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Old 12th July 2006, 03:02 PM   #16 (permalink)
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Re: Length and depth of a novel?

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Originally Posted by Green Knight
I know publishers like to appeal to what 'the market wants', but it's rather unimaginative nonetheless. It's all Tolkien's fault of course... set a trend for books so big they cause paper shortages.
*sigh* I've said it before, and I'll say it again. We've seen this all before: those triple- and quadruple-decker novels of the later 18th and early 19th centuries, the Gothics, etc., which were so popular in their day, and where public and publishers demanded such lengths that the books became more and more attenuated and stereotypical and less and less imaginative ... and when it died, it died. (And, of course, everyone blamed it on the authors and the type of book it was, not on the writers doing what people expected of them to make sales.) Took nearly two centuries to even begin to be considered a viable part of literature again -- and even that's extremely shaky. I fear that happening to fantasy, but unless someone actually starts swimming against the trend ... I do believe that's where we're headed.

Nothing wrong with tremendously long novels, or even a series of such. But to make that any sort of criteria for accepting a novel seems to me very much to be circumscribing the literary gene pool to the point of endogamous extinction....
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Old 12th July 2006, 04:42 PM   #17 (permalink)
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Re: Length and depth of a novel?

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endogamous extinction....
What a wonderful phrase that is...

High horse time. When literature or another art form (like music) becomes 'product', then warning bells should start ringing among the readers. I don't blame the publishers really - they have a living to make. Until recently I worked in book marketing myself, and if I had to hype something I thought was mediocre or downright dull, I hyped away to the best of my ability, because that was what they were paying the copywriter for.

But the readers, now, the readers need to take care, because ultimately we drive the market. We mustn't buy a book just because it has a dragon on the sleeve, or a front and back cover in different time zones. We mustn't even buy it because it's by a favourite author. We need to sift mercilessly, just liek the publishers surely do.

Aside: just one more rant from my book marketing days. I once had to write sales copy for 'His Dark Materials' by Philip Pullman (and fantasy gets no better than that). But rather than let me sell it on its own merits, the marketing team insisted that I use the phrase, 'If you like Harry Potter, you'll LOVE this!!'

Apart from being far from necessarily true, I thought this was feeble-minded in the extreme. dot slash end rant.
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Old 12th July 2006, 05:33 PM   #18 (permalink)
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Re: Length and depth of a novel?

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Originally Posted by j. d. worthington
Nothing wrong with tremendously long novels, or even a series of such. But to make that any sort of criteria for accepting a novel seems to me very much to be circumscribing the literary gene pool to the point of endogamous extinction....
I don't think it is. It's just a trend at present.

John put it rather well in this thread;

http://www.chronicles-network.com/fo...-chapters.html


And I quote;

"Sophistication of writing and being in an area of the market that agents and publishers can sell come first, as well as all the often-enumerated parts: great characters, wonderful story, outstanding dialogue, narrative sweep and super-duper writing. But as I've said before many times, it's subjective - not a chemical formula. I spoke to one of the major SFF editors in London a couple of weeks ago - when asked what they were looking for, the answer was: 'I'll know it when I see it.' "

Since I read this, I have had quite a few troubled nights of little sleep and strange nightmares. How can I, of all people, come up with a novel that even comes half way to that???
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Old 12th July 2006, 09:30 PM   #19 (permalink)
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Re: Length and depth of a novel?

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Originally Posted by SJAB
I spoke to one of the major SFF editors in London a couple of weeks ago - when asked what they were looking for, the answer was: 'I'll know it when I see it.' "
This is either a very profound statement by the editor or the ultimate cop-out. A bit like a quote once supplied to me by a Puffin editor. 'We chose these books because they were great stories, beautifully told, and in line with our current publishing strategy.' Whoah, slow down, too exciting. In the end I had to make something up and get her to sign it off.

It is worth bearing in mind that the first Harry Potter book was rejected by nearly every publisher. Why? Mainly, because it was 'far too long'. This is the FIRST one we are talking about, mind. You know, the short one. When I put this argument to someone in the industry, they said, 'Ah, but Harry Potter is the exception.' No - he wasn't at the time. Hindsight is great, isn't it?

There is a moral to all this, I think. There is no magic insight that people in the industry have about what is going to sell well. They have a little more knowledge, based on experience, but no crystal ball. So all that a writer can do is write what they want, the story that they deeply wish to read, and hope that others share their visions and tastes. That is the only 'formula for success' (it is also a formula for failure, of course). I mentioned earlier the trilogy by Philip Pullman. That wouldn't have had a hope of commercial success but for riding the wave of Harry Potter - even though Pullman's work is artistically superior. He had vision, talent, artistry... and luck.
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Old 12th July 2006, 10:38 PM   #20 (permalink)
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Re: Length and depth of a novel?

