Length of story

by Donna Nabors
(Nicholasville, Ky. USA)

Question: Even though I've told my story the way I intended in a little over 41,100 words, would it be more advantageous to add more to lengthen the manuscript?


Answer: What you have there is at the short end of the novel range. Some might call it a novella.

Short novels are sometimes published as standalone books, but they are less preferred because they often have to sell at the same price as a standard-length novel, yet they look like less value to the buyer. Also, they can disappear on a bookstore shelf.

Short novels have become more common in recent years thanks to ebooks. Ebooks can often be shorter, because, unlike with printed books, buyers don't look at how thick ebooks are before buying. The challenge is that it's much harder to market an ebook that doesn't also have a printed version.

It is also true that a long novel (over 120,000 words) can be more of a problem, because long books require a much bigger commitment -- not just from readers but also from publishers who have to pay the extra printing costs. The sweet spot for first novels is typically 80,000 to 90,000 words.

Ultimately, what matters most is how good the story is. No one objects to a shorter novel if it is
brilliant and has strong commercial potential. Animal Farm and The Great Gatsby, for example, have done quite well.

You might also consider investigating literary magazines in your genre. Some of these publish novellas, sometimes serializing them in two or more parts. The advantage here is that (assuming you only sell first publication rights to the magazine) you can get paid twice. You can get money from the magazine, and then later publish the novel as a standalone work, for additional royalties.

If you decide to expand your novel, the one thing you must be avoid is adding words for the sake of adding words. Expanding the story only makes sense if you are developing it, if you are making it better -- making the plot more interesting, creating character arcs that engage the reader, etc.. Padding that doesn't engage the reader just weakens the story.

(A case where this was done successfully is the SF classic Flowers for Algernon, a short story which the author later expanded into a novel.)

Most of the time, editing involves cutting the boring bits of a story and making it shorter, probably because most writers are too verbose in their first draft. (Just a little warning -- your story could get shorter with editing.)

My bottom line answer... not necessarily.

Best of luck.

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