How Long Should My Book Be?

When I was a screenwriter, I knew hitting the right page count was an essential part of the writing process. No agent or producer was going to read your 200-page epic movie script, no matter how good you thought it was. (And any unproduced screenwriter naive enough to submit a 200-page script probably doesn’t have the experience to make it good.) Most new screenwriters continue to believe conventional wisdom that a script should be about 120 pages, but even that is inaccurate. In today’s market, 100-110 pages is the rule, unless you’re Christopher Nolan.

When I became a romance writer, I knew that word count was probably important to literary agents and publishers too. It turns out I was right. Few agents will even consider a very long manuscript. (Sci-fi being the exception.) Unless you’re already a best selling author, a fat book is risky because it’s more expensive to print. But a thin novel can get lost on bookshelves and readers might think it’s not worth the money.

When I began writing GoddessI read on a blog that the average romance novel is 76,031 words. I’m not sure where that figure came from, but it turned out to be pretty accurate. Romance novels can be somewhat shorter (perhaps 60,000 words) or longer (90,000), but you shouldn’t get too far out of that range or most agents won’t request the manuscript.

I didn’t have much of an issue with Goddess. I always try to cut unnecessary words and sentences as I write each draft, and when all was said and done, I ended up with a submission-ready manuscript of about 77,500 words. Perfect.

Of course, I ended up self-publishing Goddess, where page count isn’t as much of an issue. (Though I personally wouldn’t buy or agree to review a 100,000 word romance novel. They are rarely good enough to invest that much of my time.)

However, when I finished the first draft of my new comedic romance novel, Anywhere’s Better Than Here,  I discovered I had a word count problem. It came in at about 53,000 words. Much of this had to do with its origin as a screenplay, where brevity and tight pacing in a romantic comedy was a necessity. I liked what I had written, but I knew marketing such a short book to agents would be even more of a challenge than usual.

The first draft was a breeze, but the second draft has been painful. I’ve found places where I need more character development, and my b-story needed a little more beefing up. I’ve also found spots where transitional scenes would make the story feel not quite so rushed. (Though I do want it to be fast paced.) But overall, I’m surprised at how difficult it is for me to add to a story, rather than take away from it.

“Kill your babies” was the maxim I learned as a screenwriter. Don’t be afraid to cut favorite scenes or lines of dialogue if it’s necessary for pacing. But now, it seems, I need to birth a few more children. It’s challenging, but if writing isn’t difficult at times, then it’s usually because it isn’t very good.

So I return to my manuscript, redoubling my efforts, on a quest to make it as perfect as I can before it goes out to beta readers. Wish me luck!

Best wishes,

Kelee

Happy Friday! Check Out the New Interview With Me

Thanks, horror author Mercedes Fox, for the wonderful interview. You can read it here:

Meet Author Kelee Morris

And while you’re visiting Mercedes’s site, pick up one of her werewolf novels. I’ve always wanted to write a steamy vampire novel myself. Mercedes’s books may inspire me to give one a try.

Best wishes,

Kelee

Three Things I Learned About Writing from Glenn Fry

I can’t say I was ever a huge Eagles fan. On the other hand, I probably know the lyrics to most of their hits. It’s not hard to get Glenn Fry’s songs stuck in your head. They are so well crafted and filled with hooks that it would take a major blow to the head to stop me from singing along.

But I didn’t know much about Fry’s creative process until after he died. I would love to write a book that stuck with readers as well as one of his three minute songs. But even if I never achieve that, he did a couple of things right (and one thing wrong) that I think are important lessons for writers.

1. Be a Perfectionist. Eagles guitarist Don Felder said this about Fry: “Glenn, I think took three days in the studio on the word ‘city’ at the beginning of ‘Lyin’ Eyes.’ It would either be a little early, or a little late, or the ‘T’ would be too sharp. It literally took a long time to get that word perfect — maybe to an extreme. But every time that word goes by now and I hear it, I can appreciate the time and dedication and perseverance that it took to get it perfect.” Every writer should strive to be that meticulous about his/her writing. It’s time-consuming, but it’s how great novels are written.

 

2. Paint a Picture with Your Writing. I can’t hear “Peaceful Easy Feeling” without feeling relaxed. Sometimes I even imagine myself lying back in the cool grass, watching clouds roll by. I can’t listen to “Take It Easy” without getting a vivid mental picture of that girl “in a flatbed Ford, slowin’ down to take a look at me.” And, as for “Hotel California,” I’ve never quite understood it (Perhaps because I’ve never listened to it stoned.), but the imagery in it will always stick in my mind.

3. Know Where Your Gold Lies. Just before Fry died, there was a wonderful interview on the NPR show Sound Opinions with the music producer and engineer Glyn Johns. He shared his frustration about working with Glenn Fry and the Eagles. Their strength was in writing and performing mellow, melodic pop songs. But they wanted to be rock stars. They didn’t understand where their gold was, and even though they wrote a few memorable rock songs, they never resonated the same as their best hits.

So rest in peace, Glenn. Your music will live on, and will hopefully serve as a powerful reminder of how much can be achieved with the right creative approach.

Best wishes,

Kelee

Should You Offer Your Book for Free?

