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Word Count

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Posts: 3564
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Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favourite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Sat December 4th, 2010, 9:34 pm

Mark Twain once told a correspondent, "I don't have time to write you a short letter, so I'm sending you a long one." And he was right. getting what you want to say in a few elegant words is time-consuming work.

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Margaret
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Interest in HF: I can't answer this in 100 characters. Sorry.
Favourite HF book: Checkmate, the final novel in the Lymond series
Preferred HF: Literary novels. Late medieval and Renaissance.
Location: Catskill, New York, USA
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Post by Margaret » Sun December 5th, 2010, 5:46 am

But how does one know what the average reader would skip over?
Generally, anything that stops the story in its tracks should be a suspect. In Rebels and Traitors, I felt like I had fallen into quicksand every time the novel veered away from its main characters for a history lesson. The battle scenes really weren't that bad, as battle scenes - but because the characters in the battle scenes were mostly not the novel's main characters, I didn't care about them and wanted to get back to the main characters' stories.

Verse longer than a stanza or two is almost invariably skipped (although there are LOTR fans who cherish every word of the elven songs). I did read the poems in A.S. Byatt's Possessed, a novel I loved, but the poems were integral to the plot.

I know people contend that literary novels, "novels of character," don't have plots, but I think the successful ones do - internal character development is plot, I believe, just as surely as the good guys trying to escape the bad guys is plot. The essence of plot is a chain of cause and effect, with suspense created by whether the characters will get what they want (or avoid getting what they don't want). Good literary novels absolutely have that, but instead of the main character wanting to get his hands on the glitzy jewel with the curse on it, the main character might want something like an understanding of the nature of the universe or a sense of fulfillment.

The examples above are fairly obvious ones - most readers probably won't get too impatient with a paragraph or two of tangential maundering on, but eliminating these can do wonders for the word-count. A nice, tight novel has a sparkle that is missing from a novel that regularly introduces excess verbiage. I'm speaking as a reviewer here rather than as a writer, alas - it's a lot harder to see these sections as a writer than it is as a reader. That's why critique groups and first readers can be such a huge help, provided they're honest about their reactions and genuinely like the particular type of fiction you're writing.

As a reader, aren't you ever tempted to skip sections? I rarely do it, because I'm afraid of missing something important - you never know quite where the boring section is about to end and suddenly become gripping again. But I badly want to sometimes.
Browse over 5000 historical novel listings (probably well over 5000 by now, but I haven't re-counted lately) and over 700 reviews at www.HistoricalNovels.info

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 3564
Joined: August 2008
Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favourite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Sun December 5th, 2010, 6:27 am

[quote=""Margaret""]
As a reader, aren't you ever tempted to skip sections? I rarely do it, because I'm afraid of missing something important - you never know quite where the boring section is about to end and suddenly become gripping again. But I badly want to sometimes.[/quote]
Oh definitely. But then, as I age and my time becomes more important, I am getting to be the crankiest, most impatient reader on the planet. Or at least in my book group.

My hat is off to you, Margaret, and Misfit and everybody else who reads less-than-interesting books so that they can post reviews for the rest of us. I'm not so generous with my time--I will only finish a dull book if I have a strong overriding motive. And if I do have that motive, and the book isn't up to par, e.g. By Fire, By Water -- well, I'm likely to be quite unforgiving.

But as far as giving honest critiques, that's a gift to the writer, whether s/he thinks it or not at the time. Our book group just did a book set on a cattle ranch, written by a woman who knew nothing about cattle ranches and had done just enough research to put in a lot of details--wrong. And the author joined our group discussion by skype. I was going to stay home, as I hated the book, but finally came anyway. My gift to her was to tell her where I found the book lacking, and I can assure you that it was not much fun for me either. In her favor, she took it well.

Everybody else gushed, and I knew for a fact that two of them didn't like it either. And the book had nothing but five-star reviews. But it wasn't selling well at all.

Honesty is hard to come by, and writers should value it when they get it.

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Margaret
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Posts: 2440
Joined: August 2008
Interest in HF: I can't answer this in 100 characters. Sorry.
Favourite HF book: Checkmate, the final novel in the Lymond series
Preferred HF: Literary novels. Late medieval and Renaissance.
Location: Catskill, New York, USA
Contact:

Post by Margaret » Sun December 5th, 2010, 8:04 am

There's more pleasure than pain in reviewing books - I get to read a lot of good ones, too! But as a writer, I think I learn more from the ones I don't completely warm up to. With a really masterfully good book, it's so easy to get immersed in the world of the novel and then emerge at the end wondering just what that magic gift was that made it so engrossing. Reviewing helps me there, too, forcing me to at least try to figure it out.
Browse over 5000 historical novel listings (probably well over 5000 by now, but I haven't re-counted lately) and over 700 reviews at www.HistoricalNovels.info

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SarahWoodbury
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Post by SarahWoodbury » Sun December 5th, 2010, 8:47 pm

Here's what I skip--moping about for weeks at a time. Everyone in my house is a HUGE Harry Potter fan, but the endless camping in the middle section of HP7 is a definite skipper. I just started a free book by Stephen Lawhead on my Kindle called 'The Paradise War'. It started out promising, and may still be, but the main character mopes about for a couple of weeks and it's like, 'get on with the story already!' I think authors have a hard time not giving readers the blow by blow, rather than saying. "Three weeks later . . .

