How long is too long?

There’s been a lot of talk about word count lately, as noted by this post, and it’s left me wondering exactly how much the length of a book really factors in whether or not people buy it.  I’m not intimidated by the length of a book, nor does it matter to me when selecting one to read.  If it’s a new author, a more experienced author- again, it doesn’t matter.  It’s whether or not the premise is appealing and if, after skimming the first few pages, the writing is good.

The publishing industry justifies its stance by citing costs of production, which I understand, but I’m wondering if there’s any merit to their thought that people aren’t as inclined to pick up a book by a debut author if it’s a tome of impressive length. So, what say you?

Using the traditional (and somewhat inaccurate) means of calculating word count, 250 words per page, I took it upon myself to figure out word counts of popular debut novels.

Twilight: 124500

Time Traveler’s Wife:  134000

Digital Fortress: 107500

And for some miscellaneous trivia:  Gone with the Wind came in at 239750 words  while Heinlein’s debut novel, Rocket Ship Galileo, only came to about 41ooo words.

So, what say you?  Is there anything in particular about length that might make you have second thoughts before purchasing it?


12 responses to “How long is too long?

  • Anna C. Bowling

    I picked size doesn’t matter – I’ve read great huge books (Outlander, anyone?) and great short books (seems to work for Harlequin) and everything in between. As long as it’s the right length to tell the story, fine by me. Though publishers have to consider what fits on shelves and paper costs and the like.

    Can I give an honorable mention to the fourth choice? I do not wish to be SHUNNED!

    • kimberlyloomis

      I’m in the same camp as you, Anna. Mostly. I’ve read some small books, Harlequin as well as even some relatively short literary works, and have of course read those massive tomes that could easily double as a weapon (Gone with the Wind, Atlas Shrugged, Harry Potter 7)- I have no complaints about any excepting when an editor didn’t do their job and the book was way longer than it needed to be (or too short).

      Thanks for taking the time to respond, Anna!

  • Carol Kilgore

    I agree with you and Anna. Premise, voice, and writing style. The book I’m reading now has more than 500 pages. The one I recently finished had less than 300. But publishing wise, I think new writers are smarter to come in more toward the minimum length in today’s market because I think the publishers are more likely to take a chance with less cash outlay. This is assuming they can print one book and have a choice between an 80,000 word story or a 120,000 story and length is the final deciding factor.

    • kimberlyloomis

      Good points, Carol. I guess I’m just an idealist when it comes to certain things and like to think the words matter, not so much the count (within reason). You are definitely correct about new authors and how they should aim to come in a bit lower. That thought is plaguing me as I think about editing AGAIN to get the word count a bit lower before I send out another query.

  • Barbara Edwards

    I prefer longer works. I like complicated plots and characters and the story needs to be long to develop.
    I also write longer for the same reason.

    • kimberlyloomis

      I feel the same way, Barbara. It’s always about balance. Some long books I’ve read could have been much shorter and been all the better for it, while some shorter works could have used fleshing out. Ultimately I’m surprised when I like shorter works as opposed to vice versa.

  • Teresa

    Where other people have to weed (edit, cut out) words, I struggle to have enough words. I have written short stories all my life and now that I want to go the novel route I am…having trouble with fleshing out my stories…writing words…you know more.

    Maybe I’m a minimalist.

    PS I love your blog!!

    • kimberlyloomis

      Thanks so much Teresa! Haha! I’m in that weeding camp. I used to be more minimalist then I realized I wasn’t describing things I saw in my head to the “audience”. Now, I’m forever tweaking, rewording and deleting unnecessary pronouns. For me to make a short, succinct statement around the house is to be greeted with my husband asking, “Are you okay?”

  • ElanaJ

    I’ve never given any thought to length while purchasing. Although I will say that I’ve read two very (over 500 pages) long books recently, and I think they could’ve been shortened by at least (AT LEAST) 100 pages each. I found myself skimming whole chapters just to get to something important. And I don’t think that’s good.

    My agent had me cut about 8000 words from my MS, citing the fact that debut novelists have a better chance with a lower word count. So I do think it’s on the minds of the industry pros.

    • kimberlyloomis

      I totally hear you about the skimming problem. There are some authors out there whom seem to be beyond the editing process and, honestly, it’s turned me off from some of their work. One in particular I’ve been a long time fan of and I couldn’t finish the last book I picked up because the first 100 pages were rehash of info already covered.

      Definitely seems to be on the mind of the industry professionals, however. I’m cringing as I think about going back and editing. Again. I justify my reluctance by saying I’ll do it after I hear back about the Golden Heart.

  • J.L. Campbell

    Doesn’t matter how long it is, as long as the story premise grabs my attention, and I flip through and the story still looks good, I’m good to go.

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