Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Writing { and reading and publishing } ~

How Long “Should” #Novels Be?

Back in 2014, I wrote the article, Breaking The “Rules” of Writing.

As usual on this blog, taking that link will lead to other links, which lead to

It’s one of my rules that my articles here should (when appropriate) lead to related articles.

Rules aren’t bad; but, “Rules” can be very bad

“Rules” are what other people say that you should probably not believe.

Like a “novel” “should” be 50,000 words or more.

My novel, Notes from An Alien (which you can buy or get for free…),  is somewhere around 43,000 words.

I did have a spell of time when I wondered if folks would reject my novel because it wasn’t “long enough”—horrible time of doubting my personal rule that I should determine how long my books are

Ever heard of Peirene Press?

I just learned about them and that “They only publish books of less than 200 pages that can be read in the same time it takes to watch a DVD.”.

Another “rule” broken with the punctuation at the end of that last sentence :-)

I first heard about Peirene Press at the end of an article by Cynan JonesThe Case for Very Short Novels.

Here are a few choice excerpts:

“A short novel makes a straightforward demand: give me this time. There’s no room for phone calls, feeding the cat, helping kids with homework.”

“There’s no room for digression. No room for passenger writing. Every word is doing a job. So pay attention. A short novel is an event, not a trip.”

“Great short novels stay in the mind as objects, whereas, often, novels are ornate boxes with objects inside.”

Cynan does list a number of famous short novels:

The Old Man and the Sea, They Shoot Horses Don’t They?, The Fox, A Meal in Winter, Animal Farm, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Bonjour Tristesse, Utz, Metamorphosis, The Fall, A Month in the Country, So The Wind Won’t Blow It All Away…”

He also talks about rules:

“Rules are vital in focussing creativity into effectiveness, and generally the story itself sets them. A strong story will know whether it wants to be a long book, microfiction, a short story, a poem—even if it takes the writer some time to recognise it—and it won’t let you make it into anything else.”

And, he brings up authors’ anxiety about their short novels and how “demeaning” the term “novella” might be; yet, he returns to a very strong statement:

“When it comes to the act of writing itself, you just have to forget labels exist and listen to the demands of the story. A good writer knows instinctively what they are doing, but are then required to explain it. That, I think, accounts for many of the laboured pigeon-holing terms, the vague attempts at category and so on.”

And, even though (since you’ve read this far) you “should” go read the whole article, Cynan ends by saying:

“Novel, novella, short novel? Ultimately it simply shouldn’t matter. The only thing to be taken into account should be the impact a piece of writing has.”

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2 responses to “How Long “Should” #Novels Be?

  1. Adrian G Hilder May 6, 2016 at 12:17 pm

    A story will be as long as it needs to be. It may not be commercially viable in print form if it gets too long – especially for a first timer.


  2. Alexander M Zoltai May 6, 2016 at 12:21 pm

    I can definitely see what you’re saying, Adrian, but I wonder—if you do a print version plus an e-book and you break the print book into two parts, do you also “break” the e-book?

    Also, there may be more folks out there willing to read a “long” book then you imagine—perhaps, a solution is to find the right “hook” for those folks??


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