Thursday, August 3, 2017

Goodbye! Hello! (Or, From A to Z)

by Alan

I’ve got nothing left to blog about. Depleted. Run dry. Empty. Blogged out.

After five years of blogging, I think I’ve said it all. Well, maybe not all, but plenty. I need a blogging break, so this is my last post. This is goodbye! (Don’t worry, it’s me, not you…)

What a great treat it’s been being a Criminal Mind! I’m currently (at least for another few minutes) the most tenured member of the group (read: stalest), and I’ve seen a number of really great writers (and cool people) cycle through. That’s one of the neat things about the blog—the group hasn’t been static. We’ve been able to bring in new voices and keep things fresh. The latest incarnation of the Minds has upheld that fine tradition, and then some.

I’d like to thank all the Minds, for their support over the years. Even when my posts were sub-standard (hey, I’m human!), they still offered comments, and no one called me out (in public, anyway).

Most of all, I’d like to thank the readers of the blog. Without you, we’re all just yelling into the void. Some more eloquently than others, for sure, but still…

Don’t fret; we’ve managed to hoodwink, er invite, another Criminal Mind to join the group in the every-other-Thursday slot. It’s my pleasure to introduce James Ziskin. He’s a terrific writer (his work has been nominated for the Edgar, Anthony, Barry, Lefty, and Macavity awards), and he’s an all-around good guy (just ask anybody). I’m sure he’ll do a great job here on the blog!

“Do you write to a specific pre-determined manuscript length? Does your publisher require you to stay within a word-count range?”

by James W. Ziskin

My contract says my books should come in between 80,000 and 90,000 words. I try to respect that.

The end.

Okay, Paul tells me my word count isn’t high enough, so I’ll have to expand a bit on my answer. Here goes.

Let’s do a little test. Consider the following books and try to guess their approximate word counts. You’ll see the actual totals at the end of this post.

In alphabetical order:
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Fahrenheit 451
The Great Gatsby
Harry Potter and Order of the Phoenix
War and Peace

Now back to the question at hand. So, how long should a novel be? Today, novels typically run 60,000-120,000 words. Nineteenth-century Russian novels will be longer, as will be thrillers. Literary novels, too, often weigh more than their crime novel counterparts, and young adult and juvenile books can be as short as 50,000 words.

Eighty- to 100,000 words is generally the safe zone for crime fiction. There are exceptions, of course. My third book, STONE COLD DEAD, weighed in at 112,000 words. I was a little nervous when I submitted it to my editor, since my contract called for a manuscript of 80,000-90,000 words, but he shrugged it off and said not to worry about it. I have the sneaking suspicion that the typesetter simply reduced the font size. Still, it is my longest book by a good margin.

My heroine, Ellie Stone, occasionally indulges in detailed descriptions and self-reflection, which, I think, comes with the territory of a first-person narrator. Yes, Ellie is thorough. And funny. That sometimes results in a longer narrative. I enjoy books that achieve a nice balance between description and dialogue, and I hope my books manage that.

My first book, STYX & STONE, came in at 85,000 words; NO STONE UNTURNED, 87,000. Then STONE COLD DEAD (112,000), and HEART OF STONE tipped the scales at 99,000. The latest in the series, CAST THE FIRST STONE, is 95,000 words, and I expect book six, A STONE’S THROW, will end up in the same range. I seem to have settled into a comfortable zone between 90,000 and 100,000 words. That gives readers a book meaty enough that they don’t feel short-changed. And, at the same time, it’s not so long that they’ll lose interest. At least that’s the theory.

Now back to our test. Here are the answers:

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory—31,000 words
Fahrenheit 451—46,000 words
The Great Gatsby—47,000 words
Moby-Dick—206,000 words
Harry Potter and Order of the Phoenix—257,000 words
War and Peace—587,000 words

The Roald Dahl is an outlier. It’s a children’s book, after all. And no surprises for Moby-Dick or War and Peace, but I never realized Fahrenheit 451 and Gatsby were so short. Those are novella numbers. And the Harry Potter book is a monster at 257K. It just goes to show that a novel should be only as long as it needs to be.

If you write, how long are your books? Leave your answers in the comments section below.



Paul D. Marks said...

I just want to say goodbye to Alan. It's truly been great both working with you and getting to know you. And even connect in person. And I hope even though you're not blogging regularly that you'll come back from time to time or just hang around. Take care!

And I also want to welcome Jim aboard. I know he'll be a great addition here and I look forward to reading all his posts.

Art Taylor said...

Thanks so much to Alan for many years of fine posts--and for inviting me to join the Criminal Minds for a while too! And welcome to James Ziskin too! Such a fan of him and his work, a great addition to the group. Looking forward to many fun posts ahead. :-)

Kristopher said...

