How long is a novel?

​I want to muse with you today if you would be so good as to let me, I would like to contemplate the novel and it’s place in the publishing industry.

I would like to put a foreword here that as of yet I am unpublished and as such my knowledge of the publishing industry is limited to what I have gleamed from conversations, articles and conferences. As such please take this purely as a commentary by an outside and not an expert. 

So on with my point, we shall start by examining the novel. A novel is a single work of fiction, not a collection of poetry or stories but one singular story that fills a book. A Book which is almost always 80,000 to 120,000 words. There are many notable exceptions to this with certain genres in particular, leaning towards slightly shorter or longer books. However looking at an average we can pretty much say a novel is a 100,000 word story book. 

Now let us consider the publishing industry. The publishing industry is a business that makes money by publishing and marketing books to the mass audience usually via big chain bookshops and major Ebook providers. It is certainly worth reiterating the point that it is a business, as per any business, no matter the intention it was started with it’s primary goal is to make money. An author or writer is an artist whose primary goal is to create art that people will appreciate and take joy from. 

Now I put it to you that the reason that a novel can be easily described as a singular story book of 100,000 words with about twenty six chapters is because that is what the BUSINESS of publishing wants it to be. The format of novels for the most part has remained unchanged for many, many years and probably will for many more. This is largely because the industry knows how to sell stories of that length, how to market them and who too, they know most people will read them and understand that usual formatting. 

While their is nothing fundamentally wrong with a book of 100,000 words it does pose certain problems. It is the way of business in general which I would point out is very similar to the following: Most office jobs work on a daily eight hour window of work, whether you are a graphic designer, an insurance salesman or a recruitment consultant MOST jobs will ask you to work eight hours a day five days a week. Again while their is nothing inherently wrong with this, I believe it is ridiculous to assume that all jobs require the same amount of time to do. The truth is many workers have very pressured days trying to cram everything in and others spread the work out across the day because they easily could have done it in four or five hours. This is exactly the same for books in my opinion, not all stories require 100,000 words to be told. While some people might boo my idea and say ‘Well that’s what short stories are for’ while I agree in part I do not in total. Even great and famous writers such as Steven King have often spoken about the difficulty of getting a 20,000 or a 30,000 word story published. It is too long to be a short story and it is too short to be a novel but why? It is a piece of art, something interpreted by the mind of an artistic individual and there should be no such limits placed upon it. Would you tell an artist that he could only sell a painting if he kept it to A4 paper size?

This is the problem I see with leaving a business in charge or art, until someone proves that people will buy and appreciate and love stories of 20,000 words and stories of 700,000 words then artists will continue to struggle to get the work out there. The world may be being deprived of some excellent stories because of business acumen and that just seems wrong. On the flipside I would add that many stories that would be fantastic at a shorter length are drawn out to 80,000 words by needless and dull subplots or filler just to reach an arbitrary page count.

What do you think friends? Answers on a postcard and until next time I shall leave you with this thought. Dune was the longest published sci-fi story when it was released, it went on to become one of the best selling and most well loved and known sci-fi stories of all time, all because one intrepid business who cared about the art took a chance on it.


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