How Many Words to Make a Book?

The other day I wrote a post about perhaps not finishing a book I’d started. Multiple people told me about what they do when they don’t finish reading books they start.

One person said if she makes it to page 200 and still doesn’t like it, then she won’t force herself to continue. Which is fine, no one says you have to finish every book you start. But she proceeded to say that her reasoning behind writing a review for the book she didn’t finish and also including it in her list of read titles is because 200 pages equals 50k words, what she called the “rule of thumb for the length of a novel”.

UH NO.

Before the advent of NaNoWriMo no one would actually believe 50k words is the magic number in which your words and chapters become a novel. And just because people say it doesn’t make it so.

There’s a site I once discovered (I can’t remember it now) that would tell you the word counts of books. I played around with it for a bit and found just about every title I entered was well over 100k words. What if your favorite authors actually believed this. “Oh, I hit 50k words. ALL DONE!” It’s laughable that people believe this nonsense.

I just read an article on Writer’s Digest about word counts and the author of the article identified a good word count range for lower Middle Grade as 20k-55k words, but said anything written for a 12-year-old or older should be higher. Every other genre should have significantly higher word counts, in his opinion. Some well over 100k words.

Do you think 50k words is the “rule of thumb for the length of a novel”? I definitely do not. And have never heard an author or publishing professional identify it as such. But what do I know, right?

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Guest Post: How to Feel Like Writing Again

We’ve all felt it at one time or another. The story loses its shine and you’re left with a half-completed story. Why does this happen, and how do you continue?

For a lot of writers, this is the mid-point of the story, but truly, it can happen at any point. I want to focus on something entirely different from “writer’s block”; this topic regards when you know what to write next, but you just don’t feel like doing so.

“Of course, motivation is not permanent. But then, neither is bathing; but it is something you should do on a regular basis.” – Zig Ziglar

The cursor blinks at you, nudging you to continue typing, but the combination of your eyes drooping and the itch to do something else feels overwhelming. You’ve already procrastinated enough today. Your bedroom can only be cleaned so many times, and you’ve already checked Facebook, Twitter, and your email twice in the past half-hour.

“Discipline is choosing between what you want now and what you want most.”

You’re a writer. You know how to get the job done; it’s the motivation that’s lagging. Let’s look at some different factors.

Your story no longer excites you

For me, this usually happens just on the other side of the midpoint, roughly 55% into the book. About then, I usually start envying short story writers. It’s when the thrill of the beginning and even the spike of the midpoint event wears off, and I have to begin laying the ground work for the finale, but it’s not yet to the exciting build-up for the ending climax.

Wherever it normally happens for you (and it could change from story to story), it can be a trial. Why does it happen? Here are a few possibilities:

  • You’ve already thought of the next story, and you’re more interested in starting the new one than finishing the current one
  • You hit a plot snag and aren’t looking forward to unraveling it
  • You realize that your story idea might not be as interesting as you thought it was
  • Self-doubt creeps in
  • Life got in the way of writing, and you’re not as emotionally connected
  • Something as simple as: it’s just not new and shiny anymore

The first one gets me every time.

To remedy many of the above, you could take a short break from writing to read your story from the beginning as if it was a finished product. Oftentimes, that brings about the romance for writing this particular piece again.

Whenever I daydream about the next project, I jot down all my ideas onto a pad of paper, but I promise myself not to start writing it until the current project is finished. That way, I have a treasure trove of tidbits to work on by the time I do transition.

Also, take a look at your writing schedule. If you wait until you have 4+ hours to write, try writing more often but in smaller chunks. It could be your method of attack that’s holding you back.

“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” – Jim Rohn

Mainly for me, I had to come to grips with the concept that at some point in the book, it would be a chore to continue. Perhaps other authors aren’t this way, but that’s how I operate. I had to wean myself from the mysticism that I have to be in constant love with a story to write it. 100% of the time, when I go back to polish what I had to prod myself to finish, the magic is there again.

Whether you reluctantly write and later polish with passion, or you passionately write and later reluctantly polish, in the end, the reader can’t tell the difference. Either way, a quality product is completed. But if you wait for passion to do anything, the project will likely get done much, much later.

“What I adore is supreme professionalism. I’m bored by writers who can write only when it’s raining.” -Noel Coward

Just plain don’t feel like it

To me, this is another thing altogether. This could be due to some of the reasons above, but largely affected by mood, hunger, emotional state-of-mind, how restful I am, etc. Here are some things that I do to warm-up to writing when I don’t feel like it. In advance, don’t judge me.

