Counting Words with Brandi Larsen

Find us on:

RSSApple PodcastsAmazon MusicGoogle PodcastsSpotify

Show Notes

We’re getting meta on the pod by talking about page counts in published books and, by extension, word counts in unpublished manuscripts. What is an acceptable word-count range for a novel or memoir, and why does word count matter at all? Writer, speaker, and former Penguin publishing executive Brandi Larsen shares the economic rationale for common page-count ranges in published books and offers tips for writers penning their own manuscripts. While there’s always wiggle room and the occasional exception, there’s a reason why writers might run into trouble when trying to publish a 50,000-word novel or a 200,000-word memoir with a traditional publisher—and this episode will illuminate why.

Brandi Larsen is a writer and speaker building a more inclusive publishing landscape. Her work at Penguin Random House helped create NYT bestsellers, and her journalism pieces earned Emmy nominations. Her talks about publishing, leadership, and grief inspire audiences from Zoom to Harvard. She serves as the board president for Literary Cleveland and writes books and essays. Uncultured: A Memoir publishes September 20, 2022 and is available to pre-order now. Learn more at BrandiLarsen.com and @brandilarsen on social media.

Brandi recommends the following resources:

Mentioned in this episode:

Transcript

Laura Maylene Walter (00:02):
Welcome to Page Count presented by the Ohio center for the Book at Cleveland Public Library. This podcast celebrates authors, illustrators, librarians, book sellers, literary advocates, and readers in and from the state of Ohio.

Laura Maylene Walter (00:21):
I'm your host, Laura Maylene, Walter, the Ohio Center for the Book Fellow and author of the novel BODY OF STARS. In today's episode, we're talking with Brandi Larsen, a writer and speaker working to build a more inclusive publishing landscape. Brandi previously worked at Penguin Random House where she helped create New York times bestsellers. And her journalism pieces have earned Emmy nominations. Her talks about publishing leadership and grief have inspired audiences from zoom to Harvard. She serves as the board president for Literary Cleveland, a nonprofit organization and writing center, and she writes books and essays. Brandi, thank you so much for being here with us today.

Brandi Larsen (01:00):
Thanks for having me.

Laura Maylene Walter (01:02):
Well, we're going to get a bit meta in this episode to discuss actual page counts in books, but to start I'd like the audience to get to know you a little bit. So I always ask my guests about their connection to Ohio. So I'd love it. If you could tell us a bit about where you're from and where you ended up.

Brandi Larsen (01:18):
My trajectory is Florida, Chicago, New York, Ohio. When my friends in New York, when I told them that I was moving here, they were all like, oh my gosh, Cleveland is such a literary town. You are so lucky. And I was like, there's literature here. And I knew in Ohio as a whole, but I was so excited to see such an amazing community and to be a part of it.

Laura Maylene Walter (01:43):
Oh, I love that. I love to hear of some outside enthusiasm for Cleveland, which is nice.

Brandi Larsen (01:49):
Big fans.

Laura Maylene Walter (01:51):
Well, you did work for Penguin Random House. What can you share with us about your time working there?

Brandi Larsen (01:56):
It's an amazing company. I had an untraditional trajectory. I was a journalist at the Chicago Tribune and was ready for my second act. I was someone who always loved books and publishing and the kid who upon getting her driver's license first went to the library. Like that's where I drove to. And so I knew I always wanted to be in books and there was a site called Book Country, which I was a fan of. And it was a place for writers to workshop their novels online. And I wrote a fan letter to the head of it explaining just how much I loved it and how great it was. And a couple months later, a job opening to manage that site came. And so I interviewed for it eventually, like a year later, uh, they offered me the job. And so I moved to take it.

Brandi Larsen (02:41):
And then, you know, one of the joys of work is when you do a good job, you get more work. And so I was working at Penguin at the time and Penguin Random House merged about six months into my tenure. And so as that happened, I was lifted up alongside and was asked to become the digital publishing director for NAL and Berkeley, which are two imprints on the commercial side. And I was working in the publisher's office, working on audience development and marketing and editorial acquisitions, just working alongside the publishers to, to make the seasons happen and, and answer some of the more tricky conversations that we were having about eBooks and print books as the market shifted from being a B2B business where publishing companies really only sold to book sellers and libraries to start talking to readers directly. And so I helped and was part of that change. I did that. And then I was asked to do that for all of penguin adults. And then I was asked to lead the US publishing operations for DK.

Laura Maylene Walter (03:50):
Fantastic. And I love thinking of you with your new driver’s license going to a library. When I started driving, I would go to Borders a lot. So…RIP Borders.

Brandi Larsen (04:02):
Yeah. And B Dalton books, Borders, all of them. 

Laura Maylene Walter (04:05):
All the classics.

Brandi Larsen (04:06):
And one of the joys too is like how many library cards I have on my key chain and in Ohio, I get to have a lot.

Laura Maylene Walter (04:13):
We're so lucky, so many fantastic library systems. Well, so speaking of Cleveland, you're the board president for Literary Cleveland and full disclosure for listeners. I'm also involved with Literary Cleveland. I've taught classes for them for years, and I edit their literary journal Gordon Square Review, but Brandi, for any listeners out there not familiar with Literary Cleveland. Can you tell us a bit about the organization and your work there?

