This one is still a bit of a mystery to me and, I suspect, a topic rooted in outdated tradition. I mean, I’ve read books of all sizes. My favourite authors regularly write 800 page books, yet the last book I read was a 100 page story by Neil Gaiman. Of course, most stories fall somewhere in between, usually in the seemingly hallowed 400-500 page range.
So how long should my first book be? That was an early question I faced. Knowing that books in my chosen genre come in all sizes, I then turned to Google. It returned only generic advice and really, I don’t know what I expected to find. The key point here is that I didn’t learn anything that I didn’t already know from my own market research.
To find out how long your book should be, read a few dozen books in the same genre.
Also, bear in mind I said should, and wherever you see that phrase there is a rule that was meant to be challenged. In my case, I wanted to write a long book. I love long books, you see. The worst part about reading, for me, is when a book finishes. I’ve become attached to the characters and the world in which they live. I don’t want to say goodbye! This is why waiting for sequels to be written is so painful. And I know this is a common sentiment, from friends and internet research.
So, I decided to write a long book for my first effort, despite reading some people’s opinions that I shouldn’t. I chose this because it’s important to me. With this in mind, I designed my book so that the plot came first, and size wasn’t a consideration. In other words, I just kept writing until the story was complete.
But book length is also a good preconception to challenge, for it turns out it just comes down to somebody’s opinion. Books shouldn’t be long? Patrick Rothfuss, Brent Weeks, Robin Hobb, Peter Brett, Lian Hearn. Long fiction books are just a phase? Tolkien, Dumas. Write a trilogy and no more? Robert Jordan, Katharine Kerr, Anne McCaffrey. Economic factors? People read digital books now.
My first book ended up being 217,000 words, which is roughly 870 pages. It makes sense given that my inspirations are authors who write long books, and my personal views on book length.
Interestingly, my first draft was smaller. I actually added 60,000 words to the book whilst editing, because that’s how I work. With my first drafts, I follow Brené Brown’s advice to just ‘get it down on paper’. After the story is complete, then I go back and edit it. I’m using the same approach for my second book.
With my first book, the result of this approach was that I wrote a fast-paced yet weaker story which, upon review, needed additional content in order to flesh it out and smooth some pacing issues. There was nothing to take out besides a typo or extraneous sentence here and there, perhaps as a result of simply ‘getting it done’ rather than dwelling too much on any one scene.
In closing, don’t fret about book size. So long as it’s similar to at least some published books in your chosen genre, you have a valid business case.