How long should your book be ?

I was reading a blog by a writer I generally have a lot of respect for the other day, when they started laying down rules for your debut book… ‘oh you know if its a thriller it’s got to be 80-100k, if it’s a romance it can be shorter, blah de blah.’ Challenged on whether that was really still the case these days, their response was that you can break these rules only if you don’t want to be published.

I’m sorry but I have to call this out. Total and complete bollocks. It couldn’t be more bollocks if it was wrapped in a scrotal sac and hung between the legs of a bull elephant.

It may still be true in traditional publishing, particularly as I’ve seen a lot of agents repeat the advice so it kind of becomes self perpetuating. However one of the reasons I chose to become an Indy was so that my writing wasn’t subject to that kind of ‘old think’ gate keeping.

I’m not convinced the reader cares, nor do I think it matters whether its your debut or your hundredth book. There has been a big trend lately for shorter books with James Patterson leading the charge with his ‘bookshots’ (note you can’t call your short books  that – it’s a trademark), so there’s nothing at all wrong with publishing a story at 20, 30, 40 50k words.

Equally if you want to go long, go for it. All Tom Clancy’s early books were well over the 100k mark, and that’s without considering things like the Lord of the Rings which was a tad over 445k (with each of its volumes well over 100k). George RR Martin’s first book was 286k.

Personally my first book Rapax was 105k and change, my second Honest intent was 25k , and my third (out this autumn) Darkest Storm is shaping up to be circa 60k.

The two really important things in my view are that:

  1. The story is as long as it is. It is neither padded out or drastically cut to meet an artificial word count, and
  2. Your length is reflected in your price, and marketing. The reader doesn’t care how long the book is, but they will be pissed if they pay a goodly sum expecting a full length novel to only wind up with 25k. I price novella’s at 2.99 and novels at 4.99, and also use the novella as my give away for my mailing list.

Bottom line, being an Indy means independence, and independence means not being bound by the rules other people make (even mine).

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