  • I go into a different room (dependent on a portable writing apparatus). I read a study once that changing rooms resets the mind, but for whatever reason, it seems to help.
  • Reading some of what I wrote the day before to get me in the mood. This usually does the trick, for me.
  • I listen to music. In my Writer’s Toolbox, there are two of my favorite picks of music to listen to while I write.
  • I have a small spray bottle of water, and I occasionally spray myself in the face. This is used when I am tempted to curl over my laptop and take a nap. This is the “don’t judge me part,” if you were wondering. So, yes, my method for staying awake is the same as the punishment for your cat for eating the houseplant.

Similar to what I mentioned in the last section, usually when I don’t feel like writing, I do it anyway. There are a few times that I succumb, but I usually remind myself that people can’t tell their boss that they don’t feel like working, which is something Janci Patterson also mentioned in my interview with her.

 

Conclusion
Everyone has a different method. All these suggestions might work for you, or perhaps none of them will. The key is to experiment with what motivates you to write, so that you can get one step closer to your writerly goals.

Ryan Lanz

A Writer’s Path

Why is Zoella’s new Book Causing Such a Fuss?

231a7e20-7497-11e4-9b06-bb17e2c882df_Zoella-Girl-Online-launch

You need to know two things before reading on to have any idea what I’m talking about. First, Zoella is a very popular YouTuber. Second, her novel Girl Online had the best opening sales week ever for a debut novel in the UK. It was just released at the end of November.

Okay. If you don’t know what the fuss is about, well that’s what I’m here for. I’ve read blog post after blog post and article after article criticizing Zoella for her book. Why are all these people criticizing her? Because she used a ghostwriter. See, I have a theory. The criticism she’s getting really has nothing to do with that fact, though she had to release a statement on Twitter admitting that she had help. No. I think UK readers have issue with the fact that her book has outdone JK Rowling in some way. Because this young online star is somehow unworthy of selling a lot of books. What bullshit.

Just about every article I’ve read mentions JK Rowling. “Zoella outsells even JK Rowling and Harry Potter” or “This 24-year-old has best debut sales week ever in UK; besting JK Rowling.”

I know some people have issue with the use of ghostwriters. That’s fine. But why is this girl somehow being treated differently than other “authors” who have used them in the past? Oh. Because she sold a lot of books. The funny thing is that readers really have no idea how many authors actually use ghostwriters. No idea at all. Because some publishers and authors are a lot more open about that fact than others.

Lastly, I have no issue with her great opening sales week. As a matter of fact, I think she should be congratulated. I mean, she has more than six million YouTube subscribers. Did you think that she would release a book that didn’t sell well? Come on. JK Rowling was a debut author. Zoella is a debut author with millions of fans and followers. I’m quite certain that the author of the Harry Potter series is perfectly fine with not having the record for most sales in the opening week for a debut novel. (If she ever had it in the first place.)

So everyone needs to calm down about all this. Zoella has built up a brand of herself over the last few years on the internet. And now she gets criticized for wanting to write a book. No. I’m not a fan of celebrities “writing” books, but this girl is getting way too much negativity thrown her way when she’s doing something that so many celebrities have already done before her. She’s not even the first YouTuber to release a book. Just stop.

You can check out Girl Online here.

You can check out Zoella’s YouTube channel here.

Everyone has That one Novel in Them…or do they?

This is one of the dumbest things you’ll hear from anyone who claims to be a writer. And probably from people who know nothing about anything. I’m talking about that stupid saying that states that EVERYONE is capable of writing that one good novel during their lifetime. Or maybe I’m taking the phrase too literally. Maybe it’s supposed to mean that everyone has a story worth telling? Either way, no. Just no.

Let’s tackle my first issue with this. I find it hard to believe that someone could actually believe in what they’re saying if they’re indeed stating that everyone is capable of writing a book. Have you ever known someone who lives okay, not rich but capable of buying most things they’d want, maybe a new car every few years? Of course you have, I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m describing you. Okay. And then for whatever reason you get a look at one of their emails or a letter or some form of their writing and you realize how bad it really is. I’m not talking bad as in you have no idea what they’re trying to communicate to someone else, but rather that they struggle to string together cohesive sentences or misspell the most basic words. There’s nothing wrong with people who write poorly, heck maybe they had some bad English teachers during their school days, but to say that EVERYONE is capable of writing that one novel is just not true. I think it’s what someone repeats over and over again who knows their writing needs a lot of work.