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EC2
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Post by EC2 » Mon December 6th, 2010, 1:11 am

I am about to deliver my latest novel at 153,000 (it began its penultimate edit at 166,000, so it has lost 13,000 extraneous words over the past couple of months. 160,000 is my limit these days as far as word count goes because of foreign edition sales. My earlier, more romantic novels were around the 110,000 mark and I sold my first novel at just under 120,000. (have edited it down again since in the light of experience).
I think historicals can get away with being that bit longer, but never make them longer then they have to be. I'm always looking to cut rather than increase.
Les proz e les vassals
Souvent entre piez de chevals
Kar ja li coard n’I chasront

'The Brave and the valiant
Are always to be found between the hooves of horses
For never will cowards fall down there.'

Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal

www.elizabethchadwick.com

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Divia
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Post by Divia » Mon December 6th, 2010, 2:28 am

EC2,
Just curious but how many pages is 153,000 words?
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Alisha Marie Klapheke
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Post by Alisha Marie Klapheke » Mon December 6th, 2010, 2:48 am

[quote=""Margaret""]There's more pleasure than pain in reviewing books - I get to read a lot of good ones, too! But as a writer, I think I learn more from the ones I don't completely warm up to. With a really masterfully good book, it's so easy to get immersed in the world of the novel and then emerge at the end wondering just what that magic gift was that made it so engrossing. Reviewing helps me there, too, forcing me to at least try to figure it out.[/quote]

I agree. I can always pick out things that are lacking in a sub par novel and therefore attempt to avoid those things in my writing, but when I'm reading a fantastic novel, it's tough to stop and think of why it's so fantastic because I'm too busy reading!

Also, does anyone else find themselves reading only dialogue in slower books? I seem to do it by accident at times...

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cw gortner
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Post by cw gortner » Mon December 6th, 2010, 2:55 am

In general, anything over 100,000 words is tough to sell to a publisher these days, unless the writer has a track record or the manuscript generates enough interest that editors leap at it, creating an auction.

Even so, word count is a strict area for US-based editors. In the UK, far less fiction is published in hardcover, so length is not as much of a concern. Nevertheless, every editor has a budget and most books are priced early in the process, based on a number of factors. For example, I sold The Last Queen at auction with a manuscript of around 132,000 words but my acquiring editor wanted no more than 125,000 to meet a certain price point, so I cut. I sold out my advance and was well into a third printing - both signs of success - before The Confessions of Catherine de Medici was published, and still I was asked to cut my Medici manuscript from 178,000 words to 135,000. For my latest historical, my contract stated 130,000. I've deliberately worked to bring it in under 128,000.

The way it's been explained to me, word counts, especially in the US hardcover market, are dictated by production costs and pricing; publishers don't like raising an established price point in hardcover unless there's been enough prior success to justify it. Even so, in the current climate a mere dollar extra can impair sales. Hardcovers over 500 pages veer into the $26 and upward points; Ken Follett's latest tome, for example, is $32! But, he's Ken Follett; most of us aren't :)

My first Spymaster Chronicles' book, The Tudor Secret, is just under 100,000 words. Last week I learned to my astonishment that Target has picked it for February as a Bookmarked Breakout book, which will give it special display and in-store promotion. Costco has made a significant buy, as well, and Borders has selected it as a BOGO pick in February (on the Buy One, Get One table); the initial print run is also the largest I've had yet on a book. The theme and length really worked in the book's favor, according to my editor; Target has two coveted book spots: Bookmarked Breakout and Book Club. It's no coincidence that both levels always feature trade paperbacks in the $14 to $15 price range. (Read here for how these levels can propel a book's sales.) For the second in my series, my editor has requested the same word count or lower, if I can manage it. Why? Buyers for chainstores like Target believe readers in general have less time to read, so shorter books at lower price points are more appealing.

Most agents advise writers seeking publication to write what they feel passionate about, regardless of trends. Many now add that it's best to keep manuscripts under 100,000, particularly with the first one. Of course, it's never cut-and-dry in publishing and there are always exceptions to the rule, but overall, I think this is wise counsel.
Last edited by cw gortner on Mon December 6th, 2010, 3:45 am, edited 14 times in total.
THE QUEEN'S VOW available on June 12, 2012!
THE TUDOR SECRET, Book I in the Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles
THE CONFESSIONS OF CATHERINE DE MEDICI
THE LAST QUEEN


www.cwgortner.com

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Divia
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Post by Divia » Mon December 6th, 2010, 3:14 am

That's very interesting CW that you had a word count in your contract. Hmm! Is this common?
News, views, and reviews on books and graphic novels for young adult.
http://yabookmarks.blogspot.com/

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