Just to piggyback (again). Writing for money (pace Dr. Johnson) is not the ultimate goal if you want to have a successful book. Everyone who writes would love to have a bestseller and make oodles and oodles of money. But if you write what you love, and do your level best, knowing that you must always improve, and learn, and grow, and give your story room to breathe (but not be layered in fat), then chances are, if you have talent, if you can get it published, it will find an audience much better than something written just to spec. Those who walk that tightrope between the two are taking a very difficult road, and the talented and worthwhile writers who pull it off are to be commended. But tastes change. Writing for the market without doing what you love (though it is immensely hard and often frustrating work) is almost bound to end up with your producing either dreck or feeling a little of yourself die each time you let some of that dream of what you want to say go.
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Old 13th July 2006, 08:38 PM   #21 (permalink)
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Re: Length and depth of a novel?

I tend not to get too cynical about the publishing markets anymore - after all, publishers simply reflect what people are buying.

The fact that Robert Jordan, Peter F Hamilton, and George R R Martin, have been writing epic series that people love isn't the fault of the publishers - in fact, that they may be more open to epic works from newer authors I think is great news. Especially when a few years back when shorter novels were more the norm, it seemed ridiculous to feel you'd have to chop out parts of the story, just to have a smaller word count. So it seems like a more positive progression that larger wordcounts may be more acceptable.

I also tend to get cynical about looking back at what writers did in other times, and using that to suggest modern markets are wrong. My impression is that writers of other periods wrote for the markets of those periods, and the works they developed were precisely because of market concerns, not artistic ones. Same for the modern writer in the modern markets.

Of course, the point about the old gothic tomes may be a pretty salient point - but it's also worth recognising that traditional publishers are coming under increasing competition from smaller publishers, so maybe the checks and balances are better oiled. If not, if the big publishers misjudge matters, you can bet there are smaller publishers keyed into the internet who can take advantages of gaping markets.

2c.
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Old 13th July 2006, 09:03 PM   #22 (permalink)
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Re: Length and depth of a novel?

I think this whole word/page count thing is a huge part of my problem in finishing my book. It is, according to mostly everyone--Fantasy (with some sf elements). Now, as a trilogy I have sketched them out, the first one that I have, in my mind, finished is only 75,000 words. Why did it stop there? According to the big wigs, I should have another 25-50 k words in there for it to be good fantasy. Because that is the "Norm"

But the story does not need another 25-50 k words. That would, IMO, water it down. There is not much I can add, without some flash backs, to make it worthier.

I wish the literary world would focus less on the numbers and more on the tale, especially in fantasy. Some of my fav fantasy books--yolen, in praticular--were extremely short, and well written.
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Old 13th July 2006, 09:23 PM   #23 (permalink)
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Re: Length and depth of a novel?

Well, it wasn't much fun 15+ years ago when you turned in a 110,000 word manuscript and they asked you to cut out 10-15,000 words. Being asked to fill in more background and give the whole thing more depth and richness doesn't sound so bad to me.


But we each have our set of compromises that we will or won't accept (or will accept but reserve our right to complain loudly). I was on a panel at BayCon with a writer who does media tie-in novels and sometimes has to write a book in a matter of weeks. That was her idea of professionalism, and anyone who wasn't prepared to do the same thing was a mere amateur to her way of thinking.

If that was the way I had to work, I am very certain I wouldn't find writing a satisfying job. I'd just have to be an amateur, and happy to remain so.

Last edited by Teresa Edgerton; 13th July 2006 at 09:56 PM.
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Old 13th July 2006, 09:53 PM   #24 (permalink)
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Re: Length and depth of a novel?

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Originally Posted by Teresa Edgerton
But we each have our set of compromises that we will or won't accept (or will accept but reserve our right to complain loudly). I was on a panel at BayCon with a writer who does media tie-in novels and sometimes has to write a book in a matter of weeks. That was her idea of professionalism, and anyone who wasn't prepared to do the same thing was a mere amateur to her way of thinking.

If that was the way I had to work, I am very certain I wouldn't find writing a satisfying job. I'd just have to be an amateur, and happy to remain so.
I completely agree. I could not write anything in a few weeks, unless it was nonfiction.
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Old 13th July 2006, 10:17 PM   #25 (permalink)
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Re: Length and depth of a novel?

Well, as I've said, I've nothing against tremendously long novels -- after all, I am one of those who reads some of the old Gothic novels and enjoys them -- but my point is that length (short or long) should be, if a criteria at all, far down on the list. It should be according to what that particular story requires, not one of the first things they look for. And while there were plenty of examples of earlier writers who did indeed write for market, there's nothing wrong with that, either, as long as one is also writing the best one can, and trying very hard to stay true to the vision. If you sacrifice what lies at the core of what you're doing for what is "marketable", it tends to have less and less life, until finally it becomes simply cardboard characters going through the motions. The majority of writers who survive are those who do tend to stick to their guns in one way or another about artistic integrity. (I don't mean just survive through their lifetimes, but also beyond.) One should not be thinking of posterity, or of the market so much, or of length, but of the story, of what the piece you are writing demands. And a part of this, of course, may include going back and adding or subtracting during the editing/revising process -- sometimes quite drastically. But it should be to improve the story, not to meet an arbitrary standard on length. Making a better book should be the focus, at whatever word count. That is what will pay off in the long run, more often than not....
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Old 13th July 2006, 10:51 PM   #26 (permalink)
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Re: Length and depth of a novel?

