Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

How long should it take to write a novel?

How long would it take to write a novel if you wrote 1,000 words/day? 500? 100? How about three sentences per day? How long would that take?

I'm going to figure out some answers here. I'll start with the basic assumption that the length of a complete novel is 100,000 words. At 250 words/page, that's a 400 page book.

Let's see how long it would take to complete the first draft, sans edits, given varying rates of words put down on paper per day. I'll assume a completely arbitrary 20 words per sentence and, from that, 12.5 sentences/page (250 words/page divided by 20 words/sentence).

  Words to
Paper/Day
How Long
in Days
How Long
in Years
1 word 1 100,000.00 273.97
5 words 5 20,000.00 54.79
20 words/1 sentence 20 5,000.00 13.70
2 sentences 40 2,500.00 6.85
3 sentences 60 1,666.67 4.57
5 sentences 100 1,000.00 2.74
10 sentences 200 500.00 1.37
1 page/12.5 sentences/250 words 250 400.00 1.10
2 pages 500 200.00 0.55
3 pages 750 133.33 0.37
4 pages 1000 100.00 0.27
5 pages 1250 80.00 0.22
10 pages 2500 40.00 0.11
20 pages 5000 20.00 0.05
40 pages 10000 10.00 0.03
50 pages 12500 8.00 0.02

Starting at the ridiculous and ending with, well, the ridiculous again, you can see that were you to only write 1 word/day it would take 100,000 days or 274 years to finish a novel length manuscript. Something a little more realistic—3 sentences/day, of which I've heard of writers doing—and you're at 4.5 years. If you strive for the more often recommended 1,000 words/day, it will take you .27 years or just over 3 months. Pause for a second and think about that. My first reaction was: What?! Why has it taken me so long then to finish this bleep'in novel then? That just can't be right…

But it is.

If you can write 1,000 words per day, you'll have a 100,000 words in 100 days. A complete first draft, in other words.

It sounds easy. So why isn't it? The reasons are many: life gets in the way, we procrastinate, we edit/rewrite before we should, the writing itself leads us down dead-ends from which we have to back ourselves out. Anyone's who's ever attempted to write a novel, whether you failed or not, knows about these things. It takes a lot of discipline to keep pushing forward, especially when you know what you just wrote is crap and is going to need some serious re-writing.

But therein lies the gist of it: you have to keep moving forward if you want to reach the end. It sounds simple. If only it really were.

Fiction: How Long Is Too Long?

1028208_man_thinking Those of you who've been following along know that I am mired in a first-pass edit of my current novel. One of the main goals of this edit is to reduce the overall word count. Currently at 123,319 words, I still have some work to do. However, considering it peaked at 135,785 words before editing had begun, I think I'm doing OK.

Why care about word count at all? Because staying within the acceptable range is one less reason to be rejected, that's why.

Still, how long is too long? At what point do you know you're in the right, saleable range?

First, it depends on stature. Established authors have more leeway; they've got a proven track record, and a publisher is more likely to lay out the cash (longer books cost more to produce) because they are considered less of a risk than a first-time author.

Second, you have your first-time authors. Publishers want minimum risk and maximum profit, so they'll likely stick to their guns on word count unless you've produced a truly stellar, standout novel.

Third, it depends on genre.

Let's take that third one and break it down based on word count information gotten from Colleen Lindsay of the swivet blog, with an understanding that there are always exceptions to these numbers. Here's the data:

micro fiction 10-300 words
flash fiction 300-1000 words
YA fiction 50K - 80K
urban/paranormal romance 80K - 90K
mysteries/crime fiction 60K - 70K
chick lit 60K - 80K
literary up to 120K
thrillers 90K - 100K
historical fiction up to 140K
novella < 50K
space opera/fantasy up to 100K
epic fantasy 120K - 130K

I write fantasy, so the last two categories are of the most interest to me. I find those numbers a bit alarming because my book is not epic fantasy. It's more non-epic. Therefore, I need to cut out another 23,000 words??? I'm all for killing my darlings, but cutting to 100,000 words is a tough one.

Rachelle Gardner, an agent with WordServe Literary, has this definition:

Full-length fiction: 80,000 to 100,000 words is by far the best range to stay within. Some pubs will look at manuscripts from 70,000 to 110,000 words, rarely outside of that.

OK, so now we're at a maximum of 110,000 words. But she doesn't mention specific genre, which we know from above is important.

JA Konrath has this to say:

First novels have a better chance of selling if they are under 90k. The reason is wholly monetary. Your publisher will probably lose money on your first book. But a 150k book will cost more to print, more to ship, and less will fit in a carton. Cost of production figures heavily into a publisher's decision whether to buy or not to buy. 

He goes on to say this (highlighting mine):

Some genres, such as fantasy and historical romance, tend to be lengthier.

But he doesn't really go on to explain in more detail. That's OK. Joe's thing is mystery thrillers, anyway, not fantasy. (Consequently, Joe has some great advice in that post; go read it.)

So where does that leave me?

I could no doubt troll the submission guideline pages of my favorite agents and publishers and acquire more information, but I think the above more or less supports what I had originally thought on this subject. One thing is clear: I need to keep cutting. There comes a point, however, where the story itself becomes compromised. I'll have to cross that bridge when I come to it. For now, I have a new goal: 110,000 words.