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 Goddess, I 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!