I find myself at the moment in the midst of writing the next novel in the Charlie Fox series. The action for this book starts directly where the last instalment – the novella ABSENCE OF LIGHT – left off. At the start of this next one, Charlie even still carries the injuries she sustained during the course of A.O.L.’s storyline.
The previous full-length novel – DIE EASY – was number 10 in the series. Now I’m faced with the question of do I call this latest book number 11 or 12?
ABSENCE OF LIGHT could rightfully be called book 11, although labelling it as a novella was a deliberate decision on my part. It finished up at almost 60,000 words, which would make it a novel to many. But, the other Charlie Fox books ranged between 92,000 and 128,000 and I didn’t want anyone to be disappointed to suddenly find this one shorter.
As far as I know, nobody’s complained that it’s longer than they expected.
I’m a great believer in writing to the end of the story, then making at least one pass through to see how many extraneous words I can cut out. I’ve usually aimed roughly for 100,000 +/-10%, but I know some crime authors who rarely write past 50,000, and others who do at least 130,000 every time.
Equally, I’ve come across readers who are put off by weighty tomes, and others who, if they’re stuck between a choice of two books for a holiday read, will measure the width of the spine and go for the thickest.
Personally, if I’m enjoying being immersed in the world the writer has created, the more of it the better. Especially now I tend to do a lot more reading in digital format. It’s easier on the hands and – if I’m reading last thing at night – I know if I nod off with the ebook in my hands the device will eventually just switch itself off. There are no end of times I’ve fallen asleep reading a paper book and lost my place as it’s slipped from my hands.
But, there are general guidelines on the length of various different types of fiction, and I suppose it’s as well to know what the rules are before you decide to break them.
Of course, when I say ‘general guidelines’ these do vary enormously. Some have the length of a novel starting from as little as 40,000 words. Others specify a mystery novel as 60,000-80,000, with thrillers up to 100,000.
Below a novel comes the novella at 17,500-40,000; the novelette at 7,500-17,500; and anything below 7,500 counting as a short story.
Or does it?
The digital publishing revolution has caused a mix-up. When Kindle introduced their Kindle Single, they specified a work of fiction with a word count between 5,000 and 30,000, straddling short story/novelette/novella territory.
New writers who go straight into the indie market tend to want to build up their bookshelf space as quickly as possible, and there can be a tendency to put out several novelettes or novellas rather than a full-length novel. One just has to be aware of the old ‘quality before quantity’ maxim, but I can well understand the pressure to be more successful simply by publishing more work.
If a new writer is going down the traditional route into publishing, many agents and publishers prefer that their work falls into generally accepted word counts for the market they wish to enter. There’s nothing to say a debut crime novel of 150,000 words will fail to find a publisher purely because of its length, but busy editors do look for the obvious ways first to trim down their reading list, and cutting out a submission simply because it is too big is a danger, no matter how brilliant it might be.
So, I find myself left with more questions than answers. Does the length of a book have any effect on your reading choices? Are you reading longer or shorter books than you used to, or has there been no change?
Has the way you read changed the length of books you go for? Do you tend to read longer books in digital format because they’re lighter and easier to carry around with you for that spare five minutes in the dentist’s waiting room?
Do you read more short stories than you used to, purely because they’re now available more widely on line rather than in anthologies? Do you yearn for a return to more regulated sizes of novel, or do the new freedoms inspire you to try new works of varying lengths by your favourite authors?
This week’s Word of the Week is prolegomenon, meaning a preface to a longer work, usually a formal essay or critical discussion. The plural is prolegomena. It comes from the Greek verb prolegein, meaning ‘to say beforehand’.