FAQ: How Long Should My Story Be?

Word length, like many other FAQ’s, does not have an easy answer. It really depends on what you’re writing, what the genre is, how the plot and pacing go, and what the story wants to be. In this digital age we have lot more options. When once novellas were shunned because publishers just didn’t take them. Now they are everywhere because we can publish on our own.

The general guidelines for lengths according to wiki:

Novel over 40,000 words
Novella 17,500 to 40,000 words
Novelette 7,500 to 17,500 words
Short story under 7,500 words
(Not on wiki, but under 2k is considered flash fiction by most people.)
This is not necessarily typical for what I’ve seen posted elsewhere. Usually novels are quoted as 60k and over, while novellas are 10-60k. This, to me, seems like a ridiculously large variance.

Another consideration is genre. In romance, 60k is normal, while in sci-fi and fantasy it’s more common to see 80-100k+ novels.

E-books have given us a lot more latitude, though it still is proven that people buy longer books more often. In that case, 80k seems to be a “magic number” in word length, as much as anything is “magic” in the publishing world.

But how long should your story be? Ask your story! Does it have a lot of twists and turns in the plot? Then go longer. Is it a simple vignette, a window into a world instead of the whole world, then go short. I’ve seen stories that are as short as 100 words that are worth a read.

The Egg“, a rather wonderfully poignant short story, has hit the front page of reddit several times, and been shared, remade and reused often. “The Last Question” by Issac Asimov, also comes up a lot. Both of these stories are only a few pages long, and yet people are going to be analyzing and rereading them for years to come.
So yes, you should probably write some longer pieces if you are trying to sell books. But, I would caution you to let the stories tell themselves when you can. Sometimes they are going to be shorter, sometimes longer. This doesn’t necessarily make them wrong. It’s only wrong if you don’t stay true to your story.

FAQ: I’m stuck, now what?

download“Writers Block” is often synonymous with “I’m stuck, what do I do?” It isn’t that you don’t want to write, or can’t write, it’s that you’re not sure what you should say, or how to say it. It is usually the “how” part that gets me to stumble. When that internal editor starts telling me my writing is terrible, and I need to do better. That nothing I write is going to be worth the effort, that is when I have to dig into my repository of tricks to get the words flowing again.

The first trick is to reread what you alread wrote. Not all of it, just the last couple of pages. eventually something might spark the flow and get you moving again.

If that fails, then you can use stream of thought writing. This is like “beats” (or rough outlining) but a bit more specific for the area you are working with.

An example from “Mermaids Curse”

the kraken is flailing about, and gets stabbed, and immediately flails more, grabbing acolyte’s and tossing them into the waters.

Koric is trying to reach his wife and daughter, but the tentacle falls in front of him, blocking his path, and two priests grab him from behind, thrusting him up against the skin of the kraken where he is covered in a layer of slime from the tentacle.

It isn’t the best writing. It probably won’t even be the finished plot, but it gives me a good idea of where I am heading, and when I come back to that little section I can rewrite it and polish it up.

First drafts are often messy and need to be stripped down to the good bits before sending to an editor, so this is your first draft. Keep going.

Another trick would be to start filling in the world building a bit more. Just write about the culture, the town, a person, or and event that happens near your story. It may not effect your story directly, or it could be the extra plot point you were missing.

And besides, you might use the little bits of world knowledge that don’t make it into the final product somewhere else. It may become a new plot point in future tales, or reference in this work. Don’t discount world building just because it doesn’t fit right now. In general, someone like Tolkien who had so much extra world building that he put it into a separate book of it’s own, writes fuller and richer worlds then someone with no world building at all.

Happy Writing

FAQ: How do I write?


We hear this all the time, and the answer from most writers is “sit down and write”. And that’s a valid answer, because in order to write you simply have to pick up a pen, or type on a keyboard, and write.

But I think the question most people mean to ask is really “how do I keep writing, even when I don’t want to?”

