The short of it: When the book runs too short

Anne Allen has a post up about when your book runs too short or too long

I have a long history of books running too short.  In fact, it was very discouraging and frustrating for me.  Publishers would require something like 80K-90K, and I was hitting at 40-50K.

The craft books were no help.  They always assumed you were writing over.  I couldn’t even see how someone could write a book that ballooned up to 200K.  By the time I hit 50K, I was scratching at whatever I could to get the word count up—often at the expense of the story.

And when I asked for help, I got “Just add a subplot!” like that was a magic fix.   No one seemed to get that the story was 40K short.  You can’t add a 40K subplot without the reader rebelling.  Most of the other tips I ran across would have added maybe 10K.  Certainly not 40K.

At the time, I eked my way up to 80K, watching the word count like I was on surveillance.  It was also a frustrating experience because when I revised, some things come out and others go in.  I might take out 500 words and add 600 words, so the word count would stay the same.

And the novel was a complete mess. Between trying to get to the word count and outlining advice sneaking it, it was a plane crash that took a whole city.  Just really bad.

It was so bad and I was so frustrated that I wondered if I could ever write a novel length work.  I was ready to give up.  But I took Holly Lisle’s How to Revise Your Novel.  There was a lesson in there where you identify everything wrong in the book, and all those places where I’d added for word count jumped out at me.  I lost half the book.

Back to square one.

It does have a happy ending.  I tossed the entire book, started again without that baggage from word counts and outlines.  Rogue God was the result of that.

In hindsight, I think one of the reasons I had so much trouble with word count is that I have a natural sense of where the story should end, and it tended to fall right around the 40-50K area.  One of the reasons I went over to indie is so I don’t have to worry about word count.  I can just tell the story I want to tell.

5 thoughts on “The short of it: When the book runs too short

  1. livrancourt

    Interesting, because I think I have a better feel for stories in the 20-40k word range, too. One of my recent projects was co-written with my friend Irene. We did a lot more pantsing than I usually do (but a lot more plotting than she usually does!) and we ended up right about 80k words – so LOOONG for me. Once we got feedback from beta readers and made the first two editing passes, we ended up with 90k words, the longest project either of us has ever done! I also think it’s the best book I’ve ever written (or co-written), and found I really liked having another person to work through ideas with. So…my solo stuff is short, but apparently when I’ve got someone to hold my hand, I can go long.

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  2. I got to 90K with a co-writer. But, in hindsight, he inherited a lot of my word count problems and was inexperienced enough not to realize it. We had a lot of stubs in the story–hints of subplots that started, but never went past a few sentences. That was a huge problem for me–I was trying to force subplots in for word count.

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