What I’ve learned about writing a novel and trying to publish, part one.

I am admittedly an utter newbie to this whole process, so I’m no expert.

But in medicine, the philosophy is “See one. Do one. Teach one.” As soon as you learn something, you pass on the knowledge to those behind you on the learning curve.

And, you don’t find the words “Academic Director” in your title without being inclined to try to teach.

There are several things I’ve learned along this crazy journey that I’d never thought about or that straight-out surprised me. So, I’ve decided to mention what I’ve learned here in case it’s helpful to someone else.

I came home after a 24-hour shift in October and unexpectedly started writing what has turned out to be “The Edge of Memory.” I wrote the first two chapters that day. By that night, I posted to my chitties:

I have started doing something I have always wanted to do.

It’s a huge overwhelming creative undertaking.

And I both want to tell people all about it and ask their opinions, AND keep it all jealousy close to my chest.

I honestly don’t know if I will ever complete this task.

And while on one hand, telling people about it might provide motivation, it would also embarrass the heck out of me if I never manage to follow through.

I feel like a kid learning to ride a bike… I am pedaling like a madwoman and have just seemingly found my balance, so I want to shout, “Hey! Look at me go!”, but that might just be inviting everyone to watch me fall.

Can anybody relate? Anybody who is not actually learning to ride a bike, that is?

My friend Sandra posted in that thread that she understood completely and that she had signed up to write 50,000 words for National Novel Writing Month in November. Which is another thing I had never heard of.

That was the first time I considered wordcount. How long is a novel supposed to be? What counts as a “novel” versus a novella?

I researched this topic when I was procrastinating on actual writing, or incubating some plot problem. And I found a lot of different answers, so I hoped my novel would end up somewhere in the overlapping range of 80,000 to 100,000 words.

I formatted my novel file to 6 x 9 paperback size. Pulling Kent Haruf’s Plainsong from my shelf, I obsessively thumbed through how many pages I’d written thus far to gauge whether I was on track throughout my first draft.

As fate and my characters would have it, my novel stands at barely over 90,000 words. It has 40 chapters averaging 2000 – 2500 words each. So, I ended up just about where I wanted to be, which justifies all the research and obsessing.

But I could have saved a lot of time if FinePrint Agent Colleen Lindsay had posted this analysis on novel lengths a few months earlier. Incidentally, her blog is quite funny and worth checking out even if you’re not interested in publishing.

So, things I have learned about novel lengths so far:

  1. 80,000 – 100,000 is a good average
  2. Erring on the shorter side is probably best if you’re a new writer
  3. There are different expected novel lengths by genre
  4. Less than 50,000-60,000 words will probably be considered a novella (rather than a novel) and is harder to publish.

I’ll post some other things I’ve learned along the way in my next entry.

2 Responses

  1. […] May 12, 2008 by H. L. Dyer It’s hard to believe it’s been a month already since What I’ve Learned, Part One. […]

  2. […] expected book lengths by genre, so bear that in mind when marketing. I posted about wordcounts here and included Colleen Lindsay’s wordcount breakdown by […]

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