My point is that publishers don't tell us what to write; they only tell us what they will buy (based on what readers are buying now and what they think readers will be buying in about eighteen months).

We always have the option of remaining true to our artistic vision; we just have to accept that we can't always eat our cake (complete artistic freedom) and have it too (getting something accepted by a major publisher according to our own personal time table).

Even though I was already a published author with 8 books to my credit, it was a long time before I found someone willing to take on The Queen's Necklace. But the fact was, there just wasn't any other book I wanted to write at that time. I found myself in such a hole financially, I had to quit writing and (as a middle-aged housewife with out-of-date job skills) get a 25-more-than-minimum-wage job in retail. I worked at that for a couple of years, did well enough, and worked my way up to a better paying position, so that I knew there was something I could always fall back on ... and then one day, when I no longer expected it, I got a call from my agent. That gap in time between one book and the next cost me dearly, but I can't say that I would have done things any differently.

So I do believe in artistic integrity, and I'm willing to make sacrifices in order to keep it. I just know that as a writer I can't expect the publishing world to rapidly rearrange itself to suit my artistic vision.
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Old 13th July 2006, 10:57 PM   #27 (permalink)
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Re: Length and depth of a novel?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Teresa Edgerton
My point is that publishers don't tell us what to write; they only tell us what they will buy (based on what readers are buying now and what they think readers will be buying in about eighteen months).

We always have the option of remaining true to our artistic vision; we just have to accept that we can't always eat our cake (complete artistic freedom) and have it too (getting something accepted by a major publisher according to our own personal time table).

Even though I was already a published author with 8 books to my credit, it was a long time before I found someone willing to take on The Queen's Necklace. But the fact was, there just wasn't any other book I wanted to write at that time. I found myself in such a hole financially, I had to quit writing and (as a middle-aged housewife with out-of-date job skills) get a 25-more-than-minimum-wage job in retail. I worked at that for a couple of years, did well enough, and worked my way up to a better paying position, so that I knew there was something I could always fall back on ... and then one day, when I no longer expected it, I got a call from my agent. That gap in time between one book and the next cost me dearly, but I can't say that I would have done things any differently.

So I do believe in artistic integrity, and I'm willing to make sacrifices in order to keep it. I just know that as a writer I can't expect the publishing world to rapidly rearrange itself to suit my artistic vision.
Agreed. I do, however, remain concerned about the shortsightedness with this aspect; but as Brian noted, smaller publishers are cropping up all over the place to pick up the slack on that, and that may well be a very healthy thing. It may, however, mean some trouble down the line for some of the established publishing houses, unless they can loosen up a bit on these requirements. And, as I said, those writers who manage to walk that tightrope without falling to either side have my greatest respect and admiration -- it's a heck of a balancing act, to say the least. One I know there is simply no way I could manage.
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Old 28th August 2006, 08:29 AM   #28 (permalink)
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Re: Ask your publishing questions here

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Originally Posted by John Jarrold
Patrick

Sorry, I should also have said that this doesn't only apply to first novels, it is true for every novel. A fantasy novel of 75,000 words, say, is not very likely to find a home in the UK. The genre really lends itself to sweeping stories, obviously, but it is absolutely true that longer books have become the way that genre publishing has gone in recent years.

Do these rules apply to fantasy/humour novels too?
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Old 18th September 2006, 12:19 PM   #29 (permalink)
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Re: Ask your publishing questions here

In the UK it is almost impossible to sell new authors on fantasy humour. Apart from Terry Pratchett, Robert Rankin and Tom Holt have both been published since the 1980s and sell quite well - but probably not one-tenth of Terry's figures. Others have come and gone, but in the past five years or more UK editors have steered away from this sub-genre.

When I published Andrew Harman's early humorous fantasies with Random House in London ten or more years ago, they ranged between 90,000 and 100,000 words.
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Old 5th November 2006, 11:21 PM   #30 (permalink)
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Re: Length and depth of a novel?

Another question for John Jarrold. After many attempts to get my work published I ended up doing the whole thing myself. My main problem was that when I tried to get an agent the response was "if you can find someone who'll publish it for you, we'll act as your agents" and when I tried to get a publisher the response was "get yourself an agent first"!
My question is, how on earth does one try to achieve this? Or is there a third group that can deal with both the aforementioned?
As I said, it became so frustrating, I took the challenge and did it myself. There didn't seem to be an option.
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