Monday, May 23, 2011

Length Crisis (aka it's too long and I refuse to cut it apart)

So I went to a fabulous talk on Thursday. The topic was "Writing a Young Adult Novel". The speaker, Antony John, author of "Busted" and "Five Flavors of Dumb", did a marvelous job explaining the varied and exciting world of young adult writing. He convinced me that Threadcaster absolutely should be a young adult novel - it's straightforward and experimental and concise with teen characters and clean to slightly dark situations. He even signed a copy of Dumb for me with the encouraging words "I look forward to seeing your books".

So off I went home to start reading his novel, hoping a published YA would give me a peek into the "Authentic Teen" voice he said was so important. I learned a thing or two about authentic teens; they speak in incomplete sentences and use the passive voice (but that might be because the author is british), but they also like their chapters short. Like... five pages short. Then i noticed that the amount of words on a page is next to nothing compared to the amount of words per page in my Threadcaster document, so a chapter was more like two pages. Then I noticed his book was the same page number as mine... and with the difference in content per page...

... to add all the parts up for you, my book is too long. According to the notes I took at the talk, an average young adult novel is 40,000 words. Threadcaster clocked in at 140,000 words. that's 100,000 more words than is generally publishable, and that's a lot of words.

To it's credit, through editing only the first chapter i've managed to pare out 12,000 words... but the sheer size of the task is still daunting. This leads to three options - butcher the hell out of my book, split the book in to two or three volumes or ignore it and hope someone publishes it anyway.

Option one does not sound good to me at all. I can cut out redundant phrases, but to get that kinda word retraction I'd have to cut out a whole Element! If we skipped Water Town or Wind Town all together then maybe we'd get down to 60,000 words (after removing all of Zephyr or Lynn's dialog. We'd get more removed with Lynn). I've worked really hard building these relationships though... there's no one in there who is just kinda there and not serving a purpose like Nell was back when I decided to cut the Lightning curses.

Option two is not favorable. There is one place where the story could concievably break. It's what I call the "Wrench Scene" where I take us all in a totally different direction. The only problem with breaking there is that it's the bleakest place in the whole book... and ending a story with such tragedy would suck and most the second book would then be somber. Or maybe it'll be a good thing? Ending on an unexpectedly awful note might get people to run after the second volume as soon as they can to find out what happens. Then the second book I can spend more time getting to know Jared who has precious few scenes. It'd be a bit of filler, but it's easier to add content than subtract it.

Option three is what  I'm going to do for now. Who is to say someone isn't going to want to pick up a 100,000 word book just because they're a teen? I might lose some audience members but hopefully the pace and sense of adventure will drive them on. I have a whole stack of Redwall books on my shelf- those are YA and excessively long, so there's not rule saying it cannot be done.

I still have doubts about being able to sell the book to an agent though now that I know it's both a first novel and an overlength one. I'm really doubting myself and my work lately, I think it's because I'm tired and I've been so critical. All I want is to edit the thing so people can read it - I think when I hear feedback that is not my own I'll regain some of that confidence, because in my heart I know the book is good. I know the universe is interesting and the characters authentic, just as an author it seems stale and overdone.


  1. I'm inclined to agree with you on this. I actually just ran upstairs to grab a book by my favorite author and average the word count. it's almost 90,000, almost twice as much as this supposed standard. And technically, it's supposed to be a children's book. It's not like length has kept people of multiple age groups from reading the Harry Potter books or other series.

    From a personal standpoint, I'd highly advise NOT splitting it into multiple novels, if only because one of the biggest turn-offs for me with reading these days is seeing "Book 1 of [insert series here]" on the cover. I'd really just like to pick up a book, and read that book, and enjoy that book, and then not have to worry about that book anymore. Or maybe that's just me.

  2. I'm anxious about cutting it apart because I hate books with no endings, especially if you're not expecting it to carry over to another volume. The seam I'm thinking of is looking more and more acceptable, however. There's a big dramatic scene and a resolution for some of the minor characters, but our mains and their mission is far from over then.

    I may go ahead and cut the chapters shorter where I can.... like half them so there's twice as many chapters with smaller chunks of text. Considering how hard it was for me to make my average chapter count sometimes it might improve things and kill a lot of filler.

    Thanks for your advise too... I feel better about leaving it as one book. I can only hope agents are open-minded.

  3. Quote from Email posted with permission:

    "Hi Jennifer,

    First off, it was great to meet you last Thursday, and to hear about your wonderful book. Also, thanks
    for saying such encouraging things about my talk. It was a joy to hang out with so many like-minded

    I just wanted to address something you wrote in your blog post. (Actually, I wanted to leave it as a
    comment, but none of your commenting options work for me.)

    You mention that the YA novel clocks in at around 40k words. I did indeed use that number, but as
    the lower limit of a contemporary YA. I was speaking extremely fast, so I don't blame you at all for
    missing it, but the ranges I gave were:

    40k-75k for contemporary YA
    80k-100k for fantasy

    Of course, there are always outliers, too -- books that fall well under or (more commonly) above
    those guidelines.

    I think this is important for you, because your book is fantasy, and as such, you shouldn't be looking
    to trim it below 80k. No agent is going to be concerned as long as you're hovering around that 100k
    mark, I think.

    In other words, you might have less editing to do than you think!

    Just wanted to communicate this to you ASAP, as I'd hate for you to think that you need to cull 100k

    All the best,


    P.S. If any of your commenters feel alarmed, please feel free to post this email as a comment, or
    something like that."

    --- I believe I shall. I know some of my other author friends will want to know!