Are lenghty books automatically bad?

Or to put it another way, is the industry afraid of lenghty books? I get the argument that not everyone has the time to read long chapters, books, etc. But does it really matter all that much when you can just put a bookmark in the middle of the chapter with ease. I do not believe that the average reader is so forgetful or inattentive that each chapter needs to be easily enticing and finishable in 10 minutes or less.

Or are the publishers so afraid of how long an author would take to complete such stories? To keep readers invested in a series it has to be pumped out as fast as possible and the story adapted to such a superficial style?

This is partially a rant. But I do want an idea of what publishers and agents think when they see a story with 250k words. Or what does “it’s way too long” really mean when there are books from King, in the Wheel of Time and Malazan series easily above 300k and even more?

Yes. For debut authors they don’t wanna go over the industry standards because printing books is expensive.

If you’re an established author, you can pretty much do whatever you want - also why you see people like King publish massive bricks.

But debut authors? Not so much.


What @fray says. Even for an e-book a trad publishr has to invest in the editing. For a 250 k novel that is a lot more expensive than for something up to 120 K max. Fantasy has more leeway but there are limits. As a debut author, you’e a commercial risk. It sounds bad, but that’s the way it is.

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Yeah even High Fantasy debuts usually top at 130k - and then it’s risky

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Fray summed it up well. Established authors need to worry a lot less about these things, but for debut authors, it’s a whole other kettle of fish. Also, when a book does start nearing the 100k mark, it often makes sense in my head for it to just become a series.

Especially in modern day, where so many people consume writing online (from spaces like Wattpad, to social media sites), people are becoming used to consuming things in shorter bursts. It’ll be interesting to see what that means for the future of the industry, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The point is, lengthy books are in no way automatically bad. They often have a hell of a lot of thought and polishing behind them, it’s just as a debut author, you’re in for an uphill struggle trying to sell one.

Hi, welcome to my life.


I’m of the opinion that word counts for epic fantasy - even for debuts - are largely irrelevant . . . IF they like your book. It is almost impossible to find a book classified as epic fantasy that is less than 130k words. You can run down the list of debut books from epic fantasy authors and they are all longer than what the common wisdom says they can be:

Abercrombie (Blade Itself) - 190k
Lynch (Lies of Locke Lamora) - 190k
Sanderson (Elantris) - 200k
Weeks (Way of Shadows) - 156k
Hobb (Assassin’s Apprentice) - 165k
Rothfuss (Name of the Wind) - 250k

Those are basically the 6 most popular epic fantasy authors (minus Jordan and Martin and Tolkien, and their epic fantasies were not their debuts . . . though they were long).

If you write epic fantasy, don’t worry about length. Epic fantasies readers do not want to read 90k word epic fantasies. Write the length you think fits it best, and then query.


Also, if you look at the first book in epic fantasy series, you’ll notice that they’re almost always thinner than the others. Gardens of the Moon (book1 of malazan) is about half the size of Deadhouse Gates.

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But Gardens of the Moon is still 209k words . . . Deadhouse Gates is 272k, but you’re right that bloat sets in after a few books. I chalk that up to editors being unable to rein in writers who get too big . . . like GRRM


Some publishers won’t accept even a debut fantasy novel of below 100k words. They tend to the specialized ones like Tor.

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That’s because fantasy requires so much world building. They figure if it’s that short, the writer either didn’t do enough world building or has a too-simple plot.

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Like others have said, it’s not so much as being afraid of the lengthy books, but more so on the fact that for one, publishing is expensive so your long book is costing more to be printed rather than a smaller book. Secondly, it’s easier to fit three smaller books on the shelf rather than one giant book. And third of all, a debut author that has a lengthy book is a huge risk that publishers take because it can instantly flop and well, that’s a lot of money down the drain.

You may see some authors have larger books (such as someone like George R. R Martin) but this is because they’re established authors where their fan base will easily buy their books without a second thought. But if you’re an unknown author, you have less of a chance to publish your massive book… unless you go through self-publishing.

Otherwise, it’s best to use the industry standard toward your genre (such as 70,000-100,000 or so words). If you also take a look at some of the author’s beginning works, you can see a difference. J.K Rowling, for example, had published the first few Harry Potter books on the shorter end of the spectrum. But as the series went on and as she became more famous, the rest of the books became longer and that was because her readers were perfectly okay with reading more (along with many other reasons, of course).

“Gone With the Wind” is one of my favorite books. I suspect that people are scared away from it because of it’s size. I’m guessing for very large books, and though I can’t be certain, that publishers are more afraid of this reaction than they are about time and effort for editing and so forth.

I recently bought Norman Mailer’s “Executioner Song,” at b& because it was referenced in another book which I liked. If I had been in the store and seen that it was 1100 pages I would’ve been more cautious with my purchase. Fifty some pages into it and I remembered why I don’t buy Norman Mailer books (although it does make a wonderful door stop).

The size of a book doesn’t in anyway affect it’s quality or it value, but we do make judgements because of it. And perhaps it’s appropriate that we do. I would recommend “Gone With the Wind,” to anybody. But I would also recommend that anyone interested should read a chapter or two before they bought it. If I was recommending “The Great Gatsby,” I’d just say buy the dang thing.

According to my agent for the UK fantasy market long is good. I know of a debut author who was asked to lengthen her novel from 125k to 170-200k three years ago.


Woah, that’s cool! :blush:

I know that it sometimes works that way for specific authors, especially if their writing is superb and everyone in the industry that works with them adores it, but it kind of feels rare because everything you hear nowadays is all like, “Keep it short,” etc. xD

That book was “The Court of Broken Knives”, and yes the writing is superb.

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@aarujarv I went on the same rant, the first time I encountered trad pub word count limits. :smile:

15+ years later, I still think the trad industry is saddled with shortsighted limitations, and that is one of them. They’re also afraid of series pitched by an unknown author. They’re happy to publish a series that sells, but they won’t risk a series pitch unless it’s coming from someone established.

Indie author Drew Hayes felt no shame in writing a book that clocked in at 450,000 words, and that series of his is doing very well.

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Including that her publisher would kiss the ground she walked on :smirk:

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The problem with length is that each page has to be printed, and if your story is really long your book is going to be very thick. That uses up space on book shelves. If you are an established author, you can do what you want. But for a brand-new author, you have to consider the costs of printing your story and the space it will use on a shelf.

And he paid to produce it and took the financial risk.

It amazes me when people get upset with traditional publishing for trying to make the best money decisions they can.