, condense a novella into a short story); (b) publish them in anthologies as either short stories or novellas; or (c) edit them together into a larger narrative so that each short story serves as a chapter. For an example of the first, Rex Stout's "Help Wanted, Male" exists in a 15,000-word version as well as a 25,000-word version. For an example of the second, again, pretty much a huge amount of Rex Stout--- "Three Trumps", "Royal Flush", "Three Doors to Death", "Kings Full of Aces", "All Aces", etc are all going to have either three or four Nero Wolfe mysteries. For an example of the third one, Pat McGerr's "Legacy of Danger" is a good one, and it's cool how you get a little mini-climax-payoff with each chapter, because the bones of each chapter were originally meant to be their own stand alone narrative.

Jumping back to the Stratemeyer juvie mysteries, just because there's a ton of information about them-- they would run about 40,000 words = 160 manuscript pages = 210 printed pages, roughly speaking. (Although, just sampling the first three Nancy Drews, it seems they run somewhat under 35,000 at that point, although I don't know which edition they're referring to, since they've been rewritten a few times.)

Another thing-- just from a book design perspective-- remember that larger type and white space makes something a friendlier read. When the text is dense and cramped, it can be hard on the eyes, even if it's efficient with the resources. You might try a free program like Scribus to do a mockup of what your final product might look like, if you're planning on doing a self-pubbed print edition, and take readability into account.
 

Norsebard

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:hi:
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for the input, everybody!
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Maryn said:
But there's still the old-fashioned method. Literally count the words on five full pages, chosen at random without regard to dialogue and other white space, then average.

I better break out the ol' magnifying glass, then... :LOL:


If you do that, I'm curious to know if the count is similar to the US version.

You betcha :Thumbs:



Thecla said:
Agatha Christie wrote in her Autobiography the best length for a detective novel was 40,000- 50,000 words. (...) In other words, a NanoWrimo novel is the perfect length if you're emulating 20C norms.

Well, it would've been if the story hadn't clocked in at 84,000+ words! This info actually gives me a chance to get a little creative with it a la a half-time cliffhanger, so that's good :)



lonestarlibrarian said:
You might try a free program like Scribus to do a mockup of what your final product might look like, if you're planning on doing a self-pubbed print edition, and take readability into account.

Oh, this project is just going to be one of my regular online releases, but thank you for the suggestion :)


Norsebard
 

Al X.

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I usually shoot for about 65K - 75K in length. One thing I've discovered about pushing past the 80K length is that the printing cost of the print version of the book starts to become an issue, and I can't price it as competitively as I would like. I suppose that is a poor reason to artificially limit a novel length, but business is business.
 

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I got a little sidetracked yesterday, but I took a random pulp detective novel off the shelf to test on, so I may do the big count-and-calculate today... :)


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Maryn

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Depending on your skills at the keyboard, it could be faster and possibly more accurate if you retyped those random pages. I'm decent on the keys and that's probably what I'd do, at least one page's worth to see if I mind doing it that way.

Consider counting a page's words, then going off to do something else that's less strain on the eyes, too. There's no rush.

Maryn, throwing ideas out there
 
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CMBright

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This thread reminds me of the "if you are getting paid the same, why use metropolis when you can use city" quote by Twain.
 
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Al X.

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Depending on your skills at the keyboard, it could be faster and possibly more accurate if you retyped those random pages. I'm decent on the keys and that's probably what I'd do, at least one page's worth to see if I mind doing it that way.

Consider counting a page's words, then going off to do something else that's less strain on the eyes, too. There's no rush.

Maryn, throwing ideas out there

I lean towards that myself, because it may be easier to integrate it in to the current version of the story that it would be to edit it to fit appropriately.

I've personally ditched novels at the 70 - 80 percent level before, and did complete rewrites of the same story. In one notable instance, I developed an unsuitable character to use as an MC protagonist, and didn't realize until it was too late in the novel that I couldn't simply just fix it.
 
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Norsebard

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Maryn said:
Depending on your skills at the keyboard, it could be faster and possibly more accurate if you retyped those random pages.

Oh, that's a great idea, Maryn - I'll do that right away...


Update:

Your initial guess of 60K was pretty much accurate. I retyped pages from three different pulp books (a detective novel, a Western and a war-time actioner that were all released by the undisputed market leader Winther Publishing) and did the math thing. They were all in the 52K to 58K region, give or take.



CMBright said:
This thread reminds me of the "if you are getting paid the same, why use metropolis when you can use city" quote by Twain.

:LOL:



Al X. said:
I lean towards that myself, because it may be easier to integrate it in to the current version of the story that it would be to edit it to fit appropriately.

:unsure: I'm sorry, Al, but I have a feeling we're not on the same wavelength. The talk was about retyping pages from an old book to make a quick 'n dirty estimate of the book's total word count, not directly editing my NaNo story.
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Maryn

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Know what's neat, besides having a pretty good idea of a goal in terms of word count? You could, if so inspired, knock one out in four to six weeks, again and again, especially if there's a formulaic nature to the plot's turning points. (I can plot a romance a lot faster than suspense!)

Should I start dropping you name into casual conversations, or is it too early?

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Norsebard

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Maryn said:
You could, if so inspired, knock one out in four to six weeks, again and again, especially if there's a formulaic nature to the plot's turning points.

Yeah, and I've been writing a series since 2011 that could be made to fit the template. It's definitely food for thought.


Should I start dropping you name into casual conversations, or is it too early?

Aw, it's probably a little too early... ;)


Norsebard