Other Cool Blogs: Magical Words – Length

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Length Matters

Length matters when writing. To be marketable a story needs to be long enough, but not too long – fitting the genre and publisher requirements. Small presses make decisions on printing costs and book sizes allowed by print-on-demand companies. Novel or novella? Series, serial, or stand-alone? How much is the editing cost (usually by word count)?

How long can an anthology be and still break even? How many stories are needed to pull in a broad enough audience? How long can each short story be? Should flashes be allowed? How about a drabble?

Drabbles are exactly 100 words. Flashes fall under 2,000, usually hovering between 500 and 1,000. Short stories for anthologies start about 2,500 with 5,000 to 7,000 usually the sweet spot for little known writers and 10,000 to 15,000 for the anchor writers whose names appear on the front cover. Novellas, you are looking at 30,000 to 40,000, plus or minus 5,000 for the extreme ends. Novels are 70,000 for short and sweet genres like urban fantasy, romance, and mysteries; and 100,000 for the heavy worldbuilding speculative fics of science fiction and fantasy. Add 20% to these if a well-known author where a publishing house is willing to risk more editing costs.

The challenge is writing for a length, especially when your natural length is writing more or less than what is required. My natural length is short, really short. I’m naturally a poet – and not Norse Skald epics. I like tanka, a Japanese form of 31 syllables. I think in phrases, partial sentences. I don’t need to string together three to five sentences for a paragraph. My goal is nine to twenty phrases.

Flashes are beautiful.

And not marketable.

I’ve got to write longer. My natural length of 500 to 1,000 words, which means a short story is 10 flashes that need to hang together. A novella is 60 flashes and a novel 100 flashes.

Magical Words have had several episodes on writing to length. Here are some and their take-aways. Most focus on short stories since novel is the “assumed” length:

Coe, David B. “On Writing: A Novelist Takes on Short Stories”. 10/3/2011 –

On Writing: A Novelist – Writing a short story has different challenges than a novel: length, narrative aim, description (level) and method of writing. Mr. Coe states that to him, writing a short story is like writing a chapter in a novel. An internal arc, character growth, the driving of a reader forward, all remain the same. But the Method of writing is much slower. The articles does a good breakdown on the structural differences one finds in short stories.

Coe, David B. “On Writing: Short Fiction and Worldbuilding”. 4/1/2013 –

On Writing: Short Fiction – Sometimes, writing short stories of your characters can help flesh out ideas from your novels. These worldbuilding exercises (while necessary) don’t fit into the novel, as they are usually side stories or back stories, but, after the novel is done, they can be sold to anthologies as a marketing tool to point readers to your novel. They also can be used as special clues given to fans which follow you on patreon or your blog. (If you are one who normally writes large and want to scale down for short stories, David is you guy. His natural length is somewhere around 150,000 words. He approaches the problem of length from the opposite end as me. This is one of the great examples of each person’s writing style is different and what works for one person might not work for another.)

Jaffe, Stuart. “Publishing – Short Story Contracts”. 9/24/2010 – 

Jaffe, Stuart. “Writing – Scope”. 7/16/2010 – http://www.magicalwords.net/really-i-mean-it/writing-scope/

Writing Scope – Is the story the right size for a short story? Does it have changing viewpoints, and are there subplots? The list goes on about red flags to look for when figuring if a tale which wants telling is a short story or a novel.

Martin, Gail Z. “10 Reason to Consider Writing for Anthologies”. 3/9/2016 –

10 Reasons – Focuses on why to market to anthologies. “#4. New Sandbox. A book is a commitment. A Short Story is a vacation.” and “#6. Test-driving publishers”, anthologies set up an environment where writers and publishers can see if they are compatible. “#9. Reusable content” – when the anthology rights revert (and be sure to have a time limit built in, industry acceptance is one year), the writer can publish a collection of short stories they had in various anthologies. The list goes on.

Massey, Misty. “Inviting A Crowd to the Party”. 11/5/2015 – http://www.magicalwords.net/misty-massey/inviting-a-crowd-to-the-party/

Inviting a Crowd – Limit the number of characters in a short story. A short story is a love affair; you don’t have to introduce them to the whole family.