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.