Let’s now tackle the second issue about whether everyone has a story that needs to be told. I have no issue with someone bringing light to an important situation or event. But if you’re going to sit there and tell me that everyone has a story to tell, then I have just a single question for you. How can you make that statement and then very quickly criticize all the books that are written by celebrities? Are their stories any less worthy of being told than mine or yours? Are their stories any less worthy of being read or told simply because they have more money than you or I could ever imagine? That makes about as much sense as this whole thing.

There’s no truth to this stupid little phrase that gets repeated over and over again for reasons I simply don’t understand. I really wish it would be struck from existence never to return again.

PS: I’ve been really lax about posting this month, so I’m going to try to post everyday for the final two weeks of September to kind of catch up a little. Maybe I’ll succeed, maybe I won’t. I’m at least going to  try.

Genre, Which Genre?

ImagePhoto Credit: Erica Senecal

Just off the top of your head, how many genres or sub-genres can you name? Let me try. Mystery. Thriller. Young adult. Erotica. Ew to that. Literary fiction. Historical fiction. New adult. Sci-fi. Fantasy. Romance. Crime fiction. Detective fiction. Okay, the list can go on and on but the point is that there are A LOT of genres to pick from. There are plenty more I didn’t name because who wants to just sit here and read the different genres over and over?

Now let’s talk about you or me. We’ve both decided to be writers or authors or whatever you want to call yourself, but we haven’t done a whole lot of thinking about story ideas. We’re sitting there brainstorming and we come up with a few that we MUST write. Let’s talk about me for a second. You all should know by now that I had my first story idea in my head for nearly 18 months before I ever put pen to paper. And even before that I’d started writing a different story. But before I ever wrote any fiction, I always knew I wanted to write crime fiction around a private detective. How did I know this? Because my bookshelf is filled with these books.

I’m not sitting here saying that I have any idea whatsoever how to write a decent mystery. I don’t think I have a clue. But when I think of other genres out there like sci-fi or YA or really any other genre I don’t write in, I’d be lost. I don’t know anything about world-building or writing a love story (though my two main characters are madly in love.) I wouldn’t even know where to begin. Seriously. So when I started writing for real I did the whole “write what you know” thing, but in truth I don’t know anything about mystery or suspense novels, besides the fact that I’ve read many great ones.

But this post isn’t entirely about me. I want to know how you decided on which genre you should write in. Maybe you have a creative writing degree with a specialization or maybe you did the same as I did and just started writing in your favorite genre. OR you write in different genres because you’re special like that. No matter how you decided, I want you to tell me. Right now.

Is There a Proper Chapter Length?

ImagePhoto Credit: The Wicked Writer

This is one of those posts I’ve wanted to write for some time now because I think the responses I’ll receive will be all over the map. And that’s okay. So, obviously today’s post will be about chapter length.

You’re likely a writer if you’re reading this. Or perhaps you’re a reader? Or maybe you’ve stumbled into an alternate universe and somehow made your way to your new favorite blog? No matter how you made it here, I have treats! Okay, I have no idea why the heck I’m typing these things. Let’s see if the second time around I can actually get down to business, shall we?

So you’ve decided that writing a book is your calling, that this is something you MUST do. You’ve decided on the genre. You’ve come up with what you think is the basic premise of the next New York Times bestseller. You open your Word document and type the words “Chapter 1” and start in on your future masterpiece. But wait, how long are your chapters supposed to be? Quick! Google!

This person who claims to be a bestselling author himself says a good length for chapters is 3,000-5,000 words. But this person says 5,000-7,500. But THIS person says anywhere from 3,000-10,000. Oh look, a cat climbing up a wall. Focus! And now we have a guy who says chapter length is irrelevant. WHO’S RIGHT?!

Relax. Let me tell you a little about my own chapter lengths and then about what I’ve read in actual books and not in internet forums. My first book, if you can even call it that, came in at just over 55,000 words and 21 chapters. Some simple math puts the average chapter length at roughly 2,600 words. I think it’s actually just a tad higher because the book may have been closer to 55,400 words, but let’s just go with the nice round number of 2,600 for the purpose of this post. That would put the average chapter at about 10 pages in my book. Note that my book averaged about 250 words per page. The typical books I read average between 250-350. But the number of pages is irrelevant. It’s all about word count if you ask me.

