Finishing the first draft of my latest manuscript left me with mixed feelings. I was happy the story was done, but it had turned out much, much shorter than I had anticipated, just a little over 46,000 words, according to the writing software’s word counter. Leaving it too long to be called a novella, but too short to be marketable as a novel outside of e-publishing. To confirm my apprehension over the length, I did a Google search on word counts. One of the links that came up was this forum thread on manuscript formatting from Absolute Write, which listed the general guidelines for length as:
Short Short: Under 2,000 words
Short story: 2,000–7,500 words
Novelette (General Fiction): 7,500–15,000 words
Novelette (SF & Fantasy): 7,500–17,500 words
Novella (General Fiction): 15,000–30,000 words
Novella (SF & Fantasy): 17,500–40,000 words
Novel (General Fiction): Over 30,000 words
Novel (SF & Fantasy): Over 40,000 words
A further breakdown by genre/sub-genre can be found on Colleen Lindsay’s blog.
Though I have several shorter stories in various stages of completion, I’d had really big plans for this one. I have one other full-length manuscript that I’m currently polishing, hoping to submit it to agents, and expected this one to be my second. The shorter work, I always planned to direct submit to e-publishers, in part because of the genre. This one didn’t quite fit that mold, however. It was disappointing, to say the least.
But on that same forum thread, there is also a discussion of different ways to calculate word counts: word processor counts, the 250 words per page/ “white space” method, and something called the “random manual” method. The “white space” method is the one traditionally used in publishing, but I rarely used it myself. I wrote my first novel long-hand, in pen (if you ever tried to type anything on my mother’s old manual typewriter, you’d prefer writing by hand, too) and would also count my words by hand, until I finally switched over to writing on a computer. Then, I became more dependent on the word processor method.
Out of curiosity, I decided to try the “white space” method on my latest manuscript. 208 pages = 52,000 words. Better, but still a little short. Fortunately, I realized that one of my antagonists did an unintentional disappearing act in the middle of the story, so when I work on that, it should definitely be a little longer, but it may still end up being too short for what I originally intended it to be. Only time will tell.
Since there was a pretty good-sized difference between the two counts, I decided to do a quick calculation on my full-length novel, which, at 98,000 words, is very close to the 100,000 word upper limit of acceptability. Turns out there are 458 pages — approximately 114, 500 words — and it’s not an “epic” fantasy, which is allowed a top count of approximately 110,000 words.
Looks like I’ve got a bit of cutting and tightening to do.