My first three months with KDP Select is winding down, and I was considering whether to take advantage of their free book promotion (up to five days) before the end of January. I started to do a little research, and the first thing I learned is how difficult it is to offer your book for free on Kindle outside their exclusivity agreement. My understanding is that it’s fairly easy to set your price at free on other platforms. If you published through Smashwords, all you have to do is notify them and they’ll do the rest. But for Amazon, you first have to change your price on Nook and other distributors, and then convince them to match it. Perhaps running through an Amazon warehouse naked will get you noticed, but otherwise, it can take a lot of time and effort.

But first things first: is giving away your book a good marketing strategy? Being a list-making kind of person, I read a lot of author blogs where they shared their experiences and came up with reasons why we authors should and shouldn’t give away our work.

Four Reasons You Should Definitely Give Away Your Book

  1. You can gain a lot of new readers. Authors report that, with a little advertising, they often get thousands of book downloads. That can translate into readers who will love your writing and eagerly buy your other books.
  2. You can score some new book reviews. Some of those new readers are (hopefully) going to post reviews of your book. Reviews mean future potential sales as you gain visibility and credibility for your work.
  3. It can be a great way to launch the next part of a series. Offering part 1 for free just before the next installment is published can mean more readers will be clamoring to buy it. This is especially true if you wrote a cliff hanger.
  4. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. Competition is stiff. There are hundreds of thousands of book published every year. Your only hope of getting noticed is to try to get your book into as many hands as possible, by any means possible.

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Four Reasons You Definitely Shouldn’t Give Away Your Book

  1. Downloads don’t necessarily translate into reads. Yes, thousands of readers have downloaded your book, but how many of them will actually read it? There are no exact figures, but based on what others have reported, very few. Readers who like free books tend to download a lot of them. Without having to put any money down, those files may sit in their Kindles for years until they can’t even remember why they downloaded them in the first place. Then, all they have to do is hit delete. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
  2. Downloads don’t necessarily translate into reviews either. Many authors report being disappointed by how few (if any) reviews they get from those thousands of downloads. It could be that people haven’t read the book, or that they’re as lazy about reviewing books as they are about buying them.
  3. Worse yet, those downloads can mean bad reviews. Say a sci-fi fan downloads your free contemporary romance novel without much thought because he likes the babe on the cover. He reads 10 pages and gets so annoyed by the dearth of sex that he leaves a one-star review on Amazon. That certainly won’t help recruit paying customers.
  4. Offering free books perpetuates the belief that everything on the Internet should be free. I pay for web access to the New York Times because I demand good writing. I don’t want to get my news from Yahoo or some other crappy free site. Offering books for free means we don’t value our writing, and readers won’t value it either. If you want to make even a tiny living at writing, somebody is going to have to pay you at some point.

Charging even $.99 can force readers put a little skin in the game. In the long run, I think everyone will benefit. But I do see number 3 in the first list as a good reason to offer a book for free. I especially like the idea of offering a free book through an author’s own website, where your followers have already expressed an interest in you and your writing.

Whatever path you choose, good luck! I’d love to hear the experience of other authors who gave away their books.

Best wishes,

Kelee

 

In Romance, Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid

Towards the beginning of Todd Hayne’s new film CarolTherese (played by a sublime Rooney Mara) is watching a movie from a projection booth with her frustrated boyfriend Richard and his friend Dannie. Dannie is furiously scribbling notes. When asked why, he replies, “I’m writing down when a character’s actions are different from what they say.”

That sums up how the film approaches the love affair between Carol (Cate Blanchett) and Therese. Obviously, given it’s the early 1950s, these women live lives where their words and actions are often diametrically opposed. They are forced to pretend they’re “normal” (i.e. heterosexual). They must hide their passion for one another.

But as they fall in love, Carol and Therese also speak to one another in actions rather than words. They seldom express their feelings directly, instead displaying them through subtle gestures – the way Therese meets Carol’s eyes while standing behind the doll counter at the department store where she works, how Carol brushes her hand across Therese’s back while she’s playing piano, the air of mystery and fragility Therese captures in the photos she takes of Carol.

Carol and Therese’s love affair is so moving because they don’t reduce it to words. They don’t need to. They both know what they feel about one another and we do too. We often see one or both characters obscured by dirty, rain streaked or light reflected windows. They’re hidden, and yet we understand the deep emotions inside them.

Therese rarely speaks her mind. Carol saves her emotional speeches for her battles with her husband, who is trying to take away her daughter because of “morality charges.” In fact, only one of these two passionate women ever says “I love you,” and it’s very late in the movie. Because we haven’t heard such a direct expression of their feelings, it’s a powerful, moving moment. I had tears in my eyes.

PriceOfSaltI haven’t read The Price of Salt, the Patricia Highsmith novel Carol is based onbut I think there’s a lesson in Carol for romance writers. We can’t be visual in the same way a film can, but we can consider how much more can be expressed with actions rather than words. If our characters love one another, our readers will know it. Our job as writers is to explore the depth of their love and their pain. That’s best done with as little dialogue as possible. “See it rather than say it” should be our mantra.

If you haven’t already, hurry out and see Carol. It’s a beautiful love store, and an important lesson every writer should absorb.

Best Wishes,

Kelee

2015 in review

Thanks, everyone, for your support. Can’t wait for the new year to get rolling.

Best wishes,

Kelee

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 320 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.