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Well Played, 2010, Well Played

So when 2010 was rung in, my feeling was that this year would just have to be better than the last. It rang in very well, with a hairless cat in a tuxedo jacket and being a Cybills nominee!

Well 2010 I must commend you, you are holding up well thus far. In fact you are like a twinkly-eyed Santa Claus in January.

SANTA 2010: Ho ho ho, Sarah, have you been a good girl?
SARAH: Fair to middling.
SANTA 2010: Good enough! Let me see what I have for a fair to middling young lady...

Apparently it is a place for Demon's Lexicon in the American Library Association's 2010 Top Ten Books for Young Adults!

Holy wow, y'all. Holy wow.

This is something to warm me on the cold days with the blanket over my head hiding from my deadlines. (If they can't see me, they won't know I'm there!) I shall keep the window to look at whenever I have the squeeblies over my book.

I do not wish to tempt Santa 2010 by being a naughty girl and merely posting to yell 'Y'all! Come look!' and when the internet comes and asks 'At what?', answer 'Come look at how fabulous I am!'

So I was thinking of a thing. In the internet searches for Demon's Lexicon that I absolutely never make, because I am smarter than that, I have seen one thing, which startled me considerably! It was views that Demon's Lexicon was too short. Now though Nick is a fellow of few words, the book is in fact about 90 thousand words long. Which is not short. Edited To Add: Which is quite a bit longer than average, so you guys, stop telling me it's okay it's short - it isn't short! Which is what is interesting. (However, naturally I am complimented people wanted more!)

Holly Black's Tithe, Valiant and Ironside were all around 60 thousand words. Which our editor thinks is an ideal length for a YA novel. Editor puts the 75 thousand word length of White Cat down to 'bad influences.'

She says those words with a special emphasis, as if trying to make some sort of point? I really don't understand what that could be, though.

Maybe she means Cassandra Clare, whose books generally come in at 130 thousand words and are considered pretty long!

Margi Stohl and Kami Garcia's Beautiful Creatures got a lot of attention this year for being super long (and this did it absolutely no harm, as it is a delicious bestseller!) at about 150 thousand words.

And yet some people cleave to the old ways, as in Saundra Mitchell's Edgars-nominated (that means, super good excellent mystery I didn't guess!) Shadowed Summer, which is 50 thousand words long.

Looking at adult books, apparently in romance at least books have been getting shorter: Loretta Chase's books are now 20 thousand words shorter than they used to be, for instance.

A vague standard for adult novels seems to be around 90 thousand words, though of course there are giants around. Diana Gabaldon's Outlander/Cross Stitch is 294 thousand OH MY GOD HOW DOES SHE DO IT words.

What is with all these numbers, lady? you may be asking. Well, the thing is, I was having a conversation with a lovely agent lady, Colleen Lindsay, about how long YA books should be and how long they usually were these days, and I realised I had no answers! So I thought I would come to you guys.

But what is the standard for young adult novels? My wild guess is that the usual YA novel is about 80 thousand words, but I may be wrong. The crazy success of the Harry Potter series and the Twilight saga taught people we can write longer books, and now the people demand longer? (I would not mind hearing that they do. The Demon's Covenant is, um. 130 thousand words long. So I HAVE WORDS FOR YOU ALL.)

Does it not matter - the story should be Just the Size the Story Is? Do you guys crave meatier books, or does it all come down, as my sister's theory, to font size?

And in conclusion: Yay thank you American Library Association! Thank you, Santa 2010!



( 148 comments — Leave a comment )
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Jan. 21st, 2010 06:31 pm (UTC)
HOMG. HOMG. CONGRATULATIONS. You completely deserve it. ♥
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 21st, 2010 11:38 pm (UTC)
That was what I meant by Just the Size the Story is, yes. ;) I wouldn't do without either - I like having Diana Gabaldon with me on plane trips, for instance.
Jan. 21st, 2010 06:33 pm (UTC)
Well, it's nice to hold a thick book in my hands, there's some magic in that. Like, as a child, I disliked thin books and longed for the huge volumes on my parents' shelves...

But there are shorter books that leave me more satisfied than lenghty but filled-with-boring-and-unnecessary-scenes ones. And there are those wonderful lenghty novels that are so easy to swallow during one sleepless night. It all depends on the story, and the author, methinks.

