Lori Knight asked this question a few weeks ago: “With the huge trend toward e-books, why do romance books have to be limited to about 350 pages? I’ve read several hundred books lately which suffered from rushed or incomplete endings. Do publishers require this? How does this impact your writing?”
It’s an interesting question–or, rather, three questions. I don’t know the answer to the first one, though I have always assumed two things: (a) that publishers like books of the same type to be similar in length so that they are easier to plan and design and budget for–and so that readers know what to expect. And (b) that they have done some market research and know the approximate length of certain types of books that most readers prefer. I don’t pretend to be a typical reader, but I do know that with most paperback books I prefer a length of 350-375 pages maximum. It has to be an exceptional book to hold my interest if it is longer than that.
I have something more personal to say on Lori’s other comments and questions. If a book has a rushed or incomplete ending, the fault is not with the demands a publisher or editor has imposed upon the author. The fault is squarely with the author! Any book, no matter how long or short, has a shape and should read smoothly as though it is the perfect length and that its parts are perfectly proportioned. It is up to the author to impose this shape on a book. It is not easy, of course! Nothing about the writing process is easy (which is not the same thing as saying it is not the best job in the world!).
I sometimes ask people in the process of writing a book what word count they are aiming for. I am always a bit startled when the answer is that there is no expectation, that the book will be as long as it turns out to be when the story is told. I know all writers are different and this approach may work for many, but it wouldn’t work for me. I need to know the approximate word count I am aiming for before I start so that I can shape the story accordingly. This way I can be sure to leave enough words to write an ending that is just the right length and to spend enough time on the middle section without allowing it to be too thin on material or downright sagging with dullness. After writing so many books, the shape is almost instinctive as I write. But if I were ever to find myself close to the end of my word count with a great deal of the story yet to tell, I would have to go back to change things so that I could give myself enough room at the end. If I allowed the hurried ending to stand and merely grumbled about not having been allowed more words and pages, then I would be to blame for the inferior book I was turning out. No, really, writers have a responsibility to give their readers their very best professional effort–even if going back to reshape is going to take extra time.
Incidentally, I love writing novellas of 25,000 words or so as opposed to the 100,000 word novels I write most of the time. I always say that novellas are all beginning and end without any of the pesky middle. But they still have the same shape and must be written accordingly. A novella is not just a severely curtailed novel. It is a work of art in itself (think miniature as opposed to large canvas).
To one person who leaves a comment below before the end of Friday, February 7, I will send an autographed copy of my two-in-one volume of DARK ANGEL and LORD CAREW’S BRIDE, They are two of my earlier 75,000 word Regency romances. Last week’s winner was Meaghan Miller. Congratulations to her.