How long is too long for a novel? According to everything I read from “experts” online, a novel is defined as between 50,000 and 110,000 words, with 100,000 often the upper limit of word count that an agent or publisher will even consider for publication.
For Young Adult novels, the upper end of the word count is defined as 80,000, with 70,000 or less preferred. Anything over 80,000 words is considered “too long” to engage teen or young adult readers.
Here’s my question to you, the reading community – do you consider word count before you embark on a new book, or do you select books because the story sounds interesting and/or you like the cover art?
For myself as a reader, I love long books if the story and characters are engaging. I do not like extraneous detail that adds to the word count and detracts from the story. By “extraneous” I mean describing in extreme detail what each character is wearing each and every time he or she appears on the page, or describing what paintings are hanging on the walls or other unnecessary setting details. If such information is intrinsic to the plot or essential to understanding a character, it’s fine as long as it’s not overdone. Most of the time, however, authors simply “indulge” themselves.
As an example, I know people love the Song of Ice and Fire series, but I cannot get through them. I read two and a half books, very slowly and sporadically, I might add, while simultaneously reading other books that I found more appealing, and then finally gave up. Besides the constant brutality, especially towards children and teens, the author spends far too much time describing things I don’t care about. What Circe chooses to wear in every single scene is not important – a general description in a few words suffices to create an image in my mind. I do not need paragraph upon paragraph of descriptive detail when that detail does nothing to move the story forward.
Digital printing of paperback books is not very expensive. I know this because I have self-published books and my novels have better covers and formatting than many works from large publishing houses. That’s my opinion, of course, but I find the finished products to be stunning and completely professional.
It seems to me that the word count numbers used nowadays by agents and publishers reflect the overall “dumbing down” philosophy of media in general. I feel insulted that these people equate me with someone who only watches television or other “short-attention span” media. Readers, by definition, have longer attention spans and like being engaged with the printed page (or even the digital one.) I know people are busy these days and life is more complicated, but as a reader I love to be involved with characters I care about no matter how long the journey is, or how many words the author needs to finish the story. Some books have a lot of characters and plot – I’m very guilty of this – and thus require a higher word count to give both the story and the characters justice.
So here are my questions, and I welcome your comments and opinions – do you as readers only want short books, or does the quality of the writing and the complexity of the plot matter more? Do teens and young adult readers only want short books with simplistic plots and only a few characters to keep track of? Are readers incapable of following long stories with involved plotlines? Does word count matter more than storytelling?