(and also, yay, awards! And my favourite English bookstore here in Poland finally allowed me to order the Lexicon (Amazon hates me and my credit card...) and so I will be able to finally read it soon!)
Jan. 22nd, 2010 09:48 am (UTC)
I hope you will like it. ;)
Jan. 21st, 2010 06:34 pm (UTC)
Personally, I think the more words, the better. I agree that HP and Twilight books have really demonstrated pretty well that kids will sit down and wade through a book nearly bigger than they are without batting an eye. Certainly a first novel probably wouldn't be the best one to have at that length, but if you look at the HP books, they started out pretty short, and after the third one seemed to explode size-wize exponentially in relation to their popularity.

Congrats on the ALA kudos! It's well-earned!
Jun. 26th, 2010 05:35 am (UTC)
could you write more about it?
Jan. 21st, 2010 06:38 pm (UTC)
OKAY now that the squee is out of the way:

I think the story should be the size the story is. I would much rather read a "short novel" that was well-paced and had exactly the right amount of story, than a "novel of correct length" that had been padded to have the "right" number of words.

I am actually more likely to pick up smaller books (ones just about the size of The Demon's Lexicon, actually!) right now. It might be because I just don't have a lot of time to read at the moment (which is very sad), and I have a hard enough time keeping track of plots and subplots without it taking me weeks to finish a book. Which is what would happen if I tried to read a book the size of OotP right now--I would read a bit here and a bit there, and before I knew it, two months would have gone by and I wouldn't remember the first chapter.

NOT that huge books are bad. Oh my goodness no. I await the day when I can once again sink my teeth into a giant tome of lovely words. Mmm.

...I think I just like booksbooksbooks, honestly. If it feels like a finished story, I'm happy! I don't care how long it is.
Jan. 21st, 2010 11:46 pm (UTC)
Thank you for the squee. ;)

I would defend Lexicon for not being small, but since it's less than half the length of Order of the Phoenix, well, point taken! And it's true that differently sized books suit us better: on rare days when I am forbidden even to re-read because I need to write, I'll read poetry: short as stories come!
Jan. 21st, 2010 06:40 pm (UTC)

I think you're about right with 80,000 words or so, but honestly, I think it should be based on the story. Obviously, more complicated plots need more space. If the story warrants it, longer is fine (and often better). But I'd hate to see a story lengthened just for the sake of more words.
Jan. 21st, 2010 06:41 pm (UTC)
Congratulations on making ALA's list!!! I'm so happy for you (and so proud of my fellow librarians for recognizing your genius!)

As for word count, I think the story should be Just the Size the Story Is. It's fairly clear when a book is too long for the story (*coughOrderofthePhoenixcough*) so I don't think that authors ought to be trying to stretch their word count to meet some ideal. I'm a quick reader so I love gigantic tomes and I do seek them out, but I have very often been disappointed by these books. I just finished reading Shadowed Summer and it's perfect just the way it is. Mitchell's world is lovely, and I would gladly spend more time in there but I'm glad that she was true to her story.

That being said, 130 thousand words of awesomeness coming my way in June!!! Thank you, Sarah :)
Jan. 21st, 2010 11:47 pm (UTC)
Saundra Mitchell's next book, the Vespertine, is just as lovely and longer too. ;) I am very glad you agree with me about the fabulousness of Shadowed Summer however!
(no subject) - anywherebeyond - Jan. 22nd, 2010 12:31 am (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 21st, 2010 06:42 pm (UTC)
Congrats! I definitely applaud you.

As for your book-length question, I am definitely of the opinion that a book should be as long as it needs to be. Otherwise you end up with a story being rushed or being too drawn out, neither of which are good things. I mean, HP5 is actually my favorite one (I think I'm in the minority there, though), and even though it takes me forever and an age to get through it, I think it's the proper length for that year, because a hell of a lot happened and everything that plays out comes back around in the end, or comes back in later books. But, if a story only takes 150 or so pages to tell, then I definitely don't want the author shoving in a hundred extra pages of needless tangents that have no actual significance to the story. (Coraline, for instance, is pretty short, but is the perfect length for the story it tells.)
Jan. 21st, 2010 09:00 pm (UTC)
HP5 is my favourite without a doubt. : ) So you're not on your own. That and the last few chapters of book 4. *jaw drop* Why wouldn't people love OOTP? That is what I cannot understand. Hehe. x
(no subject) - miabee023 - Jan. 22nd, 2010 03:38 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ayamizuno - Jan. 22nd, 2010 05:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 21st, 2010 06:43 pm (UTC)
Congratulations ! 2010 starts very well, indeed !
For the size of the novels, I also think that 90 thousand words is a good size ( my novel counts 98 500 words ^^) but I have read with great pleasure YA books of one million signs and more.

