January 21, 2015
Page count. Does it determine whether you buy a book or not?
Does one that is over 500 pages long put you off? Under 100 pages – no way, Jose?
Did you know that page count can be determined by whether a book is single or double spaced. Whether it’s printed as a trade paperback or mass market paperback. It can also depend upon what base font is used. How many excerpts there are, and how long they are. There are all sorts of variables.
What authors and editors go by when a manuscript is submitted is word count, which I WISH Amazon and the other book vendors would include in their book descriptions. For reference, my last full length book, No Accounting for Cowboys, is 103,000 words. Amazon lists it as 250 pages. Yet my Personal Protection, which is around 80,000 words is listed on Amazon as being 256 pages long. Which begs me to ask just how accurate are those page listings on Amazon anyway?
The average full-length romance is between 80,000 – 100,000 words. Same with most sci-fi/fantasies though they can go a bit over. Forget George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones sagas. He’s the exception rather than the norm. (If you’re really interested, you can read more about publishers’ guidelines re wordcount here.)
Yes, the average word count/page limits are usually set by the publisher and the author agrees to them in their contract. Publishers have a formula that figures out exactly how many words they can fit on a page, so they know how much paper the printer will use for each book. They need to know this because they need to keep their costs down. Shops need to know how big a book is and need to limit how many “big books” they order because they need to keep lots of books on their shelves. There are all sorts of practical but non-literary related reasons for those set word counts. Shipping costs. Shelving costs. Ink! (Because we all know it’s cheaper to buy a new printer than it is to buy a refill for the damned thing these days.) That’s not to say the author can’t go over their word count in their final manuscript, but the editor’s going to be looking for a tautly written story, and may demand cuts to keep it within the limits. And frankly, ultimately, so will the reader–it’s easier for a long story to sag in the middle.
Besides, does a story really NEED to take 80,000-100,000 words to be good? To tell a whole story? To build a complete world and in-depth layered characters?
No. Make that HELL NO!
C.S. Lewis’ THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE is only 36,363 words long. OLD YELLER by Fred Gipson was only 35,968 words. Joseph Conrad told his HEART OF DARKNESS in just 38,206 words, while Ray Bradbury’s FAHRENHEIT 451 is 46,118 long. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s THE GREAT GATSBY checks it at 47,094, and Kurt Vonnegut used only 49,459 words to write SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE.
Did you know the original story behind BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN was a short story? As was Stephen King’s SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION? And one of my favorite stories, THE GIFT OF THE MAGI? O. Henry used only 2,163 words.
Want to go by pages?
THE CHRISTMAS CAROL by Charles Dickens. 80 pages.
ETHAN FROME by Edith Wharton. 96 pages.
HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES by Arthur Conan Doyle, 128 pages.
THE TURN OF THE SCREW by Henry James, 96 pages.
With the advent of ebooks, authors and publishers have realized that a story isn’t bound to a set number of pages. You don’t have to pad a story with a subplot so you reach the threshold set by your publisher if your romance comes in a bit short. You can tell the story about a couple falling in love as it needs to be told. And so we ended up with wonderful novella length stories filled with amazing characters.
One of my favorite novellas, ALPHA AND OMEGA by Patricia Briggs—the start of her Alpha and Omega series. Then there’s HERE THERE BE MONSTERS by Meljean Brooks, A DREAM OF STONE AND SHADOW by Marjorie Liu, Courtney Milan’s THE GOVERNESS AFFAIR, or her UNLOCKED (which hit the NY Times Bestsellers list – which also proves some people ARE buying novellas.) Maya Banks’ SONGBIRD reduced me to ugly crying when I first read it. Still tear up on re-reads. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention NY Times bestselling author Vivian Arend started her career with her novella WOLF SIGNS. (which happens to be free at the time I posted this.)
Yet I’ve heard quite a few readers tell me that they refuse to buy a book because Amazon says it’s under 100 pages. That thunk you heard was hundreds of authors, including me, hitting their head on their desk.
Remember the page count vs word count difference between NO ACCOUNTING FOR COWBOYS vs PERSONAL PROTECTION? Maybe for my future novellas, if I have a book that at 1.5 spacing comes in at 86 pages I should change the formatting to double spacing so it nudges up over 102 so those who have set that 100 page threshold will look at it twice. Heck, if I change the font from Times New Roman to Cambria, not even changing the font size, it jumps to 108 pages and hell yeah, I can definitely count them in.
Huh, guess what I’ll be doing before I sent my latest novella out to my formatter this weekend…