That’s a little more complicated. Learning to write is, in many ways, as hard as learning to play an instrument or becoming a pro-ball player. It’s less physical (unless you count carpel tunnel from all this typing) but it takes practice and dedication.

The other question might be: “How do I stay inspired?”

There is a terrible myth that all great art is created by this magical muse that comes and gives you incite at the right moment. Then you write a LOT, and everything is wonderful. It’s bullshit, but that’s the rumor.

The truth, and a truth all failed artists of any medium fail to see, is that the really great artists (Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Picasso, Van Gogh) had a few hundred paintings and sculptures in museums. Thousands more of their paintings were destroyed before they ever left the studio because they simply weren’t good enough. There are whole sketchbooks from some of the greats of pictures that were started, restarted, scratched out, and restarted again.

Ray Bradbury wrote a short story every day for YEARS. Not all of them were great, but he had a lot of practice, and a lot of them were. Picasso painted several paintings each day, and only a handful survived.

You need to write, and you need to write A LOT in order to get better. Thinking you can get out of that disregards all of the years that every other artist has ever put into writing.

As for the muse… create your own muse. Find out what inspires you to write, and keep doing that. For me it’s reading good books, talking to other authors about writing, or listening to a podcast. I know that if I do these things a lot then I will probably produce a lot more words on the page, just because I want to keep going. I want to see my book finished and in print.

For you it might be long walks, a shower, or a contemplative morning in front of a tech magazine.

Find what works for you, and keep doing that. Make your own muse. And even if the muse doesn’t come, sit down and write about the muse. Ask her/him why he isn’t showing up, and keep going.


FAQ : Are Zombies Overdone

In a forum this morning, a fellow writer said they came up with an idea, and thought of setting it in a zombie apocalypse. They wanted to know if zombies were overdone.

My Response:

Zombies are a bit over done at the moment, but they go in and out of style just like witches, vampires, and werewolves. I believe “witches” are the current hot thing, or so I keep hearing.

The thing is, you should write what you love, because that love will shine through. So what if the market has too many zombie stories. Your first job is to write, worry about markets later.

Second, if you could take the zombies out and replace them with anything else and still have the same story, then really it isn’t going to matter. People will come for the story, not just the monster of the day.

Lastly, Even if they are over done, there will always be people who love them. Write it, publish it, and it might find a small audience now, and a larger one later when zombies become the “thing” again.

But really, just write what you love.

FAQ – Should I Really “Write What I Know?”

writeYou see this advice everywhere. New authors asking how to write, or what to write, and other authors telling them “Write what you know.”

This is a quote from Mark Twain. It is fantastic, amazing advice, and yet people constantly miss understand it.

“How do I write about dragons? I’ve never seen one.”

“How do I write about love? I’ve never been in love.”

I hope to all that’s good that VC Andrews did not know about incest and child abuse first hand. Or that Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov had first hand knowledge of what is in Lolita. Stephen King probably hasn’t met a giant spider that makes children hallucinate evil clowns. Yet, they exist. And they are some of the most read books out there.

There are many things that I, personally do not know about. I have never experienced the death of a loved one, but I know what it’s like to loose someone. I don’t know the thrill of climbing Mount Everest, but I know the joy of accomplishing something I’ve never been able to do before.

We all have loves, tragedies, heart felt moments, days when we want to pull our hair out, and days when we think we’ve never felt happier. The trick isn’t to “write what you know” but to draw on the experiences, the hopes, the dreams, and the very essence of life, and create a realistic narrative.

If you don’t “know” something, then go learn something! Watch people. See how they react. Take a class. Live and love, and learn and exist in this great big world we call home. And then write about living.

Writer FAQ: Where Do You Get Ideas?

One of the most commonly asked questions out there, “Where do you get ideas?”

The simple answer: Live…

It sounds simple, but really, that’s it. Sometimes I will think all my ideas have dried up, then my boyfriend will say his mechanic has some sort of black magic touch, and I’m off and running on a new idea.

Live. Read. Watch documentaries. Read some more. Take a class. Watch people. Play games. Read even more. Experience life. Draw on those experiences.

