Category Archives: Publishing Business

Articles of the Week July 24-30

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The Elusive Word Count

I’ve kept on with my writing like a good little writer should, but for the past two weeks, I’ve been struggling with and getting aggravated over what may seem, and probably is, trivial.

Word count.

For writers just starting out, you may have realized that there are set guidelines for the average amount of words in an MS (manuscript) for any given genre. Heck, they’ve even incorporated a general word count for book genres in Sims 3! And it’s fairly accurate for the most part, though I’ll beg to differ on their length for “Romance” fiction. Speaking of trivial…

If you’d like a list of standard word counts by genre, here’s a decent and relatively up-to-date list. I want to focus upon the current genre I’m writing: high fantasy to include epic fantasy. The typical word count for high/epic fantasy is 100k-120k words.

Problem:

I began my story with a word count goal of at least 180k. Why? Because I read a lot of long high fantasy and sci-fi novels, to include the Dune series, Martin, Erikson, Goodkind, Williams, etc. and I did an average word count of their novels. They reached 200k and above. So I, being the typical uninformed self, thought I can do that too. And after 30k words into my story, I really thought I could. I still think I could make this a 180k+ word novel. But then for reasons unknown (I really don’t know), I thought, “I’m not a published author. And wait, I hear agents have word count limits. I know I’ve looked into this thing before, but that was a long time ago. Wait, let me look into this again.”

So I began looking up and kept arriving at the numbers 100-120k words. I was crushed. Devastated. Maybe I’m delusional, that my story really wouldn’t be that long, I’m just hoping it’ll be 180k words. But seeing that Book 1 of my story is going to end at around 50k words, it’s possible, or not. I’m not sure. And that’s my problem. Agents give leeway to authors who have a proven track record, which applies to most of those authors I just listed up there. First-time authors? Much less leeway. There are always exceptions, but they are so few and far between that you won’t be able to disprove what I just said up there.

Solution:

  1. I’m thinking much too far ahead. I haven’t even finished my story yet! I’m not even halfway through it, and I’m already fretting about an imaginary word count!
  2. This is a first draft. I’m sure there will be a lot of condensing, merging, deleting (*cringe*), and other methods of reducing that word count.

What I learned from this sad episode is: Don’t worry about technicalities while you’re writing. That’s the whole point of a first draft.

Worry about all these things when you complete your MS. This doesn’t mean I’m going to make the 120k word mark, I might miss it by a long shot (note I’m still confident about making it a super-long novel — I’ll get a good laugh at this when I finish at 90k words!), but it won’t prevent me from querying it. Not that I’m a phenomenal writer, but I’ll never forget what one writer told me: “Write a good story, let your agent worry about it’s length. Especially if you are a first time novelist, the most important thing is quality. Tell a gripping tale and it will find a home.”

ps. For kicks and giggles, I did a word count of a couple fantasy books in my library:

“Wizard’s First Rule”  Terry Goodkind; random page: 366 words. TOR Fantasy, 1994. 836p x 360 = 300,960 total words*
“Otherland River of Blue Fire” Tad Williams; random page: 374 words. DAW Books, 1998. 675p x 370 = 249,750 total words

How’s them numbers?

*total words is average. Could be more or less!

pps. Just look at the fretting and the frustration over word count … there’s more than one page of this! It’s just awful.


Some Peeves about This Endeavor of Writing

I’ve come to conclude, with all these arguments for and against self-published or published material, to submit work to a publisher first. Subject it to criticism. Maybe they’ll even tell you why they like it or not. And work with that. If you don’t agree with what they have to say, or are pretty sure that they’re wrong, then go the self-publishing route after a round of feedback.

— If you’re impatient and you need to see your novel in tangible book format NOW, then self-publish.

— If you want to self-publish because the profits from it are much more enticing than going through a publisher, then self-publish.

— If you want to improve your work, you write for fun, and write because you love it, then try that publisher route first.

For now, I feel that self-publishing, being relatively new, is still very malleable. Opinions are still being made of it. Sure, there may be a lot of self-published crap out there, but isn’t it all relative? For the most part, we know that publishers need to make a dollar, too, and they’re looking out for themselves. Trends come and go, and there’s so much talent out there that is yet to be discovered. Not to mention that there are hundreds upon hundred of publishers out there. I’m not saying submit your piece to every publisher out there before going the self-publishing route. Be reasonable, give yourself a limit, and if you get nothing out of the experience (to include the contract), and you really want to get your book out there to the complete stranger, then self-publish.

I recommend Smashwords.

