Every year, thousands of would-be writers commit to completing a 50-thousand-word book during November. It’s a huge achievement, and participants rightly feel very proud of the work they produce during this time. Trouble is, it’s easy to get so focused on ‘winning’ that once NaNoWriMo (NaNo for short) ends on the 1st of December, a lot of writers become overwhelmed by what to do with their manuscript.
Part of the problem lies in the fact that a 50k word book isn’t necessarily a complete work. Most full-length, traditionally published novels aimed at adults are around 80-120k words. So how do you know if your NaNo book is the right length? Firstly, you need to answer three questions:
- Do you intend to publish? If so, do you intend to attract a traditional publisher, or are you going solo by publishing it yourself?
- What genre is your story? Who is your target audience?
- Have you come to a natural endpoint by the end of the 50k, or do you feel there’s story left to explore?
Let’s deal with each in turn.
Traditional, Indie, or Private
Guess what? You don’t have to do a single thing with your NaNo manuscript if you don’t want to. Maybe you’re not ready to face the long slog of editing, submitting, and rejection that often mars the road to publication. That’s fine. Pretty much every writer has a pile of practise novels hidden away somewhere before they wrote something they passionately believed in. Or maybe you only want your family and friends to enjoy your story, and that’s enough for you. Okay, if that’s you, go and have a coffee and eat a cupcake :).
For those who DO want to see their work in print (or on Kindle), then the required length of your book depends on your planned route to publication. In short, traditional books conform to an industry standard, which depends on your genre and the age of your target readers. For adult fiction, this is around 80-120k. Children’s books are usually shorter, at least until those authors are well established (think J.K. Rowling). Indie publishing is much more flexible, and ebooks are often around the 50-100k mark. Novellas and short stories are also quite popular online.
In summary, if you want to get published, a 50k book won’t cut it. If you’re publishing yourself, you make your own rules, as long as you’re careful not to short-change your customers by leading them to expect something they’re not going to get.
Genre and Target Audience
Word length can vary massively depending on the genre. YA is usually shorter than epic fantasy, but not always. It has more to do with the following an author has and the capability of the audience. Note, for instance, that although YA is aimed at teens, adults are also voracious readers of YA so you may have more scope for a longer book than you thought. The general advice seems to be to err on the side of caution and make sure first novels fit in the average range for books in that genre. Here’s an in-depth list.
Midpoints versus Endings
Take an honest look at the last few scenes of your 50k manuscript. Have you tied up all the loose ends in the plot and have a satisfying conclusion? Then maybe your story is more-or-less complete. Focus on adding depth and maybe a sub-plot weaved into your main plot to lengthen it out and explore the themes to a greater degree. Vary the pace, making sure you have action scenes and time for your characters to process what’s happening. A story that is rushed is just as frustrating as one that is too slow.
Does the ending feel forced, or is it so dramatic that you’re sure there could be a lot of fallout for your characters to explore? Consider that your book has actually met an exciting mid-point which is about to launch your characters into some interesting and revealing situations. In this case, it’s time to sit down and use your strong foundation to plan out the rest of your plot.
After answering these questions, you should understand whether your book is too long, too short, or just right. Congratulations, you have reached your Goldilocks moment! In Part Two, we’ll explore how to assess your NaNo novel as a whole so that you can get ready to turn the first draft into a polished book.
Until then, Happy Writing!
Ciao for now,