How long should my manuscript be?

One of the many writing questions I get asked a lot is about the length of a manuscript. It really depends on the genre… But on average, a novel should be between 340-400 double spaced pages (using a 12 pt) Courier or similar monospaced slab serif typeface.

Huh? A what? A monospaced slab serif typeface is a block type where every letter takes up the same amount of space on the page, and it’s considered the industry standard for novels and screenplays. Courier is the most commonly used, but others have been known to use Arial, Helvetica, etc. I’m old school, so for me, it’s Courier.

Now that being said, you seldom see a publisher say 340-400 pages. Instead, you’re normally given a word count: 85,000-100,000 words which happens to be 340-400 typed pages. This is done because if you write a lot of dialogue, you’ll need more pages to make up that word count. The word count is traditionally done assuming that there are 250 words per page and you multiply that by the final page count.

As a rule, publishers usually prefer a smaller book to the larger, especially if you’re a beginning writer. They really don’t want to see anything over 105,000 words (420 pages). And have been known to get extremely cranky at long books due to the much higher cost of printing and shipping them.

How do I know? I make all of my publishers really cranky… a lot, LOL. I can’t seem to bring a book in that small no matter how hard I try. In the beginning of my career, my manuscripts fell between 112,500-125,000 words. Then enter Night Embrace which came in at a staggering 212,500 words (853 pages). Yeah, my editor had conniptions and I was forced to take out almost 200 pages which still made it a whopper of a book. Luckily, I was able to use those pages in other books that came down the pike, such as Seize the Night, Night Play and Dance With The Devil.

Nowadays, my books are much longer than what they were in the beginning. And luckily, my publishers, while still cranky, are much more tolerant of it. Most of my books are in the 127,500-150,000 range. Acheron, of course, is the granddaddy that came in at a staggering 275,000 words… the length of three full novels. There was a lot of story to tell with that one. Bad Moon Rising was 175,000, Born of Night 190,000, Born of Fire 184,000, No Mercy 163,000, Retribution 148,000, and Born of Silence 183,000.

So what determines the length? For me, it’s always the story. I don’t believe in adding extra scenes or “filler” to any book. My personal belief is that those scenes detract from the story and are noticeable when added. Every scene should be pertinent to the story being told or it’s removed. I use whatever page count it takes to get from beginning to middle to end, and as you can see from the above, it varies greatly book to book. I never know final word count until I hit it at the end of the project, and I don’t worry about word count. That is the blessing of being where I am in my career. This doesn’t mean I’m not edited. I have more editors now than I did in the beginning. But editing always adds additional pages to every novel. What it means is that I’m no longer asked to cut scenes or pages from a book. Yaah!

That being said, I will on occasion add a “bonus” scene. These are scenes that don’t fit into any one book because they don’t pertain directly to that storyline, yet I know the readers will want to see them in print and I need them for the overall series arc. Cases in point: Xedrix and Simi meeting for the first time. Ash in the graveyard. The extra scene at the end of Retribution. But I don’t count those as part of the word count for the book. Those are fun vignettes for the readers and fans to enjoy.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Ash was a big book, but it wasn’t 1100 pages in book form. What happened to the extra pages? They are still in the book. Believe me, I checked, LOL. I’ll be honest, it astonishes me to hand in a ream and a half of paper and then get back the galleys (the printed form of the book that is bound) and see it reduced to 450-500 book pages. I always have a degree of heart failure and have to verify that no one left a chapter out (which actually has happened before… and more than once).

Printed novel length has no bearing on the length of a manuscript. If you’ve ever played with the Make It Fit feature in Word, then you know what I’m talking about. You can play with font size to get 4 pages onto 2, and that’s what they do with novels. Mostly, they do it to keep cost down so that the price of the books is cheaper for y’all. Believe it or not, publishers keep readers in mind all the time and do everything they can to keep the cost down so that they can pass those savings along to you. It’s why hardbacks are always reduced the first few weeks of publication. If you buy a book the first two weeks it’s out, you can get it at 30-40% off the cover price– courtesy of the publisher.

So I hope that alleviates some of the mystery of how many pages you need to aim for when drafting your novel. Good luck with it!