What to do if Your Book is Too Long or Too Short

 This is often a problem for writers, both new and emerging. Each genre carries with it a certain expectation in terms of word count. Roughly, these are along the lines of:

Full length novel: 80,000-100,000 words
Light fiction- 70,000-85,000 words
YA- 45,000-70,000 words
Middle-grade- 10,000-25,000 words. 

 There are exceptions to these, for instance fantasy and sci-fi tend to be longer to allow for word-building, and many writers, like myself, find that there’s a gap between middle grade (which is usually considered to be for ages 8-10) and YA (which tends to be for 14+). My own book is aimed at ages 11-14 and is about 35,000 words. Sometimes you hear this genre referred to as ‘teen’. I’d say between 25,000 and 45,000 is about right for that age group. 

 If you want to be traditionally published then you need to pay attention to the length of your work. Too short or too long for your genre and a lot of agents and publishers will be put off. 

 But, I hear you say, what if I self-publish? Surely then I can do whatever I want? You certainly have more leeway, but remember that your audience will still have expectations in regard to length. Many will not be happy if they pay the price for a full length novel, only to find it’s just 40,000 words. This would put it in the novella category, which is fine, but you’d need to market and price it as such. 

 There can also be problems with self publishing a book that’s too long. For example, a writer friend of mine was recently informed by Amazon Createspace that they couldn’t upload her book because there were too many pages. 
So, how can we fix these pesky length problems? 

Too Short

 I made this mistake in my first novel. The problem was, I had a premise, not a plot. I got to about 16,000 words and thought I was halfway through. Then I googled how many words a novel should be and found I had another 59,000 to go! I had to throw in several subplots to keep the story going. So if your story is too short, consider whether you actually have a proper plot. I found this blog post enormously helpful when working that out.

 Look at your secondary characters too. Give them a character arc of their own. Not so prominent as your protagonist’s of course, but they need to be real people, not just puppets in the background. To my first novel I added a manipulative friend, a secondary romance, a sensitive mother, a misleading neighbour and a suspicious brother. And a duel. The book was a lot better for the layers this added and I got it to 77,000 words. (It’s currently being serialised on Channillo.com)

If you thought you had a series in mind but the first one comes up significantly short of your intended word count, try blending two books together. 

 Too Long

If your book is over 100,000 words you should definitely consider cutting it down. A publisher is unlikely to consider it at that length, and as mentioned before, it will probably be too long for Amazon Createspace too. You have two options with this:

1. Edit it and cut out all unnecessary scenes and words. The fact is that if your book is too long, the most likely reason is that you haven’t edited it enough. Remember, you have to kill your darlings! If it doesn’t move the story along then it has to go. 

2. Turn it into two books. If you’ve edited it as much as you can and can’t possible cut anything else out, and it’s still over 100,000 words, then it’s because you have too much story to tell. You have a series on your hands! Find, or make, a break in the book and turn it into two. It can be quite a lot of work to do this, but worth it. 

 So, that’s what I do when my book comes out too long or short. What do you do? 


5 thoughts on “What to do if Your Book is Too Long or Too Short

  1. Susie Murphy says:

    This is the kind of thing I needed to read four years ago when I first started trying to get published. At the time, I was so proud of the fact that my novel had reached 180,000 words…


    Of course, I learned the hard way that such a word count was absolutely ludicrous. After attempting to edit it down, I ended up doing what you suggested above and actually split it into three books.

    I hope plenty of budding writers see your post, as I can say from experience that it is really sound advice!

    Liked by 2 people

    • bewritingblog says:

      Thanks so much Susie, that means a lot! Unfortunately, even some quite experience writers seem to have this idealized view that ‘a book is as long as it needs to be.’ I wish that were so, but it’s simply not the case! It’s a shame you had to find out the hard way, but at least you had the courage to do something about it. I do hope this post helps other writers to do the same if they need to.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Susie Murphy says:

        It was really daunting to tackle it but if I wasn’t prepared to put the work in to fix it then I may as well have given up on it four years ago! The mantra is ‘make your book the very best it can be’ – and if that means ripping it apart to do so, then so be it. 😉

        As you say, plenty of published authors could learn from this too. (Hey, George R.R. Martin…) They are definitely good guidelines to stick to!

        Liked by 1 person

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