Also, another peeve of mine is when articles compare novel writing with writing a movie script. Sure, there are some complicated movie plots out there, but for the most part, it’s very direct (has to be because of time restraints) and generally quite restricting as far as character and backstory development goes. You know why reading the book the movie was based on is so much more fulfilling than watching the film. That’s why. So unless you’re writing a screenplay, I can’t recommend taking scriptwriting advise for your novel. No, I’m not condoning wandering from your plot and theme just because you have the liberty of filling up 200 pages as opposed to a screenplay’s average 100 pages (with typically a lot of white space on the paper). Directness and making every scene count is essential. The fun of novel-writing is flowering it up, putting in a lot of twists and expounding on certain details, subplots and description. Modern Hollywood is not a good example for how you should write your novel.

That’s my humble opinion though, of course.


Misleading Quotes

# Writing fiction isn’t expressing yourself, it’s creating an experience for your reader.

And yet we all write because we love it. Right? I’m not sitting here at my desk thinking about you. I’m actually sitting here thinking about me, about the fact that I know something important and I want you to get a kick out of learning it from me.

Which leads me inevitably to admit that the reader is the only one in this relationship who counts. I might very well have something you need, but if you don’t want it I’ve done all this work for nothing. Not only that, but you’re not here just for what I know, you’re here for the experience of learning it, and even more than that you’re here for the indescribable magic that happens when you find yourself sandwiched between what you’re learning and how you feel about learning it.

That’s the magic that changes a reader’s life. And the writer’s job is working that magic.

I discovered this insightful paragraph during my weekly blog perusing, and a quote that many writers like to express is – I know you know which quote I’m going to say here – “If there’s a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” — Toni Morrison

Now it’s a very encouraging quote, and maybe I missed the whole gist of it, but may I just say two things: it hasn’t been written because no one is interested. The idea is not good. Just forget it. And two, the majority of people who love this quote (for all those yummy feel-good vibes) don’t have the execution skills to write that story. Bad penmanship that is published today, especially the more popular contemporary novels of today, has only the publishers to blame. Grammar is hardly heeded today, as long as a dollar is involved. The story doesn’t even have to be great. Bad writing inspires bad writers, and writers that should not be writing at all. Perhaps I’m too picky, or perhaps I adhere to the rules of grammar and good storytelling too much, but I generally have no respect or admiration for contemporary authors. Especially the sellouts. There is a certain structure to good books that should always be adhered to. Straying from that architecture and insisting upon writing “in your own style/format” is ridiculous. Unless you are a clone of Dumas or Fitzgerald, then take your hands away from the keyboard and read your classics that have been time-tested and approved. Now I’m not saying that no one should write until they’ve read x amount of classics, just don’t expect to have a good grasp on real fiction from today’s best-sellers.

Also, I’m becoming more and more convinced that there are millions of great unspoken stories yet to come, but being the youthful age that I am, they will not all come in my lifetime. Sometimes, nay, oftentimes when I write, I have that dark spirit whispering in my ear: “That story’s been told before! It’s nothing new, so just toss it!” but being a writer, I push that aside. There’s no choice!

So there’s nothing wrong with writing for your entertainment. Hell, write a sequel your favorite book if it makes you happy. But readers are fickle, typically unenlightened, and from what I’ve seen and read statistics of, like to stick to the same old shmoozy authors that write the same crap over and over, just with different characters. So to heck with trying to write a bestseller, because those big publishing companies would rather get the money-making books than select something of real talent. Real talent is found in indie authors, but not all indie authors. Which is why I really dig the self-published and e-book business. Of course, it’s a double-edged sword. Now anyone can get a book out there (myself included). Doesn’t matter if they still write like a second grader, or if they’ve got the talent of Ernest Hemingway. Finding a good self-published book, and I mean a good one, not a remake of what’s hip, is next to impossible.

One of my favorite writing quotes is by Anton Chekhov, which I found while perusing in the shelves of this trashy place called B & N. I had not even a checkbook to write in, nor the money to buy the book, so it has become a paraphrased jot in my mind that I am loving more and more every day. It goes something like this: When you have finally completed your manuscript, bind it nicely and place it in a chest for a year. After a year, take it out of the chest and burn it.

But anyway, it irks me the amount of people who proclaim themselves as authors and writers, that they have talent and original ideas. And these are the same people who have no clue who Dostoevsky or Thoreau are, or have never read Thackeray and despise Shakespeare. And yet, the illiterate follow the illiterate. And as long as the publishers foresee the dollar sign because they know that many readers are just puppets, the literature illiterate and gross users of the English language may one day be considered acceptable in the Chicago Manual of Style. And what a sad day it would be for humanity.

May I leave with you with some quotes that I do find relevant to a writer.

Write down the thoughts of the moment.  Those that come unsought for are commonly the most valuable.
-Francis Bacon

What no wife of a writer can ever understand is that a writer is working when he’s staring out of the window.
-Burton Rascoe

Sit down, and put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer.  But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.
-Colette, Casual Chance, 1964

Some men see things as they are and ask why. Others dream things that never were and ask why not.
-George Bernard Shaw

How vain it is to sit down to write if you have not stood up to live.
-Henry David Thoreau