How long does this have to be?

How long does this have to be?”

Remember asking that in school? When you had to (ugh!) write out a full three sentences? Teachers were demanding too much! And then you get older, and you have to write papers. And they had to be two whole pages? Or five entire pages?

You learned the tricks, didn’t you? Maybe you were someone honest and you didn’t use them, but you knew them. Make the margins just a little larger. Scale up the font juuuuuust enough, but not so much that the teacher notices. You knew what the larger fonts were, didn’t you? You knew how to replace short words with longer words.

But… that doesn’t work when you’re writing novels. Not if you want to give your readers value.

I’ve switched hats in the last week. For the last two years, I’ve concentrated on short stories, but the time has come. I’m now concentrating on some novels. I have what I’d originally intended to be a four-book series ready for a serious effort. Future posts here will probably talk at least a little bit about the business side of things as I learn along the way.

But today, just now, I’ve finished book one. The first book of my epic fantasy series is complete.

…how long does this have to be?

I have a problem. Book one is just over 40,000 words. I’m projecting the entire thing, based on this, to be around 160,000 words.

How long is that?

Book one, in paperback format, would be between 100 and 150 pages.

That’s it.

For a comparison, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is 36,000 words. Here’s a handy chart of other book lengths:

Found at — check out the article. 

How long should an epic fantasy be? According to several sources, you want an epic fantasy to be at least 90,000 words. (Each of those links goes to excellent articles about story length; if you’re a writer, you would probably benefit from them as much as I did. Check them out, particularly the first link!) I’m definitely over that for the overall series, but not for the individual volumes I have planned.

Of course, the answer to “How long does this have to be” should be, “As long as it takes to tell your story.” And that’s all well and good.

But will it sell?

Let’s admit it: If you saw a book on a shelf at your book store in the adult science fiction and fantasy section that was only slightly longer than The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, would you even pick it up to look at it?

Now, I do have some options. I could release the four volumes as ebooks at a cheap price and then release the omnibus in hard copy. 160,000 words is a lot for one book, but not terrible – and in fact still shorter than a lot of bestselling fantasies.

So why not just do that? Why not just release one longer book?

Because all the conventional wisdom says that series sell better than stand-alone books. Hook a reader with book one, and if they buy book two, they’ll likely buy the rest of the series.

If I’m going to write, I want to be able to support myself with my writing. I want to at least make enough to pay a bill or two!

I haven’t decided what I’m going to do yet about how I’m going to package this story. I do know I’m going to have final drafts of all four books before I release the first, which means I still have a lot of work to do. That means I have time to consider.

And who knows? Maybe I’ll discover something and book one will grow another 10,000 words. I doubt it, but hey, stranger things have happened, right?

Published by Jon

Jon lives in Kentucky with his wife and an insanity of children. (A group of children is called an insanity. Trust me.)

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