Jan. 21st, 2010 06:56 pm (UTC)
Congrats, girl!

Well, I wouldn't have minded if the Demon's Lexicon were longer just cause I really didn't want it to end and go on forever and I'm really a fast reader.... so I was through with it within one night but I don't think that Twilight and Harry Potter are standard lenghts for young adult books. And btw, those books are very good examples because honestly. You can actually skip half the book because it just goes on and on and on about nothings (HP 4? I thought I was gonna die before finally something happened in the book and that was only after the game when that thing with Deatheaters happened *yawn* and that was what? 300 pages in?)! Long doesn't mean it's more worth.

Edited at 2010-01-21 06:57 pm (UTC)
Jan. 21st, 2010 06:59 pm (UTC)
Colleen Lindsay is awesome, I like her blog!
I remember Tamora Pierce talking about length for children's and YA fic - when she wrote the original Alanna quartet it was supposed to be all one book but she was told she had to break it up. After HP the industry was much more willing to believe that kids/teens wanted to read longer books.
Jan. 21st, 2010 10:39 pm (UTC)
I was going to cite her too! In her case, her Protector of the Small series I think is a good example of the transition from pre to post-HP. All of her pre-HP books are well written and engaging, but post-HP I just sink into her books better. I think Pierce is more able to express herself and her worlds without worrying about the numbers so much, and that this translates into the reading experience.
(no subject) - cunningplan - Jan. 22nd, 2010 05:30 am (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 21st, 2010 07:03 pm (UTC)
I never really thought about it, but what really constitutes as a 'young adult?' Because I'm almost 21 now and I still read YA books, because hello, they're way fun.

I will say though, at 10 years old my grandmother bought me the first three HP books and at 90k +, they were very daunting. Then, that same 10 year old picked one up, finished it, and then promptly thought that 90k was not long enough, not by a long shot.

So...I guess it depends on how good the book is, really. A good book like Demon's Lexicon? Who cares if it's YA or horror or children's or a chicken book? I go, "GIMME MORE, K THNX!!!" because really, do you have to be an adult to never want a good story to end?
Jan. 22nd, 2010 04:12 am (UTC)
I'll be 46 this year. A good story is a good story, and be damned to these stupid age categories.

When I was in sixth grade, I had to get my mom to check out The Lord of the Rings for me because it wasn't in the children's section of the library. I've hated age discrimination in sorting books ever since.

Sarah, you write 'em, I'll read 'em. And I'll push them on everyone who listens to me about book recommendations.
Jan. 21st, 2010 07:03 pm (UTC)
Firstly, hurrah and congratulations! :D

Secondly, my vote is solidly for, "the story is the size the story is". I can tell when someone is padding a book or having to cut it down, and it makes me deeply unhappy and throws me out of the story.

I'm not entirely sure what you mean by 'meaty'. If you're talking in terms of size, again, just the size the story is, but if you're talking in terms of making you think, I've read drabbles which obsessed me for days with how much meaning was packed into them. I have also read very long books which have made me obsess for days. For me, length is largely cosmetic; if you can say what you need to in 800 words, lovely. If you need 80,000 words to say it, also lovely.
Jan. 21st, 2010 07:04 pm (UTC)

Definitely books should be the length the story demands. Even a good story can be killed with excessive jabbering, while too little meat around it can make the story rather pointless, and readers unaffected. The idea that the goal of a book would be to hit a certain word-count and stay there seems rather impossible.
Jan. 21st, 2010 07:09 pm (UTC)
GO YOU!!! I'm always surprised when things I think deserve it go on these things!!

On book length, TDL definitely didn't seem long to me. It seemed short. I mean, I was aware of it being normal book length and could see how many pages it was, but it felt, you know, concise. Which is a good thing. I do think font size makes a biiiig difference. I have no "right length" for books, though. I like Proust, so my sense of such things has got to throw off the curve!
Jan. 21st, 2010 07:09 pm (UTC)
Personally, I think the story should be as long as it needs to be, and no more. Or less. I liked the length of TDL personally; it allowed for proper world building and insight into the character's minds. It might have been a bit shorter than most books I read, but I only rarely read YA these days and my adult fiction is pretty long even for that genre. I thought it worked out quite nicely, all in all.
Jan. 21st, 2010 07:12 pm (UTC)
Congrats!! Well deserved. :)
Jan. 21st, 2010 07:12 pm (UTC)

this news is so joyous. CONGRATULATIONS AGAIN (and again and again and again and!)


