An article I submitted this month to Live Encounters, on Maurice Girodias, the “Lenin of the sexual revolution” – a Paris based publisher who dared to first publish many of the mid-late 20th century classics.
Tag Archives: publisher
One of the questions most frequently asked in creative writing classes is “how long is a novel/play/short story/screenplay?” And, as is often the case in creative writing, the answer is that there are no rules but… there kind of are.
There is not an official cut off word count for any of the above literary forms but the publishing industry has generally accepted average lengths. Be alive to the fact that just because your word count has hit the “magic number”, it does not follow that you are finished. Apart from the fact you’ll be lobbing off at least a third in edits, you also need be sure that you have brought all the strands of your story to satisfactory conclusion, have made your point and your character has undergone some sort of change / journey / learning arc in the process. Otherwise, to paraphrase Truman Capote, your’re just typing.
What follows is a rough guide/ballpark figure for each literary form:
The average commercial novel is 78,000 words in length; this roughly amounts to 300 A4 pages in double spaced twelve-point font. However, a novel can be anything from 45,000 words onwards. A book between 20,000 – 45,000 is usually marketed as a “novella”.
Traditionally, a short story is meant to be read in one sitting. Normally, this narrative form is quite pointed in its message, involves a single setting and few characters. A short story can be anything from 1,000-20,000 words.Writing short stories is a good way of building up your story telling skills, honing your craft as a writer and amassing a writing portfolio. Also, the short story is the literary form favoured by writing competitions. Such competitions usually look for stories in the 2,000-5,000 word bracket.
This is the short story’s kid brother. Somewhat akin to the Haiku, a flash fiction story often aims to capture a fleeting moment. It can be any thing between 100-1,000 words. Flash fiction is becoming very popular in competitions these days. Personally, I think this may be to save reading time for judges.
The standard “Hollywood” screenplay is 90 minutes long. Given the rule of thumb that one page equals one minute of movie, you should be aiming for a90-page long screen play. Obviously, this is an approximation.
Likewise, the page per minute rule applies here too. Bear in mind the slot your are aiming for. commercial TV and radio stations will include advert breaks in their schedule – so a half hour comedy show might in fact be only 22 minutes long etc… If you have a slot in mind, time the duration of the actual show (excluding theme music and commercial breaks.)
The page per minute rule can roughly be applied to stage plays too. If a stage play were to last an hour and a half, it should be 20,000 words long and span 90 pages.
A poem can be as short or as long as you like. A haiku is traditionally 17 syllables over three line. The Iliad is 25,000 lines long. For the try outs, however, you might aim for two or three verses.
Now, you have your completed, proofread manuscript in hand (or on file). It’s time to send baby off to the agents, or at least ask the agents if baby can come visit.
You will find agency contact details in the Writers and Artists’ Yearbook. There are many listed, read through carefully as there is no point in sending a historical romance off to an agency that specializes in SciFi. It might be a good idea to do further agency research online. Take note of who accepts email submissions, or hard copy only, and make sure you meticulously follow any guidelines.
In terms of choosing an agent to approach, I suggest thinking of an author whose work yours most resembles and then finding the agency or agent who represents them. Read through the acknowledgements in a book by that author and you’ll probably find the agent’s name listed, as writers usually thank their agents in the credits.
Initially, you ought to send a single-page inquiry letter to the agency. Outline your writing credentials. Include, in a few lines, the plot, genre and theme of your work. Ask if the agent would be interested in reading the first few chapters. You could attach a brief synopsis with this inquiry but I wouldn’t advise sending on your chapters until invited to do so.
Be aware that agents can take months to get back to you. Aware of this fact, many writers, understandably, send their work off to multiple agents at the same time. However, these multiple send-offs don’t sit well with the agents themselves. It’s a tough call, and the few agents I’ve spoken too say that although they’d prefer if you didn’t simultaneously approach other agents, they understand it happens and in such cases they appreciate it if writers let them know the work is under consideration by others too (and don’t send to more than three agents in one go).
If the agent likes your proposal, they may ask to see the first three chapters. If these fly, you may get a request for the full manuscript. The wait can be nerve-wracking. The best advice I’ve received is to start working on your second (or third or fourth) novel the day the first one goes off to the agents. If nothing else it gives you a new focus and if you do get picked up, you’ll be ready with a second book by the time the first goes to print.
And as a final check :
1) Make sure all your pages are numbered.
2) Make sure your name and the title of your work appears on the header of every page.
3) Use a standard serif typeface (Times New Roman or Georgia) in 12 point. Avoid weird or wacky fonts.
4) Print double-spaced and single-sided on (non-scented) white A4 paper.
5) Don’t send pictures of your cat’s kittens or glitter or a poem. You won’t look cute, you’ll look weird and desperate and you’ll never make it past the slush pile.
Here is a sample letter (email) of inquiry:
Dear Mr Agent,
I am a published poet and I have also written some articles for local papers in my home city of Ipswich.
I have recently completed my first novel, ‘The Big One’. I believe the genre and story-line accord with many represented by your agency and I would like to send my manuscript to you for consideration. The novel is approximately 78,000 words long, is set in contemporary Ipswich. It is a crime novel.
The plot centres around three old prison friends, recently reunited on the outside. The trio plan a jewel heist in order to help a fourth friend fund a medical operation. The heist is bungled and the former inmates discover they have been duped by the very person they had risked all to help. The novel explores friendship and betrayal and the battle between revenge and forgiveness.
I am attaching a more detailed synopsis and will forward my manuscript at your request.
Please let me know if you are interested in reading the same.
Joseph T. Doe