novel length

When Is Too Many Words Too Many Words?


Dear Editor…

My fantasy is at 126,000 words; I can probably cut to 115-120K but maybe not to 100K without ruining plot. In a market in which short is seen as more viable, should I worry about this?


Dear Lorie…

It’s telling that you think you can cut 6,000-11,000 words. Do it! If you can see those cuts so easily, they’re probably necessary. Avoid indulging in nonessentials (or over-writing), especially when length is an issue. FOCUS is a writing mantra. As for what the market will bear, there’s no definitive “FULL” line. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix clocks in at 257,000 words (766 pages), yet even kids read it. But of course Harry defies most publishing norms. For the rest of us, size matters. Readers are generally daunted by a thick book block, and there’s only so much interior design and paper tweaking can do to slim it. Maybe e-books will change that since we don’t see a physical hunk of paper and ink, but for now, thick can thwart. Can you break your story into two or more episodes? Consider tying up subplots or phases of your story in separate books even as you keep greater character and plot arcs going across multiple installments.

Happy writing!
The Editor