Saturday, December 7, 2013

How long is a novel?


GONE WITH THE WIND is 423,575 words. A novella is about 50K words.


This is an inaccurate comment. 423,000 words is not a typical novel length. The typical novel length is 75,000--100,000 words. But I have sold novels as short as 40,000 words for major advances. And there are many great works of literature--like THE STRANGER--that fall far short of 50,000 words, and yet are still considered novels. There is no absolute word count or line in the sand that demarcates a novel from a novella. 

Typically, if a writer asks me how long a novel must be (minimum), I'd say to aim for at 60,000 words, though at least 70,000 would be idea, and if it's even longer, that's great--though if it exceeds 100,000 words then I might start to worry (unless it's in the hands of a master).

However, do keep in mind--and this is the important point I want to make here--that with the ebook revolution, many self published authors are discovering that many readers are just fine with reading shorter novels, especially if they are priced at $2.99 or less. Thus if an author of commercial fiction came to me with a 100,000 word manuscript that could easily and naturally be divided into two books of 50,000 words each, and he asked me if 50k words was too short for each novel, I would say no, and in most cases suggest he split them into two. For me to tell him not to do it, and that 50k words is just a novella, would be bad advice.

Should I use a pseudonym?


I self-published 2 books under a pseudonym. They did not do well. How do I tell if they did not do well because I failed to market or because no one is interested? I'm trying to decide whether to invest a lot of money in marketing. I did get one nice review from a professional in the field that the fiction was written about. Also, the books were previously only available as trade paperbacks, which were over $20. I recently got e-book format available, and the price for that is only $2, so it might be a good time to launch some marketing. Or to go back and edit the things and repackage them, but, since I wrote them a long time ago, I'm not sure my heart is still in them enough to re-write them. I now have a third book that I am trying to market to agents. Should I use this same pseudonym, or should I concoct another?


If you've written two books with a particular pseudonym and they did not sell well, then there is not advantage to you to approach agents using that pen name. If anything, there is a disadvantage. So I would advise to choose a different name.

You ask if your two books didn't sell well due to your failure to market them or because no one is interested. It would be simplistic to answer that it was definitely due to one of these two reasons. There are dozens of reasons why a book might not sell well. First, of course, one has to look at the concept, the writing, the execution, etc. But assuming the writing is excellent, there are still many reasons a book might not sell, including the competition, the jacket, the synopsis, the categories, the pricing, the keywords, the timing, etc. etc. Even with excellent marketing, if a book is priced too high, or has a terrible jacket, or title, etc. it might still not sell well. There is no black and white answer, and it is not a science. But in my view, lack of marketing is usually the last reason a book does not sell well. Usually it's something else. I've seen many great books have paid advertising and not sell. And many books with no marketing take off on their own. $20 for a trade paperback is typically too high. And if your heart is not in your books enough to rewrite them, then that might be the most telling sign there. If you don't care enough about them to revise them, then it may be your readers don't care enough either. Writers must be completely devoted to their works, and willing to revise them countless times to get them to be as great as they can be.

Why would I want a literary agent if I'm already published?


The problem with literary agents and publishers is they now look for well established authors. No one wants to take a risk anymore on an unknown. I recently wrote a novel and tried to get a literary agent to represent. 90% of them wanted to know if I had previous published works. Correct me if I'm wrong but if I had previously published works why in the world would I be looking for a literary agent? Wouldn't I have one already? I have found in this field especially with literary agents themselves they want to do little to no work. They want to represent authors who have already established themselves and that these authors are shopping for a new agent. They are actually the ones who have created a countless number of self publishers because an unknown can't get representation anymore. Publisher's like Tate publishing is quite different from a self publishers. First off Tate publishing puts up 26k of their own money if they choose your work. The fee they ask for is to pay for the promotion of the book. They do this for one reason, they are a small company. Everything from print to cover of your book is done in the same place, because of this they can't take the influx of submissions that your traditional publisher like Random House could take. They want a smaller amount of submissions and one way of doing that is by charging a fee, and that is why if you sell a thousand copies they refund you your 4k


I am not sure if your comment is a question or just a rant. But I will address it as if it were a legitimate question:

First, I will not get into a conversation about Tate publishing. The scope of this blog is to address general questions about publishing, and I don't want to comment on specific houses or agents, especially since I am no expert on Tate publishing's practices, and can only go from what I hear. That said, I will say in general that, regardless of who the publisher is, I always advise authors to never pay a fee (of any sort) to have their work published, since there exist too many vanity publishers who prey on unsuspecting writers by charging fees--and since there are many legitimate publishers who will charge no fee--and pay you an advance.

