Is my novel too long?

For self-publishing, no.

For traditional publishing, maybe.

Here is a tidbit from Janet Reid’s blog:

A nice young man in cheerful blue print shirt sat down and although I forget the question he started with, the problem was that his novel was 274,000 words. And no, it couldn’t be cut. Not at all. Plus, an editor read it, and she loved it. A lot. Not an editor from a publisher that acquired his genre (fantasy) sadly.

You know what I said: it’s too long.

But but he spluttered, this editor doesn’t think so! She loved it!

I explained that the reason it was too long had nothing to do with love; it was all about money. It would cost more to print a book that long, and a debut trade paperback novel priced at $30 was a dealbreaker for most publishers who profess to want to turn a profit.

He literally could not hear what I was saying.

He said goodbye, and thank you (he was a nice guy!) and off he went.

Several more people came and went than another lovely lady sat down, and I squinted a bit; she looked familiar. “How do we know each other?” I asked.

“I met you here last year, and you told me my novel was too long.”

Now this can go one of two ways. I have been known to tell writers that if they discover my advice was wrong (usually about how to pitch something) they should email me and tell me “neener neener.” After all, unchecked, I will continue to think I’m right 100% of the time.

“How long was it?” I asked, with trepidation.

“274,000 words.”


“I spent the last year cutting it down to 175,000 words,” she continued. “I don’t have question, I want to thank you. Telling me to cut was the best and hardest advice I got at the conference.”


Well, that certainly does sound extremely long. My very longest is 194,000 words — but it was not that long when the editor gave it a thumb’s up. It kept going up during revisions and she kept not minding . . . and of course it was not my debut novel, which probably helped.

I wonder if the first person with the long book might be able to break it into two self-contained books in a duology. That might be a way around this issue.

Janet winds up this post by asking, “What is the hardest advice you ever got that wound up helping you?” So click through and read the comments if you are interested.

Right now all editing seems like a piece of cake to me, including cutting a manuscript by 50%. That will change in a few days, I expect, when I finally finish this dratted manuscript and have the full rough draft DONE. It’s amazing how writing a new book seems hard when you’re editing, and editing seems hard when you’re working on a first draft …

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4 thoughts on “Is my novel too long?”

  1. Though I have heard that in indie, it sells even better if you break the length down to four or five volumes.

  2. I bet that is true.

    I have a long one that is at the moment tentatively broken into a duology. It hasn’t gone anywhere with trad publishers, so far. If I ever bring out myself, I will think seriously about chopping into about four pieces or five pieces.

  3. I know there are binding limitations, too. Book bindings can only practically hold so many pages. And the OP was talking paper publication, not epub. To fit more into the binding you need small print, and fine/expensive paper. I have a 1″ thick LOTR, which is gorgeous, but the paper is so fine it’s difficult to turn the pages. And the print is small.

    There’s a reason Cyteen was broken into three for paperback publication. Green Angel Tower , was split for paperback, too. And the hardcover of GAT had unusually small print. I wonder how well it sold..?

    If you do chop it, just make sure it’s clear that we aren’t getting the whole thing in one go. People will miss it anyway, and complain, but rational ones will see it and know the complainer was blind/stupid/whatever.

  4. So true about indicating clearly on the cover when a novel has been broken up.

    If I ever do that, I expect I will put Part I, Part II, Part III — and also bring all the parts out at once. If the whole thing is written, I don’t see any advantage to spreading it out.

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