Worrying About Word Count

rotrthumbRise of the Reaper was a big book. When I decided to put it into the YA fantasy category it suddenly seemed even bigger. If you look up the average word count for YA it’s sure as hell not 117,000-odd words. It can often be half that. But who cares, right? When it comes to fantasy it is often expected that the word count will be up on the rest. And look at J. K. Rowling… although it could be argued that she’s an outlier, it does seem like she moved the bar, so that now people are more comfortable with longer books in that category.

But it bothers me. Part of me thinks that maybe I should pull it out of YA and put it in plain old fantasy. Yes, the protagonists are young but, back at the start, more than a decade ago, I never intended the series to really be for a teen or YA audience. I don’t know what I actually intended. I don’t think I actually even thought about audience when I sat down to write and worldbuild. I just wrote the characters and places and story that I wanted to tell and explore. Later, much later, came the shitty worry about categories and audience. I used to want the books to simply be fantasy that just happened to have young folk in it. Or a crossover work, the way Harry Potter and Hunger Games appeal to adults and a YA audience.

pam1Then I wondered if that was smart marketing. (I hate that word – marketing.) Write what you want is great advice, and I do feel that way, but when it comes to the nitty gritty of publishing and then the hell of marketing, you have to shove it into a pigeonhole. And I don’t like that. So I did what I hadn’t wanted and put it in YA, which I worried would put off adult readers, because it seemed, on balance, the more logical place.

Also, I had expected YA to be easier to market. Hah! I also worried that it would limit me, content and tone wise (which was silly, in hindsight) and then the word count worries came, and now I don’t know what the hell to think.

The word count isn’t all about the category though… in fact it isn’t about that much at all if I think about it. It’s about money as much as anything. I indie publish and CreateSpace etc, despite the self-publishing cheerleading surrounding it, can be pricey for people whose books run to high word counts (i.e mine). Simply put, there’s just not much profit in a print book (or any) – not if you have a high word count, anyway. The more pages there are, the higher the print cost.

So what’s the worry now? Well, when I finished it, Darkwalkers came in at just over a whopping 137,000 words. I don’t know how many pages that will come in at, but if ROTR was around 115,000 words and came in at 396 pages, then Darkwalkers is going to be much bigger. It also means that that brief profit will be wiped out and I’ll be in the red and therefore won’t be able to print for that cost. So it means upping the price. Big deal? There’s another worry. The books already cost £8.99. Is £9.99 or £10.99 too much? I tend to check the prices of paperbacks when I’m in Waterstones, and £7.99 and £8.99 seem to be the norm. It is rarer to see them higher, although it does happen, which is  at least some comfort.


Perhaps I’m worrying about thing. Most indies don’t traditionally make much from print sales anyway – eBooks are where the bulk of their book income comes from (if they’re lucky enough to make any). So, if I want to sell print (and I do) then I will have to up the paperback price. And I’m already worrying about Time’s Grim Machinery, the next in the series. That draft is currently sitting at 240,000 words from when I finished it nearly eight years ago. It will be re-written and seriously edited, but again, I think it will still be a bigger book than even Darkwalkers. I could always split it into two books… but I’m still not sold on that idea.

Maybe I’m worrying about nothing. With the advent of indie publishing, maybe it frees us up. Not to write unnecessarily bloated books, but to tell a story and give it the breathing room it and the characters need and not worry about length.

As for my category concerns… those continue.

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