If authors are unable to land a deal with a legitimate house and are contemplating self-publishing, I would be much more inclined to recommend they self publish in ebook format via KDP, B&N, Google Play, Kobo, Apple, etc.--where there are no upfront fees, and authors control all rights, and there is absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain. 

I have been a literary agent for 20 years, and you are inaccurate to say that the problem NOW with literary agents is that they only want established authors. Literary agents have ALWAYS been more inclined to represent established authors. Nothing has changed in that regard. That said, you must keep in mind that there are also agents who pride themselves on discovering unknown authors. There are thousands of agents out there, and one cannot make sweeping generalizations.

It is standard operating procedure for an agent to want to know if you've been previously published--that does not necessarily mean the agent is biased against you. Indeed, if you've published with a major house and your sales tanked, then an agent would be LESS likely to want you. So sometimes being unpublished is an advantage. That said, any good agent will want to know your complete publishing history upfront, and you should already know that and include it in your author bio.

You are completely wrong to say that if you've been published, then you don't need an agent. That is absurd. I could rattle off a dozen reasons you'd need an agent even if you were a bestselling author (from contract negotiations, to subsidiary rights, to legal issues, etc. etc.) but I have already done this in my free ebook HOW TO LAND A LITERARY AGENT. The link is on this blog. Read the entire book. It's free. In fact, I give away over 500 pages of information in these books, and it amazes me how many people ask questions who have never even bothered to read the books--which answer all these questions and more, and in greater depth.

I don't agree that (legitimate) agents want to do little or no work. Most agents work tremendously hard and for salaries that are not great. I'd put it 12 hours a day at my desk, then come home and read for 3 hours--then read all weekend. Many agents do the same. Again, one cannot make generalizations. The key is choosing agents who are excellent at what they do. There are lazy people in every profession, and also hard-working people who take price in what they do. You have to choose the right people.

The only thing you say in your post that is somewhat accurate, and that I would somewhat agree with, is that agents are the ones who have created many self-published authors, due to the difficulty of landing an agent. There is some truth to this. It can be very difficult to land an agent. Many years, I'd receive 10,000 queries, and take on 1. The numbers are overwhelming, and an agent can't represent everyone. But the solution isn't to rant against the industry--that won't get you anywhere. The solution is to become better at researching the appropriate agents for you, and at improving your query letters, proposals and manuscripts. (Again, I teach you how in my free ebooks.) And, of course, perseverance. Not just for a few months, but for many years. And if you still can't land an agent, that might just end up for the best--many self published authors on Amazon and elsewhere have found their ebooks are earning them more than a traditional publisher might.

Is it OK if English is not my native lanuage?

Mr Lukeman, I am not a native English speaker but I write in English for various reasons. I live in the USA and finding classes/writing groups in my native language would be impossible. Furthermore, the market for science fiction is much bigger in English than French. My question is: should I mention I am not a native speaker in my query letter? Would that scare away agents? I have to say my accent gives me away over the phone. I don’t have the typical French accent -it’s less pronounced- but still you can tell. Thank you very much for your thoughts on the topic. Merci beaucoup!

It is fine if English is not your native language. There is certainly no requirement that English be one's native language in order to pen a great book in English, and there are many authors throughout history who have proved they can be masters of the English language without its being their native tongue (i.e. Joseph Conrad). The issue is not whether it's your native language: the issue, really, is how strong of a writer you are, whether in your native language or in English. The other issue is whether you are as proficient in English as in your native language. Even if you master the English language, it still won't make you a great writer. So continue to improve your writing skills, no matter what, and also continue to work on your English. In the end, you might actually have an advantage, as you may work harder and longer to perfect your English, whereas a native speaker might become lazy over time.

Either way, do not mention this in your query. It won't help, and it may hurt. Besides, it's irrelevant: the writing must speak for itself, regardless of where you are from.