Lengthy Standards // How Long Should Your Manuscript Be?

Spring-boarding off Irma’s recent post “Should you count words,” I want to address ideal lengths for your writing.

The standard break down by word count I’ve seen goes like this:

Flash Fiction ~ under 1,000 words

Short Story ~ 1,000 – 10,000 words

Novella ~ 10,000 – 40,000 words

Novel ~ over 40,000 words

Overall, length is dependent on genre. Mysteries are rarely as long as contemporaries, and those are rarely as long as dystopian or sci-fi.

I have written flash fiction (500 words), a short story (5,000 words), a novella (30,000 words), and a novel (100,000 words). Knowing your word count for you genre keeps you on track as you write … the standard track.

All of that up there ^^ is standard. You have to pay quite a bit of attention to length when submitting to a publishing house because they like unique stories in standard length.

Here’s the good news: you can ignore the standards. Just like with the romance cliché discussion, it’s a fine line. Those standards have become so standard that some publishers and readers will dislike you for crossing the line. Guess what? Once you know the standards of publication, the rules of writing inside and out … you get to tromp all over them with style.

Have you seen published works that do. things. like

T

H

I

S

?

That is not standard. Yet some authors get away with it for one reason: they’re breaking the rules the right way.

When you’re going to go against the standard recommended length for your genre (my Christian contemporary really should have been topped off at 90,000 words) you have to do one thing: make sure every word counts. That’s it. Be concise. Lots of concise isn’t short, but each word still has purpose.

Manuscripts that are considered “too long” can be within the recommended word range. So why the complaints? Because they feel too long. They haven’t been edited well enough and so useless words drag the reader along. Don’t do that.

Don’t stifle your own book in the confines of word count, either. Five thousand words too many can be okay. Five thousand words too few can also be okay. In both cases, say only that which needs to be said.

Then who can complain? Well, readers can complain by leaving a bad review. “It was perfect but too much perfection for one book.” I’ve gotten one such review: 4 stars instead of 5 because of length. I was warned this could happen if I didn’t shorten the manuscript by about 10,000 words.

Utlimately, as always, the decision is up to you. I reread my manuscript, whittling little sentences down. I cut two whole scenes because I could see the redundancy. It made about a 1,200 word difference. I decided that Martin Hospitality was meant to be a little long. I had to decide that I was okay with that and confidant in each word. All the 5 star reviews and demands for a sequel (more content!) have encouraged me. A little too long was the right length.

The scary thing about writing is that there is a right and wrong & a cause and effect. The choices you make for your writing matter. Don’t take them lightly. But don’t forget: you always have a choice.

~~~~~

Have you ever written something too long or too short for its niche? What reaction did you get? What are your thoughts on “standard length”?

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abiclaire

abiclaire

author of #MartinHospitality | blogger | freelance editor | INTJ | daughter of the King | writing is my ministry | reading is my pastime

463 thoughts on “Lengthy Standards // How Long Should Your Manuscript Be?

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  234. This was very interesting. Actually, all of the books I’ve written have been below the standard word length. I still remember receiving my book in the mail for the first time and feeling disappointed when I read through it in less than two hours.

    1. Yay, I’m glad! See, it’s good that you know these things. Brief doesn’t mean it can’t be 1000% amazing. Your best solution is going to be having others read it. If they feel it’s shallow or underdeveloped, you have room to grow! If they don’t ask you to elaborate, you have broken the standard with a perfectly gorgeous, self-contained book and that’s okay! 🙂

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