How long should my novel be?

Posted by John Brown on January 20th, 2009

There are two answers to this question.

1. The story answer by Orson Scott Card, best-selling author

As long as the story needs, but 75k-100k is when it starts to “feel” like a novel.

2. The selling it to editors answer by Jenny Rappaport, literary agent

“Aim for 80k minimum and 120k maximum. Try to hit as close to 100k as possible, but not go over. There are exceptions made for fat fantasies and longer novels.”

“For YA: 50k minimum. Try not to go over 75k. You can nudge it to 90k if it’s a fantasy. YA is a little more flexible.”

3. What happened to one author, Brandon Sanderson, when he tried to write to “the market”

As in stories less than 200,000 words…

BTW, Brandon is now New York Times best-selling author.

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2 Responses to “How long should my novel be?”

  1. Hezekiah Says:

    John, I finally was able to get registered for your site. Apparently a generic Word Press account doesn’t fit the bill.

    Anyway, I wanted to comment about the length topic. For whatever reason I find myself focusing a lot on the length of my current project. My goal was to have it clock in at about 150k, but the first draft ended up being 200k. I keep telling my wife I want to cut, cut, cut, and she just says, “Why are you so worried about it? Just write your book and let it be what it is.”

    She’s right, of course, but it’s hard not to want to give the book as much opportunity as possible to be picked up. I guess it if blows the mind the length won’t matter, but if it blows the mind and is the the “ideal” length, it just feels like it will have a better chance.

    Regardless, it has been very useful to give myself a goal of cutting 10% out of each scene. I’ve found that the writing has become more tight. Until I really started looking for ways to cut 10% out, I had no idea how much stuff was in there that didn’t have to be.

    I’m half tempted to give myself a goal of “cut 10% of the scenes.” I can’t help but think the book would be tighter and better for it.

  2. John Brown Says:

    Cutting can be helpful. One interesting thing I’ve found with my writing is that revising usually makes the story longer. SODG, for instance, sold to Tor at about 147,000 words. After revisions it’s now around 175,000. All my stories seem to only get longer. :)

    But it all depends on the story you’re writing and what it needs. If it’s an epic fantasy, I wouldn’t worry about it. There are plenty of exceptions to the 100k rule. Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, Ken Scholes, me…

    If it’s in another genre, you might want to rethink. Maybe there IS a way to split it. But maybe not. I wish you a lot of success!