Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Ask the Authors: Wednesday

Welcome back to "ask the authors week." This week we will pose five questions to our contributors, and you'll find their varied answers to a single question each day.

If you have questions you'd like us to ask during a future "Ask the Authors" week, send it to As always, thanks for joining us!

When you begin to write, are you aiming for a certain word length? How do you know how long your story is going to be? Do you try to keep your manuscript under a certain word count?

My contracts want my manuscripts to be about 120,000 words. I write chapters that are around 3000 words each so that keeps me pretty close. And then sometimes the story that begins as one book becomes three! -Jane Kirkpatrick

One mark of a professional writer is the ability to write to specs. At present, most of my publishers have set a 90,000 word target. My story concepts tend to fit naturally into the 120,000 word range. I trim them down. Am I selling out or am I being professional? A good storyteller tailors his story to his audience and we seem to have a 90,000 word audience. If I had a story that could not be told in less than 200,000 words, I'd pitch it as a trilogy. -Jack Cavanaugh

My contracts specify a desired word count. Despite my best efforts to tell a story in those alloted words (120,000), I always go over. Always. Sometimes way over! Once the book is turned in, my editors and I negotiate a finished word count that truly suits the book. I've cut as much as 22,000 words from a novel (Whence Came a Prince), and was glad to do so. I knew it was flabby, knew it needed tightening. I reduced the length not by taking out any scenes but by trimming out extraneous words, sentence by sentence. It's still my longest novel to date--180,000 words--but I think reducing the word count made it stronger. -Liz Curtis Higgs

I know the general ballpark for my genre. Contemporary suspense at my publishing house comes in at 90 - 95k. So I keep that in mind as I write. My longer historical, Glimpses of Paradise, was 135k. -James Scott Bell

No. I work mostly in series, and with the first book I have no particular word count in mind, nor have I found my publishers too stringent on this issue. After the first book of a series has been released, however, I do try to keep the word count similar for the succeeding books--within 5,000 words either way. -BJ Hoff

This is one of those processes that works, but HOW it works continues to elude me. Somehow my novels come out at the right number of pages. They'll vary a little, but not much. Guess I've just gotten a handle on how many (a) people I can kill, (b) subplots I can have, (c) characters I can arc, (d) POVs I can run. -Brandilyn Collins

You asked "when you begin," so, the answer is no, not in the beginning. I could really obsess over things like word count. After each draft, I run the word count program to be certain I'm obtaining a contractual size. If it's over the limit, so far the publisher hasn't minded or asked me to cut down word length. -Patricia Hickman

I've never had a particular length in mind at the outset of a novel. It takes what it takes. Usually that's about 80,000 words, but I would not shy away from 60,000 or 120,000 words if it seemed best. While some stories take more words to tell completely, it's important to tell the story in the fewest words you can. I try to cut out everything that doesn't really matter, everything that doesn't "move the story along" as they say. It takes more time to be as brief as possible, but it's worth the extra effort. -Athol Dickson

I let the story set its own length and have had them come in as short as 70,000 words and as long as 150,000. I'm writing tighter than I did in the old days, though, and I find I can take old novels and cut thousands of words without changing a bit of the story line. -Angela Hunt

I write under contract, and so yes, I am always aiming for a certain word length, because the publisher requires that. They aren't sticklers, though, so I have a lot of leeway. I've written enough that I have a feel for what length a certain story will be. -Hannah Alexander

I'm a pithy writer. I always know the minimum word length I'm shooting for, and it's always hard to get there. I never go long or struggle with keeping under a certain length. -Robin Lee Hatcher

I have a target area: anything hopefully between 80,000 and 90,000 words. Sometimes it goes a little over, sometimes a little under. I don't know how long my story is going to be, but I'm usually somewhere in that word count. To be honest, I never worry about going over! It's under that concerns me. However, that being said, I usually shoot for my first draft to be 10,000 words less than my contracted word count. When I go back in to hard-copy edit, I almost always add at least that many words. -Lisa Samson

I go for page count. I know how to set up the page that when I have X amount I'm pretty close to my word count. -Lori Copeland

My ideal is to aim for 1500-2500 words a day on weekdays. (I've agreed with my family that, as much as possible, I won't work on weekends.) Most of my contracts put my books at 85-95K words. So doing 1500 words a day means I'd have a first draft done in 90 days, or about 2 1/2 months (without working on Saturdays). And actually, I generally aim for 80K in my first drafts because you invariably add word count in the revision. -Karen Ball

Now that I'm published, my contracts specify an approximate word length--usually between 80-100,000 words. I tend to write short and add in rewrite, although I once had to trim 10,000-plus words from a novel. Believe me, it was better for it! I think there is a trend toward a bit shorter novels. Bottom line: within reason, your story should be as long as it takes to tell it well. -Deborah Raney


At 11:09 AM, Blogger Heather said...

It's encouraging to know that some have first drafts that come under the targeted word count, giving them room to fluff the pillows. I had always heard that the first draft should be longer. Second drafts are for cutting. I'm backwards. I write the foundation and steel frame, then go back to add sheetrock and paint and glitter. Wshoo. Thanks for not making me feel alone!


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