PART THREE: How Long?
Imagine for a moment that you’re a building contractor and talking with a homeowner about redesigning their kitchen. You’d be required to listen to their desires then explain how you plan to make those dreams come true. You’d be expected to come up with a few bells and whistles and cost cutting suggestions they hadn’t thought about and you’d be responsible for assuring that the project got done. Then what? The home owners will ask a series of “How” questions. “How much will it cost?” “How disrupted will my life be?” “How soon can I expect this to be finished?” If you answer all those questions to the customer’s satisfaction, they just may hire you for the job.
Now, put down the hammer and pick up your keyboard. You’re writing a book. For the purpose of this brief exercise, let’s imagine it’s a non-fiction book about kitchen herb gardening. You’re a closet foodie and an expert at it: your backyard rosemary bush is as big and wide and fragrant as a pine. Neighbors for blocks comment on the scent of your sweet basil. Every day you cook with freshly picked chives and thyme, cilantro and peppery parsley. It’s a hobby you love and you just know you can write a book that will make everyone else fall in love with it too.
To do a non-fiction book, the author is required to put together a proposal. It’s easier than you think. Imagine planting your garden or planning your kitchen renovation. All you need is to compile all then details in a clear fashion and cover all the bases. In the case of the gardening book, you are the contractor. Before you even start the project (write the words), you need to propose the plan and hope the homeowner (agent/publisher) chooses you. Now, for your book you’ll be gathering all the information that makes you an expert at kitchen herb gardening, from the first time you cooked with your grandma, to how you discovered that simple household vinegar sprayed along the fence kept certain pests away. You’ll decide on specific sections for the book and what you want in it. Then you’ll answer a series of “How” questions.
This is the exact same process used to build your Book Business Plan. And one of the most important “How” questions you must answer is, “How long?”
Yes, you’re writing fiction. No, you almost never need to write a proposal for fiction, although I have heard tell of how a few agents may require a proposal for a book series from first time authors. Putting together a proposal is a wise practice for any kind of writing. If nothing else, it compiles everything you need to know about your book, your plot, your marketing plan, your platform and your vision for the book.
Today though, all we need to talk about is … How long?
If your book was to be non-fiction, how long, or how many pages is vital for the publisher to determine the cost of producing the book. How many illustration? Color? Black and white? How many pages of reference information? Is there a bibliography?
But hey, for fiction, it doesn’t work that way. But oh … how long your book is or will be is very, very important. Word count places your book into specific categories, formulates genre specifications and helps publishers determine which imprint is most suited for the book. Here are a few notes.
According to Wikipedia
7,500 words and under – Short Story
7,500 to 17,500 words – Novelette
17,500 – 40,000 words – Novella
40,000 and up – Novel
Now, let’s explore further. These particular word counts seem to fit fine with traditional publishing, self publishing, independent publishing and vanity presses. E-publishing may look at these word counts differently, possibly because of the screen reading nature of their product. For example, just yesterday I learned that Wild Child Publishing has temporarily capped the word count at 70,000 until July 1, 2010.
Traditional publishing looks at the word counts to further define where a book fits in its genre. Romance (most categories) can flow from 60,000 to 100,000, but Literary is traditionally on the higher end, from 100,000 +.
About now you’re thinking, “Why the hell do I need to know this? Isn’t that an editor’s responsibility? I’m a writer, I just want to let my story bloom, how many words it takes to get there is not my problem.”
Here’s my theory on this (and a few other topics we’ll be exploring in the Author Success Series). It’s a really good theory, so stick around just a few more minutes, okay. Here goes.
My theory, part 1 – If you want to be a competitive anything (swimmer, baker, ice dancer) you do specific things. You learn the skill, perfect it, research everything about it, know where, and when the competitions are, what’s required to compete, and who your competition is.
My theory, part 2 – If you’re a writer, author, or hopeful author and you don’t know your’re in competition, it might be a good time to open your eyes. Seriously. Just sayin’.
Any number of people can conceptualizing a great story. Far fewer can drum up the discipline to get it down on paper. Even fewer have the balls to show it to anyone, much less endure the difficulties of receiving and using criticism, determining which advice is good and choosing to take it, or plowing in for the next steps. If you get that far, you now need to hear the rejections (from rude and blunt to kind and helpful), hold your armor together, continue to dig into your manuscript to discover how to make it better then try again … and again … and again.
AND, the whole time you’re doing this, thousands of other author hopefuls are doing the exact same thing. THOUSANDS! What makes you stand apart? What makes you the one someone will take a second look at? Maybe your manuscript is better and that’s cool … but what say we polish your armor, boost your strength with the right weapons for battle (knowledge of the industry) and put you in the best light possible. If you understand one tiny bit more about a particular genre than the next hopeful author, you could get that boost up.
Agents and publishers are professionals. They want to work with professionals. Knowing how long your novel is tells them you are clearly aware of the requirements for your particular genre, their needs under that category, and (here’s the biggie) that you respect that knowledge. It tells them you’re competing for a coveted spot, that even if your manuscript might need a little tweaking and editing, as a professional, you don’t. It says you know the playing field and are ready to let the games begin.
My theory may seem silly, but what can it hurt? Have you ever hired an employee? What do you look for? What do you think your targeted agent or publisher is looking for. Figure it out and be that author.
How long is your book? I suppose I could really ask … How committed are you to reaching the top of your game? Being an author is a business, whether your goals are to break even, have more fans than God, or make a living. The publishing world is made up of professionals, and you are one of them. You can do this! I’m in the cheering section!
Any questions, just let me know.
Author Success, A Well “Business Planned” Future
Lesson 1, But … I’m a Writer, Not a Businessperson
Lesson 2, Your Subject Hooks and Selling Handles
Note: I’ll be teaching a five day seminar on Creating an Effective Book Business Plan for Savvy Authors from May 31 to June 4 (scroll down to register) … and I’m currently putting together a non-fiction book proposal covering the subject. But for here and now, I’d like to address your requests for a little more.