I just finished up my first draft of the long-gestating Bardsworth novel! What a great feeling it is to finish a manuscript. It’s been a while!
I had to do a little research, however, after a debate that Katie and I had over the word count. To me, word count doesn’t mean much. As long as the story is engaging and complete, I’m happy with it. I know people who get very caught up in the word count stuff, and that just seems needlessly stressful to me.
Now, I was planning on stopping the book much earlier than I did, but Katie made some good points, not just about word count, but about it being a more complete story if I added a few more of my story lines from the comic in there. And she was right – I have no problem admitting that. But once I reached a point where I was 100% certain that the book was done, she brought up the word count thing again. So I looked at a handful of sources online.
Wikipedia isn’t much help, as there are only a few sources cited. Novelist Jane Smiley (someone I’ve never heard of) apparently claims that a novel is typically between 100,000 and 175,000 words. Then they go on to cite National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) as saying 50,000 words is novel length. Then they point out that the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America specifies (for it’s Nebula Award category) that a novel is over 40,000 words.
That’s kind of all over the place, isn’t it?
Moving on, I found a random site called Novel Writing Help that points out that the standard advice one will receive is that novel word count should be between 80,000 and 100,000 words, but then claims that a novel is anything over 50,000. That sounds legit, but the validity of the claim is a little suspect, as the author of the website is hardly an academic, just a shmoe like myself giving out free advice.
Finally, I found a column written by a literary agent named Bree Ogden. Someone wrote in asking about word count, and her answer was that a novel should be between 70,000 and 115,000, with the “sweet spot” being about 90,000.
So let’s review the numbers, shall we? 40,000. 50,000. 90,000. Between 100,000 and 175,000. Between 70,000 and 115,000. It’s enough to give you a headache, isn’t it? I mean, I guess we could take the average of all those numbers and use that as our figure, but that’s math. I’m a writer; I don’t do math.
But ultimately, this is what I realized – most of the word count stuff relates exclusively to people who are trying to be published traditionally. But being a self-published writer grants me the freedom to do whatever the heck I want. I can use the numbers as a guideline (whenever I decide which numbers to actually use), but I’m not beholden to a “rule” of the word count. I became a self-published writer so I could break rules. If I haven’t stated it before, I have a problem with authority. I’m certainly never going to write a 20,000 word story and call it a novel, but if it feels like a novel to me, it’s a novel.
So, how long is the Bardsworth novel? Well, there’s no point in saying anything at this point. It’s the first draft – I’ll be adding and cutting things all over the place. And that’s another reason that I can’t be worried about the word count at this point, because it’s going to change. But as long as the story holds up and everything is structurally sound, in the end I don’t think that people are going to worry about the word count when they’re paying something like $2.99 for a digital download of the novel.
At least, I hope they won’t. Otherwise I might have to find a new audience.
(Just kidding, I love you guys.)