And the next step is learning to recognize those bits and pieces, and having some form of notebook with you always so that you can jot them down. (I use a notepad on my cell).

The only real difference between a writer with lots of ideas, and everyone else, is that the author knows when a great idea will make a good story, and he takes the time to write it down.

So many people around us, with so many fantastic ideas. They tweet them, make funny gifs, talk about them. But a writer takes the time to develop it into something more. Then the writer seeks out new information, so that he can boldly incorporate it into his writing like no other author has done before.

Now THAT is where ideas come from.

FAQ- How do I promote my book?

Okay, you have a book. It’s up on Amazon, Kobo, and everywhere else… Now what?

Well, the best answer is… Go write another book!

No, seriously!

Here’s the deal, if you have one book and go promote it, great, people can buy that book. But, a lot of people won’t buy a book if you only have one up there. They like to sink their metaphorical teeth into their favorite authors and read LOTS of stuff from them, so if you have only one book out, and they love you, then they aren’t going to be as willing to take a chance.

Also, what if you do well with your book? Where do the readers go from their? And what if you put the first book up for free, they read it, but have no second book to buy?

It just makes sense to have more books out. The more you have, the more you can share with your readers. The more you share the more they can share.

The concept of visibility dictates that the more surface area you have, the greater the chance someone will spot you… so give yourself lots of books, and lots of feelers out there for maximum chance to be seen.

Okay… got your second, third, etc, book done? Great!

Now… go play on social networks. Meet people, comment on their threads, share your stories. DON’T PROMOTE!

Seems counter intuitive, doesn’t it? Yes, well, we are living in a counter intuitive world. How many of us skip cable, TiVo, use Netflix or anything else, just to avoid advertisement? Why would you think anyone would want to see and advert about your book if they don’t want to see a commercial in the middle of their TV show?

No, they want you to interact with them. Be funny, be interesting, join the conversation. Or produce something worth talking about. if you can do both then you are GOLDEN! People will go looking for you to see what you say if you are interesting enough. People will search out your commercials on youtube if you’re funny. They will Google your story if you’re exciting. They will post tributes, make fan fic, and generally make a joyful noise as long as you making something they care about, or you are someone they care about.

My best success hasn’t been screaming “BUY MY BOOKS!” It’s been making friends. Sharing stories. Interacting with fans. That has brought more people into my little corner of the web then anything else out there. And I am so grateful to all the friends that have made this possible.

FAQ- Editors

FAQ- each week I’m going to pic a frequently asked question and answer it here. You will be able to find the entire FAQ on a page soon.

This weeks question:

“I finished my novel, and now I need an editor. Is it normal to get an editor lined up, and for them to take weeks, or months, to get back to me?” (paraphrased)

No, that isn’t normal. An editor should get back to you within the week unless they tell you they are going on hiatus for a while. But perhaps you are too swift to choose your editor.

Every editor I’ve worked with I’ve asked them to do a sample edit. They usually get 2000 words, go through it, and see what it’s like. That way they know if they want to work with you, and you know if you like the way they work/edit. That includes how fast they answer emails, how they respond to your work, etc.

Not every editor is going to fit your work. Some are terrible at it, but claim they are editors anyway. Others won’t like your style or subject matter. Some will just be over booked and unable to give you any help, but may not want to brush you off right away.

My advice… go find a few editors. There are several places you can look. Elance, Predators and Editors, or just Google “editor service”. Even amazon has a relatively cheep editing service for .012 cents a word through Createspace.

Do some homework on the editor you are trying to get, and **get a sample**. Most will not charge much, if anything, to do the sample. Check them out on Facebook, G+, and Twitter to see if they get any good/bad reviews through social media.

Most will ask for half up front, the rest when finished. If they ask for all of it up front then RUN! Price, in my research, has been 2 cents a word, so for 79k words that’s about $1500.

It may also be helpful to get a few people to read your manuscript before sending it to an editor. Beta-readers help you iron out the roughest bits before an actual editor gets a hold of it. Always a good idea.

Good luck.