Sorry to see you leaving Alan, but I can certainly understand. Five years is a good run and I know that the Criminal Minds will welcome you back to guest post anytime.

Great first post James. Happy to see you at the site.

When reviewing, I try to keep my end product between 500-700 words. These are self imposed limitation, since my blog (and the print outlets I write for) really have no guidelines. This seems to be the best range for getting enough of the plot and still leave room for some actual critical analysis.

But sometimes I struggle at both ends - either too long or too short. And interestingly, I have tracked that it has nothing to do with the actual length of the book being reviewed. I can find a ton to say about some short gems, while some long books just don't warrant extensive critique. And I'm only talking about good books here, I don't even try to write reviews of books that I didn't enjoy at all.

catriona said...

Well, this is weird - I've been the other Alan on Thursdays, since I joined the blog, and now I'm going to be the other Jim.

Alan, I will miss you. A bientot, Cx

Jim, I will struggle to keep my Thursdays up to scratch if you're going to give facts and figures! GREAT first blog. Welcome to CM. Cx

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Sorry to see you go, Alan. All the best.

And a hearty welcome to James.

Josh Pachter said...

You're moving on from Criminal Minds — but not from writing fiction ... or, for that matter, from Northern Virginia, right? Thanks for the interesting stuff over the past five years. Looking forward to seeing you IRL sometime soon....

Alan Orloff said...

Thanks, Paul! The pleasure has been all mine. I'll be back to guest blog whenever I've got something worthwhile to say! (Hopefully, that will be sometime!)

Thanks, Art! Now you can show me what life's like "on the outside."

Thanks, Kristopher! Yeah, I'll be back..

Thanks, Catriona! Au revoir, mon petite chou! (Forgive me if I just called you a rutabaga--my French isn't very good!)

Thanks, Deitrich! Nice blogging with ya!

Thanks, Josh! Nothing else in my life changes. Not even my underwear.

See you all in Toronto for Bouchercon, if not sooner!

Susan C Shea said...

Alan, don't think you're not a Mind any more - you join our distinguished alumni and can still pose for pictures in Toronto.

Jim, we are fortunate to have you here. A new voice, a wonderful writer, a well-connected member of the writing community (hint for readers: look no farther than the hotel bar, where our gregarious new Mind will be holding court).

As to writing length, it's odd but I seem to find an invisible pattern to follow and my stories come to rest at about 75,000 words, plus or minus, without a lot of counting.

James Ziskin said...

Sorry to see Alan go. But we'll see you around.

James Ziskin said...

I'm thrilled to be part of this great group of writers. Thank you for having me.

Gram said...

Sorry to see you go from here, but I will keep up with you on FB. Thanks for an interesting 5 years.

Alan Orloff said...

Susan, I was hoping I'd still be able to appear in the photos!

Jim, welcome to the blog! I hope you have a long and fun run! I did!

Thanks, Gram! Thanks, too, for pointing out that I am pretty active on Facebook, so if anybody wants to keep up with me there, that would be great!

RJ Harlick said...

I'm going to hate to see you leave, Alan. You were a mainstay on the blog. I'm not sure how we'll manage without you. I wish you all the luck with your writing and look forward to seeing you at the next confernce.

Cathy Ace said...

Thanks so much for everything you have done for and contributed to this blog over the years, Alan. And welcome Jim!

Alan Orloff said...

Great blogging with you RJ and Cathy! See you both in Toronto!

Unknown said...

Great post, Jim, and congrats on your new gig. THE SECRET LIFE OF ANNA BLANC was 125,000 words at it's longest. The manuscript I sold was 115,000. THE WOMAN IN THE CAMPHOR TRUNK is 90,600. The third book is looking a hell of a lot like a novella.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Alan for the last five years and welcome Jim

Kathy Reel said...

This is such a quality blog. I enjoy you all. I was just getting to know Alan, but being FB friends will allow me to continue that. Jim, I've known you for a bit now, and I'm a fan of you and the Ellie Stone series.

Great first post, Jim. I'm also surprised that Fahrenheit 451 doesn't have a larger word count. I notice pages, but I've never given word count a lot of thought, except when I see authors post their word count for a day's writing. Now, I'll be more aware.

Alan Orloff said...

Jennifer, Jim's off to a great start, blogwise!

Anon, thanks for reading our blog!

Kathy, see you on Facebook!

Unknown said...

I was on the road all day so am too late to comment, but will anyway. Thanks for your brilliant and funny posts, Alan. I'm looking forward to learning from you, Jim. Cheers to all!

Alan Orloff said...

Thanks, RM!

Danny Gardner said...

All the best, Alan! And welcome, James!

Alan Orloff said...

Thanks, Danny!