Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Long Book

I get questions from new authors, as I think all professionals do. When I get them I strive to answer to the best of my ability, both the question asked and the questions not asked but implied by the rest of the message. Today I answered some questions about guidelines for novel submissions, I also wrote a long digression based on the fact that the person asking mentioned that their first book came in at 564,000 words. Since I've run into a number of people over the last few years who've written quite long books I thought I would put my thoughts on the subject our where people could see them, so that the next time someone asks, I can point them at this post.

The question you didn't ask, but probably would have had you known you needed to. Book length. And this one is a good news/bad news kind of answer.

Bad first. 564k is going to be a problem for pretty much all of the traditional paper publishing houses. A typical paperback runs from 80-110k and selling longer than that is really really tough for a new writer. Up to 150-170 is possible if you've done something that everyone agrees is amazingly commercial. I know of sales up to 250k for established professionals whose name isn't Martin or Rothfuss or Stevenson, but other than late series books in huge commercial block-busters, I don't know of anyone selling over that. It's mostly a production problem in that manufacturing costs go up a lot for anything over about 125k. If you could find a good way to break a long book into two or three or however many smaller books, you might be able to sell it that way, but you'll have to really make book one outstanding and fully complete in itself. I don't know what kind of book you've written, so I can't say whether that;s possible or something you even want to try.

Now for the good news. The advent of e-publishing is, imho, going to create options for books of that length, though I don't yet know what those are going to look like. If I were just starting my career at this point and had written something of that length I'd be looking very hard at self-publishing it directly through Amazon, B&N and other venues. If you'd asked me if I thought that was a good idea even two years ago, I'd have said a flat "no," but the industry is changing so much and so fast, that's looking like an increasingly promising option, and one that I might take myself with a few older books that I haven't yet sold to any of the mainstream presses. If you do go that route, please take some time to read Kris Rusch and Dean Smith on the topic, they've both been doing major blogging on the changes. Kris: Dean Think Like a Publisher and Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing.


Mari Adkins said...

first book came in at 564,000 words Good gravy!!

D. Moonfire said...

My first book came at 140k. The publisher said "kill 40k or we won't bother". So, I did and it was a much better story without that subplot. I think there is something to be said about trimming things down, to make them a bit more concise.

I did notice at GenCon a number of books (Elfhunter, Prisoner) were much longer than 100k words. They do fairly well, but it is a much different type of sale there.

Gretchen Ash said...

I have to say that if one's first book comes in at !25,000+, the first thing one might do is hire a good editor. Not that long = bad, but if one is going to tell a long, long tale it should be as well-crafted as possible. Readers are going to invest weeks & months reading your tome – it should be worth it.