But the average is not necessarily representative of the norm when it comes to my book. The shortest chapter I wrote was a mere 900 words. I didn’t much like it, but ended up leaving it in because it seemed to somewhat fit in the story. It was the second chapter I ever wrote. I honestly had no idea what the heck I was doing at the time. Still don’t, to be quite honest. Anyway, The differences don’t end there when it comes to chapter lengths in my short book. The first 10 chapters of my book roughly averaged 2,300 words each. The last 11 averaged 2,800. That may not seem like a huge difference, but it definitely is. One more final note before I get into what I’ve read about chapter lengths. The longest chapter I wrote for my first book came in just under 3,700 words, which I think was 18 or 19 pages in the book. So my range was 900-3,700 words per chapter for the whole of the work. Now let’s see what others have to say about it.

I definitely did the whole Google thing to find out the proper chapter length for my genre before I started writing, and it pretty much played out how I described above. There are simply too many voices out there telling you this or telling you that that it’s impossible to ever know for sure if there is a specific chapter length that you should aim for. For my references to other author’s works I’ll have to use page counts because I don’t know the exact word counts for any of their books. Robert B. Parker’s mystery novels tend to stay within 5-7 page chapters. Steve Hamilton’s are in the 12-15 page range. Michael Connelly writes in the 10-15 page range. But then Kevin O’Brien and Karin Slaughter, both New York Times bestselling authors, rarely write chapters less than 25 pages! WHAT? And then you have James Patterson on the opposite end of the spectrum writing 2-4 page chapters. What’s your take from this? There is no set chapter length. There isn’t.

But since most of you are writers yourselves, I’d like to know about your personal preferences when it comes to chapter length. I like 2,000 words to be minimum for mine, but I’ve written several below that threshold, including in my second book. But you all are also readers. I’d like to know if there is a certain number of pages per chapter that you feel is simply too many. In my opinion, once I get over 20 pages in a single chapter I’m hoping the next turn of the page is a new one. But that’s just me, tell me about you!


I wrote this post by referencing earlier posts from last year when I was still working on my first book. I was sitting here crying because you can feel the excitement in each post growing as I neared what I knew would be the end. I don’t know if one’s earlier self can inspire one’s later self, but I’m thinking it’s possible. I want to get back to that point in my writing again. I’m a baby, I know.

Here are three posts I think you might enjoy reading. You’ve never seen any of these, they’re from August of last year.

And Then There was One

The End is Near

Done! Acabado! Fertig!

Series or Standalone: How do you decide?

Photo Credit: Adam Hagerman

I have to assume that most authors make this decision before beginning work on a new book. I would hope so. And there may even be times in which the publisher ultimately makes the decision for the author based on the success of previous works. But we’re just talking about the author’s perspective.

So you’ve decided to write a book? Great. Now you’ve come up with some story you want to write. Great. Then you begin writing. Yes, I know there are more steps to beginning work on a book, but the point of this post isn’t the book writing process. It’s about deciding whether or not your book should be the start of a new series or if it should be a standalone novel.

What needs to happen for you to make this decision? This decision was made LONG before I started writing. I’m talking December 2011! My first draft was finished in August 2013. I didn’t even begin writing until May 2013. But I always knew that I wanted to write a detective series. Let me tell you why. Because I LOVE series. The number of books in the series makes no difference at all. The Hunger Games is my favorite series ever. It’s a simple trilogy. Harry Bosch will appear in the 19th book of his series later this year. Robert B. Parker’s Spenser detective appeared in 40 books before Parker’s death in 2010. He’s since appeared in three more novels. Alex Cross has appeared in 21 books to date. See, the quality of a series doesn’t depend on the number of books written in said series. Would I love more THG books? Yes. Would I love for Parker to have written more Spenser novels before his death? Yes.

BUT there’s another side of the same coin. Some of my favorite authors have made their livings off of writing standalone novels. T. Jefferson Parker, who has written two of my nine favorite books, has written 11 standalone novels. Some fans of his would even argue that his writing is worse when he’s writing a series. His most recent Charlie Hood novels have not been well received by his readers, but some of his older work has helped him win two Edgar awards for Best Novel. Both books are as great as it gets in crime fiction.

Another of my favorite authors Marcus Sakey has gotten his writing career off the ground with standalone novels. Six of his eight books have been standalones. I hated his first series related book. I won’t even consider continuing the series.

So what helps you make the decision to write or not write a series of books around a single character? Do you think it’s inherently easier to write a long series? Or do you think you’ll be able to produce better stories if you have a new protagonist every time you write? Tell me your thoughts.