Jan. 22nd, 2010 12:20 am (UTC)
I am not enamoured of him as you are, but thank you for the congratulations!
Jan. 21st, 2010 07:14 pm (UTC)
Oh wow, congrats! Demon's Lexicon is the only one of those ten books I've read. And most of them I haven't heard of. This makes me feel smallish.

I'm another of the opinion that the length of a story should by dictated only by how many words the story really needs. I love long books (Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel, anyone?) as well as shorter ones--its about finding the right size for the story.
Jan. 21st, 2010 08:06 pm (UTC)
I got that for Christmas! Probably at your rec, thinking about it. ^_^

It is very long, and one of the few books that made me wonder how it would work cutting it down. But only because massive books are hard to a) read lying down and b) carry around with you.
Jan. 21st, 2010 07:15 pm (UTC)
My agent's advice, when I asked her, was to aim for 60-75K; but she said the upper bound was kind of nonexistent nowadays, courtesy of Rowling and Meyer.

Editing the comment to add that of course it's better to write the story at its natural length than to cripple it by cutting or expanding -- but the above numbers are a guideline to editorial expectations.

Edited at 2010-01-21 07:16 pm (UTC)
Jan. 22nd, 2010 09:54 am (UTC)
I think that definitely is the traditional, and what my editor and many agents prefer! Good to have more of the Professional Corroboration. But also, yea to the natural length.
Jan. 21st, 2010 07:18 pm (UTC)
I frankly cannot believe that The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is a mere 27,000 words or so. I mean, looking at its thinness it is obviously not a long book, and yet it feels like there is a great deal happening in there. There is plot, there is character development, there is emotional depth, there is tea and crumpets, there are even pages devoted to describing in great detail how snow melts in the springtime. I could swear the thing is bigger on the inside than the outside, like the TARDIS in Doctor Who or the stable in The Last Battle.

So yes, all that is to say that good books are the length of a good book, whatever that particular good book happens to be. But mine tend to average around 70K because that's how my brain works these days.

And also, once again, YAY AWESOME on making the list in general and the top ten in particular! Now I want to re-read DL more than ever.

Edited at 2010-01-21 07:19 pm (UTC)
Jan. 22nd, 2010 12:21 am (UTC)
CRIMINY, 27k? I would have guessed 40k at least. So weird! There's a world in a bottle, detailed and apparently way more contained than I had supposed!
Jan. 21st, 2010 07:18 pm (UTC)
A) Go you! :D

B) It depends, because I heart the novella. But imo (for example) Chase's novels could do with some more character development these days, and Pierce's series *reads* like a longer book cut up. So >shrug<. When I was young, though, I definitely preferred longer- you don't want a good book to end, do you, especially when you're going through an obsessive stage, like so many YAs are.
Jan. 21st, 2010 07:23 pm (UTC)
I do admit I like longer books that I can sink my teeth into and curl up with (hmm, mixed metaphors or truth?), but it all comes down to quality for me. I hate books with superfluous passages, whether they're short or long.

By the way, I just finished The Demon's Lexicon and it was absolutely lovely. I can't wait for The Demon's Covenant!
Jan. 22nd, 2010 12:29 am (UTC)
*beams* I am very pleased you liked it!
Jan. 21st, 2010 07:24 pm (UTC)
Oh goodness me congratulations! Absolutely and entirely deserved, the world should know more of your general awesome. :)

I am of the very useless opinion that a book should be as long as it needs to be. As a reader I crave huge, enormous tomes that I can absorb myself in for more than the standard couple of hours for most YA books. But as a sensible person and occasional editor of various things, I know that there is no point in making a book huge just for the sake of more words. Equally, some stories cannot be told properly in less than 100k or more and so absolutely should be that long. I think an author should write the story they have in their head and see what happens.

Because that was basically useless, I will round it off with another EE CONGRATULATIONS SARAH!!! in the hope of nobody noticing.
Jan. 21st, 2010 07:25 pm (UTC)
Definitely the size the story should be. Sometimes I read stuff where I do feel like the book would have benefitted from being longer (Backup by Jim Butcher could have done with more pages) but there are times when the opposite happens and a good book is drowning in unnecessary prose. And then there's the ones where the length is perfect but I don't care, I wish it was longer because I want to spend more time with the world/character (The Demon's Lexicon =D)

Although I think your sister is right about font size, I've read books that felt longer/shorter solely on the basis of the kind of font being used.

Also congratulations on making the ALA 2010 list!
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