We’re into the next stage of my current novel project, Convoy: I’ve committed to sending the manuscript out to beta readers a week from today. I was talking with one of my friends who agreed to look at the manuscript, and he asked me how long it was. I hadn’t actually done a proper word count yet, so I went through my chapter docs and started tallying.
And discovered that the fucking thing is too short.
There’s a certain industry standard when it comes to novel length in different genres. There are slight variations between subgenres – hard SF vs soft SF, for example – and publishers also look for certain ideal lengths from first-time authors. For a first-time fantasy novel that isn’t an epic like Erikson’s Malazan series, generally speaking you should aim for around 75,000 words. As of the start of this week, Convoy stood at just under 60,000 words, which I got confirmed from multiple sources is a bit too short.
So … shit.
Now, I had two options here. I could leave the manuscript as is, finish my copyedits and send it to my beta readers. I set out to write a concise novel, making sure that every scene had a clear purpose and directly advanced the plot. I could wait for my readers’ feedback and, if enough of them point out things that need more development, expand as necessary. Trying to market a shorter fantasy novel might be more challenging, or it might prove advantageous; that would remain to be seen.
Or I could see if there are areas to legitimately expand the plot. So I looked very closely at my outline and really carefully considered everything that happens in Convoy – and started listing areas for potential expansion, without just adding filler. I had realized earlier that one of my primary antagonists becomes a lot less present about two-thirds into the novel, only to reappear for the final act, and decided he didn’t need any more scenes. When I considered it more deeply, I realized there was more I could do with him, and ended up adding an entire new sequence with another character and expanding a pivotal scene for the antagonist’s character development. There’s a part in the novel where my surviving protagonists make their way from a place of refuge to a surprise trap, where I realized I could expand on some character development, which in turn could add some richer dialogue in my last couple of chapters. And finally, though my writing partner might disagree with me, I’ve decided to add one more chapter to the end, to answer some lingering questions and provide some closure, while still putting things in place for another novel featuring these characters (in case I get that lucky).
So where I thought I’d be spending this week polishing, now I’m creating more words. Luckily we just started March Break for the school board, so I have plenty of time to dedicate to this and still make the deadline I set for my beta readers. If you don’t hear from me as much in the next seven days, assume I’m hunched over my desk or hiding in a corner of a coffee shop. Wish me luck, fellow writers!