What To Do With a Really Long Novel?

I’ve got a writing problem I’m hoping to get advice on.

I’m writing a novel, a psychological suspense novel, that is now 678 pages long (or 174,000 words). That, of course, is much too long. Although I haven’t started the necessary cutting process, I doubt that when I do I’ll cut more than a couple hundred pages. And the novel’s not finished yet. I’d guess I’ve got another 200 pages to go before I’m done. So I’m looking at a novel that, even when cut, will be 650 pages or so.

My question is, should I just cut the hell out of it, including things that seem to me to be important to plot and character development? Should I try to break it into two books (I already have a one-book sequel in mind, which would make it a trilogy)? The problem with the latter is that I can’t think of a good place to end the first book, where it seems to come to a natural end and I can wrap things up. It really just keeps building until the end.

I was told that a publisher will not consider a manuscript by a first-time novelist that’s more than about 350 pages long. That would decimate my novel to the point that it wouldn’t be my novel anymore. It wouldn’t be able to say the things I want to say.

I wonder, though, whether the reading public is more open to longer novels than publishers are. I know I’ve read my share of 1,000-page-long novels. So I’ve been thinking that maybe, if I get it extremely well edited, find someone who can create a stellar book cover, and do a bunch of research on how to go about it, this might be a novel that would do better as an ebook. I’m not sure I’ll be able to get an agent, much less a publisher, to even look at it at this length, and yet I think it’s a good book with an important message, if I do say so myself. I don’t like the idea of it just sitting, lonely and unself-actualized, on my computer for years on end until I get a subsequent (and shorter) book published, if that’s even possible these days with publishers severely limiting the number of new authors they take on board. If I did, and it sold well, maybe the publisher would consider publishing a longer novel of mine. Maybe. Maybe not.

Getting to that point would take years and years. I want to get my book into the hands of readers sooner rather than later. Does a book even exist if it’s never been read by anyone else? Unless you publish other books that become best sellers or classics, those unpublished novels will never see the light of day. I hate that thought, especially if it’s a good novel and the obstacle is some rule that manuscripts shouldn’t exceed a certain number of pages.

But on the other hand, would a person reading an ebook be willing to invest the time to read a 600- or 700-page novel, in this day of website blurbs and bullet point e-newsletters? Has our attention span dropped so much that we will no longer read long novels, no matter the format?

I know that e-publishing isn’t considered “real” publishing, but if it’s a way of getting books into the hands of readers, well, isn’t that what publishing is all about? So, is the prejudice against it really valid, or is it one of those “this is the way it’s always been done, so it must be the only right way” things?

People have a lot of strong opinions about indie publishing versus traditional publishing, but really I’m just trying to figure out what the right medium is for this particular book—this really long book that’s a psychological suspense, chick lit, slightly literary book with a touch of horror thrown in. I don’t know that it fits neatly into a category, which seems to be a big thing with publishers and agents (not that I’m an expert; I’m a complete newbie when it comes to publishing), and that’s another reason I think e-publishing might be the way to go. I know it would take a lot of work because I would have to do all of the marketing myself, but I can do that.

So…if you have any thoughts about what direction I should take this in, please advise away!

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “What To Do With a Really Long Novel?

  1. Thank you for commenting, Jimmy, and as always you have something both useful and funny to say! Yes, I guess I have nothing to lose by letting it sit for a while and then coming back to it to try to cut it.

  2. Jimmy Beasley

    I’ve got a couple of shorter ones that I’m comfortable with, but I have the same problem with what I consider my best one. It finished out at around 600 pages and I couldn’t figure what to cut. I quit thinking about it and started working on other things. Now, after a few weeks, I am looking at it more objectively and can see some things that can be condensed. A couple of longer segments that were important at first might be added weight and can be dropped completely. I am down to around 450 with less pain and anguish than I thought possible. It is probably still a tad long, but I’m not as panicked as I once was. I thought about cutting out all the b.s., but then I only had about 50 pages.

  3. I love long books if the characters are truly involving. For me, that’s often more important than the plot. Still, I’ve read very long novels that could have been cut severely without any damage at all. Some of them would have been improved by the cuts. From working on a couple of novels of my own, I’d say that the hardest part of editing is figuring out what to cut. A section may work well, but not be absolutely necessary to the story. If you’re doing your own editing, I’d suggest that you pay particular attention to that aspect. Sometimes whole sections can be edited down to fewer words, even if the details they contain are necessary. Before deciding whether to chop it into more than one volume or publish and hope that it finds the readers who will buy it in spite of the length, concentrate on tightening, looking for wordiness, repetition, and those bits that hurt to cut out but aren’t needed.

    • I think that’s excellent advice, and I do need to sharpen my skills as far as cutting goes. I have a terrible habit of writing long (I do journalism). That implies I’m being wordy, but generally I’m actually just including more information than is appropriate for the desired length of the piece. I plan to find an editor with a huge pair of scissors so that I can find out what really might be able to go. I do want to put out the best book I possibly can, after all.

  4. I’m not sure it’s true that readers aren’t interested in longer novels anymore. On the contrary, there’s been a clear drift towards longer and longer novels; I believe the average word length for novels has gone up a long way in the last couple of decades.

    Obviously that varies from genre to genre, but I think the underlying logic is: if we pay for a book, we want to get plenty out of it. I know if I’m expected to pay £8-10 for a new book, I’ll probably feel more inclined to buy a fat one than a skinny one because, in theory at least, I’ll get a lot more entertaining reading hours out of it.

    On the other hand, there’s no doubt that many people feel they don’t have enough time to read and some people are daunted by a really enormous book. Readers seem to respond well to series’, though, and a two-or-three-part series might seem to break it into more manageable pieces.

    I think that the attitude to self-publishing is starting to change, too. The mere fact that the phrase ‘indie publishing’ seems to be coming up more often than ‘self-publishing’ says a lot, and I haven’t heard the title ‘vanity publishing’ in a while. It’s rapidly becoming a viable way to publish, if you can handle the burden of doing all your own marketing. I know I will seriously consider this option myself when I feel ready to begin looking for an outlet for my work.

    Thanks for an interesting post.

  5. oldsalt1942

    You might find this an interesting post about book lengths;
    http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=3412
    Don’t miss reading the comments to the post which are as interesting and as informative as the post itself.

    As far as publishing the book electronically it’s definitely the way to go these days. Think of Amanda Hoking who only e-publishes and is probably going to rake in a half million dollars this year.

    Any other doubts about it check out Joe Konrath’s blog:
    http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/

    He’s another one raking in the dough and only e-publishes. A few years ago he was dead-set against the method but now says that even if a “traditional” publisher offered him a half million dollar advance he’d probably turn it down.

    I have one book e-pubed on Smashwords, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I’m NOT making tons of money off it but it IS a thrill to see that someone has bought a copy.

    • Thank you, Old Salt (my Dad’s one of those!); that was really helpful! I very much appreciate your taking the time to give me this information and the links.

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