How long is a book supposed to be? If you said, “However long it takes to tell the story,” you would be right. Sort of.
Obviously, you need enough words to tell the story in a way that serves your plot and leaves readers satisfied. But… You knew there was a but, right? Editors, agents, and publishers (especially publishers) have specific ideas about the manuscript length for each genre.
Before you start screaming, “My art! My art!” (You, over there, I said BEFORE you start screaming. Stop it now. Thankyouverymuch.) Where was I? Right. The Art versus Reality Factor.
In an ideal Art World, your story would start at the beginning and run however long it takes to reach the end. We do not live in an ideal Art World. As Elliot says, in E.T., “This is reality, Greg.” Agents, editors, and publishers live in reality. Reality, it turns out, is a land governed by money. Yes, it all comes down to money. Manuscript pages cost money. They cost money to read, they cost money to edit, they cost money to format and print and bind. Someone must be paid to do all of those things. The more pages there are, the more money they cost. To sum up: You see pages and pages of art. Your agent/editor/publisher sees pages and pages of $$. In fact, one of the first things the a/e/p looks for is the word count of your manuscript. Too long or short? BUZZ! Thank you for playing. Here’s your rejection.
That’s where today’s discovery comes in. Over at Wordserve Water Cooler, Janalyn Voigt has written a lovely post showing how to plan the length of your manuscript before you write. How to Plot by the Numbers also contains a link to a list of word count guidelines for different publishers. It’s not an all-inclusive list, but it contains more than enough information to give you an idea of what manuscript length to shoot for.
Until next time, keep writing!