Forget Number of Words.

There are times, when you work for someone else or if you are entering a contest when you need to pay strict attention to how many words are in your story. And I’m aware that,at least for now, the traditional market has its own standards for length of work it is willing to try to sell.

Still, I say 85% of the time, forget length. I mean it.

If you bother to write fiction, you have a story to tell, obviously. The story has to feel complete to you, and it must meet your standard of excellence. (And I hope you have one.) If this is accomplished in 50,000 words, 150,000 words, or only 20,000 thousands words is not material. Forget labels such as novelette, novella, novel, epic, short story, flash fiction.

How many words must it have until the story is complete in your heart? How short does it become once you have tightened to language to your own satisfaction, made it as evocative as you know how, and gotten rid of anything that doesn’t make you happy? The answer to both questions is, “it doesn’t matter.”

You will edit, yes. Words, chapters will likely be added and cut. And yes, if you want to go with the traditional route of agent and publisher, there are expectations. But those expectations are for much further down the road. And here’s the dirty little secret; if you publish it yourself, there are no limits at all, for minimum or maximum length.

I can’t promise you the general public will want to read your 300,000 word epic fantasy, even if you promote it to death. People may scoff at the idea of a novella of novelette. (Though this is changing over the last few years.) But if you have thought of, written and edited a story that ends up being 30,000 words that you love, don’t wrack your brain invented another 20,000 because the most generally accepted minimum length of a novel is 50,000 words. Call it a novella, if it makes you feel better, or just insist you wrote a novel that is shorter than most. Hell, call it “egg salad,” if you want to, but just make sure that through inspiration, time, writing, revisions, editing, reading, polishing and more polishing, you finished product is truly yours, and not subject to numbers.

It must be yours first. The rest is minutia.

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