Length of novels

I want to tell an anecdote about the Darkover series (wonderful work, by the way, by Marion Zimmer Bradely) which kind of shows the effect length has on books. “The Planet Savers”, not the first one but one of the first ones, is from ’62. It’s roughly 100 pages. “The Winds of Darkover” is 200 pages, from ’70. Bradely was, like all of us, a mortal, and the last books in the Darkover series were published only after her death — among them the Clingfire trilogy, published in ’01-’03. The final one in the trilogy, “A Flame in Hali”, was 500 pages. Now, apparently (and I’m not a publisher or a book marketing expert), it is a good idea to keep selling the old books in a series when putting out new ones. So, the publishers needed to keep printing out and selling things like “The Planet Savers”, a 100-page novel. What they eventually did with most of the Darkover early stuff was just to glue two books together, almost literally. So, for example, I bought Winds and Savers in one book, conveniently 300 pages. Apparently, it is so hard to sell a 100-200 pages novel, that publishers will take things that they ALREADY HAVE and find ways to not put them in this range.

I’m not sure why — perhaps people feel like they should get more pages for their money, or something like that. But in the end, it’s all a case of back-pressure — the stores give a hard time to publishers who sell something out of the norm, publishers give a hard time to writers and writers need to fit in the program. The lengths that are talked about for a first novel are apparently 80-150 Kiloword, with less than that (50 Kiloword) for Young Adult novels. So 50 Kiloword is a novel — it’s just not a novel that you’re likely to sell.

You know what? That’s all right. NaNoWriMo is not about writing a novel that you can sell. It’s about writing a decent first draft, and then fixing it until it’s sellable. If you wrote less than 80 Kword, just consider it something else you need to fix… http://www.nanofimo.org, BTW, is meant to fix that exact problem. Other projects, like NaNoEdMo, are geared towards cleaning up your prose and your plot holes without necessarily adding words. You have done a great thing if you won NaNoWriMo — you have a novel. If you want a novel you can sell, however, there is still some work ahead of you.


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