But How Long Is A Piece Of String? #amwriting #marketing

If Martin Cavannagh of Reedsy keeps sending me material for my #amwriting Monday posts, Imma hafta puddim onna payroll. Maybe as poorfrader or sumpin.

ANYWAY, the Reedsy folks have put together a post on novel lengths. Yes, that’s supposed to be plural. If you don’t already know, lemme tell ya: Different genres generally have different ranges of word count. Books for different ages have different ranges of word count. Even different publishers can have different ranges of word count they prefer to see.

As always, you need to check a publisher’s or agent’s guidelines before submitting the book. Better yet, have a word count range in mind — not before you write or as you write, but certainly as you edit.

This Reedsy post covers most, if not all, of the bases, including the fact that there will always be exceptions. Also including the fact that you’re heading for heartbreak if you count on being one of those exceptions.

As for my title, I asked an agent once how long my fantasy novel needed to be, and he said, “How long is a piece of string?” The answer supposedly being, “How long does it need to be?” The appropriate answers, though, might have been, “How long does a publisher want it before they’ll look at it?” or “How long does a reader looking for your sort of book expect?”

‘Cause, look: Maybe you write for your own pleasure or artistic expression, but once you step into the marketplace, you’re in somebody else’s sandbox. You write for you; you sell for the buyer. If that irritates or sullies you, I’m sorry. Either accept and deal with that or you might as well go all Emily Dickinson and fill a desk drawer with with your work. Even if you self-publish, if you want to sell your self-published book, you need for somebody to buy it, amIright?

Think of word count within or just outside expectations as a tool in your grasp, rather than as an imposition. If you choose to (or feel you must) ignore what the marketplace advises, try to realize you choose to put that tool aside and to work without it. Maybe that will alleviate some of your frustration, if you don’t sell as quickly or in as much volume as you expected.

A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Read some of the articles on Reedsy. They’re quite good!



I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but now live in the woods in southern Indiana. Though I only write fiction, I love to read non-fiction. The more I learn about this world, the more fantastic I see it is.

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One thought on “But How Long Is A Piece Of String? #amwriting #marketing

  1. Dan Antion

    October 2, 2017 at 10:24am

    As I started publishing blog posts more often, I tried to see if I could get the point across in fewer words. I went from posts that were 1,000 – 1,200 words to posts that are usually somewhere in and around 800 words. I’ve read that 400-500 is ideal for a blog post – I can’t do that, at least I don’t want to do that. I do like trying, though. I like to see if I can package my message in a smaller box.

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    • Author

      Marian Allen

      October 2, 2017 at 11:26am

      My best practice for that was when I was selling to The Phone Book, a two-year arts grant in England, that sold phone subscriptions to stories delivered to your phone screen. They wanted stories 150 words or fewer, but paid best for stories 150 CHARACTERS or fewer, including titles, spaces, and punctuation. Talk about cutting a story to the bare bone — they wanted them cut to the marrow! That’s where I learned to do my Hot Flashes, although I freely admit few of them would make the cut.

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  2. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

    October 2, 2017 at 3:32pm

    167K. Two more times, and I’m finished.

    Reconsider that later, because I don’t seem to be able to write short, and, when I’m finished, don’t seem to be able to remove any. Plus I’m well along in years, and not about to let some youngsters tell me how long I can write, and I suppose anyone at Reedsy is still young – because they’re still working!

    I have the same problem with doctors. Whippersnappers!

    And lots and lots of blogging posts. Hehe.

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    • Author

      Marian Allen

      October 2, 2017 at 4:55pm

      The posts aren’t about how to write, they’re about how to write to market. As I said in the post, word counts and other people’s expectations are tools you can use or not use, as you choose. If I’m submitting something to a magazine, you better believe I let the editor tell me how long I can write! lol

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      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

        October 2, 2017 at 5:05pm

        I think some writers are flexible, and can actually choose how long to write something, and write to market. I envy them that flexibility, even as I trudge along, because they will go much farther.

        There are many writers who enjoy writing in more than one genre, sometimes simultaneously. Again, I envy them – and wish them well. And they’re out there doing great things with indie, and learning how to market, and practicing copywriting, and going to conventions – it’s an attractive ideal, and I think there are quite a number of very successfull indie authors like this. They have choices – and control. And now, with self-publishing, a fair share of the rewards.

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