Book lengths

I'm doing a little housekeeping today--getting rid of inches and feet and the like. I ran a word count on Trust--it's about as long as Trang, a little under 110,000 words.

It's funny because with all the reading I've been doing lately, I've noticed that an awful lot of these books come in at, oh, about 30,000 words. Science fiction tends to clock in with six-figure word counts anyway, so I don't worry about mine (I have no idea how you'd keep a sci-fi book to 30,000 words, unless you were writing something like a Star Trek or Star Wars novel where you don't have to bother with all that pesky world-building).

Nonetheless, on a purely practical and commercial level, there's good reason for you to keep your books short, even if I don't: They take a lot less time to write, so you can crank out a lot of titles.

The problem with longer works is that they take an exponentially longer amount of time to write. I used to be a business reporter, so I will give you an example of a short literary form that I am very well acquainted with: The earnings brief.

These clock in at less than 100 words and go something like this:

GinormoMegaCorp reported sharply lower profits on increased revenues yesterday. Profits for the last quarter, ending October 31, were $5 gazillion, down from $6 gazillion the same quarter the previous year. Revenues, in contrast, were $85 bazillion, up from $70 bazillion in the quarter ending October 31, 2010. Company executives attributed the lower earnings to additional expenses stemming from the merger of Ginormo Corp. and Mega Corp. two years before. Shares in GinormoMegaCorp closed at $15.65 on the New York Stock exchange yesterday, a drop of 4 percent.


So, that's 88 words, and it took me four minutes to write. If I was writing an 880-word imaginary feature on GinormoMegaCorp (which is a longish feature, a little more than 20 inches of newsprint), it would take me considerably longer than 40 minutes to write, even if I were to make it all up.

That's because a feature ten times longer than an earning brief is far more complex. With the brief, I can just plug the numbers in and add a one- or two-sentence explanation of why a company is making more or less money. A feature requires an actual story line--I'd need to figure out what I'm going to say about the troubled merger between Ginormo and Mega. Structurally, I'd need a good lede, a paragraph summing up whether people think GinormoMegaCorp is going to succeed or fail, another paragraph noting that it might do the opposite, and then lots and lots of detail (in this case, a lot about what the hopes for the merger were and why it's not happening yet), ending with a nice concluding paragraph that sums up everything beautifully and will be cut for space.

It's the same thing going from a 30,000-word novel to a 100,000-word novel--in all likelihood, it is going to take more than three times as long to produce the latter. You've simply got more to keep track of (and if you feel like you don't, you seriously need to take a hatchet to that mother).