Reprobate, a short novel? An insight into word count.Posted: August 30, 2013
I’ve had several people comment on how Reprobate is an excellent story, but ‘on the short side’. This comment puzzled me, since Reprobate clocks in at a word count of 111,932 words. This was one of the reasons why, when TOR editor Melissa Singer considered Reprobate for publication, one of her comments were that Tom Doherty Associates rarely publishes suspense novels over 100,000 words.
Reprobate’s original length was 127,000 words when the manuscript was entered in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) contest in 2010 (under the name Peccadillo), where it reached the quarterfinals and received this Publishers Weekly review:
Fast-moving and intricately plotted, this manuscript of Dutch intrigue follows assassin Katla, who’s renowned for her ability to cover up a job. When the U.S. DEA’s base in the Netherlands catches wind of a heroin ring within the U.S. military, they set up an undercover operation. When the heads of the drug ring discover the plot, they arrange for Katla to assassinate the undercover agents, but the assassination doesn’t go as planned. As Katla recovers from injuries sustained in the botched job, DEA agent Deborah Stern and her colleagues investigate. Violence, drugs, and sex abound in this intense story, and the plot is less farcical than a lot of the thrillers clogging the shelves.
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I bolded the first words. Even at its most bloated, Reprobate was considered ‘fast-moving’. So I checked what the average word count of suspense fiction should be, and I found this article on Writer’s Digest by Chuck Sambuchino, who writes:
ADULT NOVELS: COMMERCIAL & LITERARY
Between 80,000 and 89,999 words is a good range you should be aiming for. This is a 100% safe range for literary, romance, mystery, suspense, thriller and horror. Anything in this word count won’t scare off any agent anywhere.
Now, speaking broadly, you can have as few as 71,000 words and as many as 109,000 words. That is the total range. When it dips below 80K, it might be perceived as too short—not giving the reader enough. It seems as though going over 100K is all right, but not by much. I suggest stopping at 109K because just the mental hurdle to jump concerning 110K is just another thing you don’t want going against you. And, as agent Rachelle Gardner pointed out when discussing word count, over 110K is defined as “epic or saga.” Chances are your cozy mystery or literary novel is not an epic. Rachelle also mentions that passing 100K in word count means it’s a more expensive book to produce—hence agents’ and editors’ aversion to such lengths.
80,000 – 89,999: Totally cool
90,000 – 99,999: Generally safe
70,000 – 79,999: Might be too short; probably all right
100,000 – 109,999: Might be too long; probably all right
Below 70,000: Too short
110,000 or above Too long
Chick lit falls into this realm, but chick lit books tend to be a bit shorter and faster. 70-75K is not bad at all.
So, if we take the above in account, Reprobate is ‘too long’ and, according to Rachelle Gardner, an ‘epic or saga’. So why do reviewers comment on Reprobate being ‘too short’ or ‘a short novel’?
Since Reprobate is available in e-book only, it’s difficult to assess the ‘heft’ of the book is, but considering that most novels are around 80-90,000 words, Reprobate is a whopping 25% thicker than the average paperback novel.
Next I went to a website where I could cut and paste the first chapter of Reprobate into a window and have the algorithms calculate the Readability Score. With these results:
A higher score indicates easier readability; scores usually range between 0 and 100.
|Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease||79.6|
A grade level (based on the USA education system) is equivalent to the number of years of education a person has had. Scores over 22 should generally be taken to mean graduate level text.
|Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level||4.7|
|Automated Readability Index||4.3|
|Average Grade Level||6.2|
|Characters per Word||4.4|
|Syllables per Word||1.4|
|Words per Sentence||10.4|
So I can rest easily. Reprobate is not short, but my writing style evidently allows for quick reading and that makes the ‘epic length’ of Reprobate seem much shorter. If you have questions about the readibility of your own manuscript, go to Readability Score and take the test yourself.