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.


  1. Mr. Lukeman, I've been reading your blog for over a year and have learned a college degrees worth. What I appreciate most is your willingness to give examples of the principles discussed in your free e-book How to Land (and Keep) a Literary Agent. You must get frustrated repeating that which is free for the reading but for this middle aged writer...the duplication is greatly appreciated. I do find it sad though that authors may end up writing shorter and shorter novels not because the content is best covered that way but because so few people have the attention span to finish an average sized book.

  2. Hello, Mr. Lukeman,
    Thank you so much for "The First Five Pages".
    I have a question regarding italics, and I feel that I really cannot continue editing until I know more.
    My novel is a historical fantasy with elements of time travel and telepathic communication. There are conversations between characters that occur both telepathically and vocally. There are also many POV portions that focus on characters' thoughts. In both situations, I use italics extensively; in the dialogue, especially, this is an issue, as there are places where the only way that the reader can discern telepathic from vocal communication is font change (italics).

    Removing the italics is possible, but it will make much of the text difficult to understand, and when I change things in POV from italics to regular font, it will change the tone entirely.

    For example, the very first sentences (which use italics in this way, although I cannot use italics on the blog post and have indicated them by asterisks before and after):

    "*Bloody good time for Angela to die*, Daniel thought as he navigated his rented Mercedes out of the crowded airport parking lot. The sedan had been Arwein’s single concession to Daniel’s comfort after they had gotten the call. The cream-colored leather driver’s seat smelled of cheap polish, somewhat diminishing the effect Daniel sought as he drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. Glancing with annoyance at something flickering in his vision, Daniel noted a ridiculous pine-tree air freshener hanging from the rear-view mirror, which he promptly yanked down.

    *Stupid thing.*"

    I could change it so that it reads:
    'Daniel thought sarcastically that it was a bloody good time for Angela to die. He navigated his...'
    'Daniel considered the poor timing of Angela's death as he navigated....'

    But that really changes the flavor of the text such that the reader is a bit more removed from Daniel's thought processes... and Daniel's thought processes form the backbone of the book. And what to do about "stupid thing" eludes me entirely.

    And then, for the telepathy, consider:
    “My Lady, this is a most gracious offer, but I must decline. I have been given a charge, and I must submit; I cannot well protect Her Grace from halfway down the hall, though I am certain that I would be well-fed and well-attended. Please extend my thanks to His Grace.” *I can protect you both here; I can keep Thomas in his place. Leave me.*

    In this passage, Daniel is injecting subconscious thoughts into Catherine's mind. How to do that without saying something awkward and clunky like, '...Leave me, Daniel projected' for every instance will make the text unwieldy, especially if I have to do it in paragraph after paragraph.

    And then for dialogue (this example comes from the second book, which I am currently writing):
    '“Lie down, Daniel,” Arwein said, rather more gruffly than he intended. Stepping to the boy’s bedside, he pressed Daniel back into the mattress.
    “What are you doing?”
    “Staying with you for a few days, while you get better.” Arwein arranged his documents neatly before turning back to Daniel. *“Would you like to practice?”*
    Daniel looked a bit startled, but responded after a few moments, *“With you?”*
    Arwein felt a sharp pang of regret at the boy’s surprise. *Ah, what a mistake it was to let this go*, Arwein thought. “*Yes, Daniel; with me.”'*

    I really am at a loss about what to do. The first book is over 400 pages; the second is at 250 and is about 2/3 done. Obviously, it doesn't matter at all what the content is if nobody reads it, but... the content will be drastically changed by removing the italics.

    Please, I could really use your input. And (she chuckled ruefully), if you should see in the above that there are significantly greater issues than italicizing, don't hold back.

    Thank you again. I know you are tremendously busy, but... I really want to get this right.

    Take care;
    Julie Hoover

  3. I noticed another literary agent knocking your book, The First Five Pages, which has always been inspirational to me and got me multiple publishing contracts and several good book deals. I thought I would let you know because much of the blog post by this literary agent is taken out of context. Here's a link where you can read it for yourself.


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