Brandi Larsen (04:37):
Literary Cleveland is a phenomenal nonprofit, which if you haven't and heard about, you need to know. We help writers and readers explore other voices and discover their own. That's a nonprofit that really makes a difference. We've been working on having classes and making sure that voices that are historically marginalized are amplified and included at the table. One of the things we're really proud of this last year is our anthology called voices from the edge. We asked essential workers from all across the Northeast Ohio region to come together in writing workshops and then put together an anthology, explaining and sharing what their experience is so that all of us can understand the experience that we're having together. It's a phenomenal organization, really built on the values of creating inclusion and that stories matter. And that through stories, we can show our own humanity and grow and change.

Brandi Larsen (05:37):
And so Literary Cleveland, litcleveland.org, highly highly recommend, the classes are designed to be affordable. We have the largest free writing conference in. We think the entire country called the Incubator that happens every year, where we bring together writers and speakers and readers from all over the country and even the world. Now that it's been virtual these last couple years to create just a wealth of publishing knowledge, writing knowledge and excitement for Northeast Ohio writers, as well as writers throughout. And it's such an awesome writing community here, you know, our reading series and our writing series, it's just, it's humbling to be alongside so many great writers and teachers.

Laura Maylene Walter (06:21):
Well, let's get into page counts now. So this is for writers who might be interested in writing a book, especially for the quote-unquote traditional publishing industry, such as a Big 5 publishing house. So just a note here that Brandi and I will be focusing in books for an adult audience versus children's books and word count will sometimes come into play more so than page count. So for a writer working on a book in manuscript form before it's a final published book, you'll really be talking more about word count instead of the actual page count, but we'll get into both of those. So Brandi, before we do a sort of genre by genre breakdown, what would you like to tell us just generally about the ideal length for a novel and why it matters?

Brandi Larsen (07:06):
Yes. So this sweet spot for novels and like the ten second version, if that was all that we had, 80,000 words is a sweet spot. For most genres, you can start high or low depending on what specific genre you're in. But if your book is about 80,000 words are gonna be in good shape. Overall, the reason why word count matters is because page count matters and so books get prohibitively more expensive the longer they are. When you think about the perpetual fluctuating cost of paper, of shipping of ink, all of that matters when you think about how much a book weighs. And so when you have 150,000 word book, that's going to be, eh, give or take 400 pages. And so that book is a lot heavier. It requires more printed costs. And so the price point for the end reader is going to be a higher cost.

Brandi Larsen (08:08):
And so when you do that, that means that the reader in the bookstore has to make a decision. Can I take a chance on a book that's super big and kind of like fat and looks intimidating and can I spend $30 on a hard cover? Does the read, so the publisher is taking a real chance, especially on a debut author, you know, can this really sustain its price? We talk about holding its price. That's one of the things we think about when we're pricing books and also you're trying to make an ROI, a return on investment. It, right, publishing's a business. It is, it is both this beautiful art and also a way that people earn livings. You think about like minor things. We don't really think about like, we have these like wonderful printed objects in our hand, but sourcing paper’s really expensive. And it changes.

Brandi Larsen (08:54):
I've seen it when I was at DK, we were seeing it up like 60% year over year. And so, you know, making a decision about like the stock and the weight of the paper and all that comes together. And so that's the very long way to say your word count matters. It is easier to sell a book that is around 80,000 words. It, because that feels to most people like a book, when you start to go shorter, it starts to feel like a novella below 60,000 words. And so price point also comes into play of people, want to give their hard-earned money for something that feels like a deal, right? And if the book is too thin, sometimes it gives people pause. So 80,000 words is a great place. If you're thinking about a bullseye on the wall, right in that range is going to be a place that will help you.

Laura Maylene Walter (09:43):
And let's look at some, break it down by some genres for we'll do novels first, and then we will get into a discussion about memoir as well. So in our first category, we're actually going to lump some different types of books together into one category. So we have literary fiction, commercial or upmarket fiction and women's fiction. And I believe historical maybe as well. So that's a lot of different categories and we don't have a ton of time to get into all the nuances between those categories. But if you'd like to give us a brief overview and let us know for those books, what's the best word count length.

Brandi Larsen (10:19):
Yes. So literary fiction is its own beast and upmarket commercial mainstream fiction. That it's a little bit more squishy, right. You know, we think about book club fiction. We think about women's fiction, historical fiction. We think about audience, right? And what is our audience expecting from any type of book? And so in a literary fiction book, it really comes down to the way that it's written on the page. Sometimes you're exploring the same types of subject matter that you're exploring in a commercial upmarket or book club book, but you, you might be doing it in a way that is really focused on the language or the nuance of, of character on the page itself. You might be using a more complicated sentence structure. You might be using vocabulary that is considered more elevated. You might be playing with multiple points of view. You might have a nebulous ending, right?

Brandi Larsen (11:12):
So those are the types of things that people gravitate to around literary fiction and commercial and upmarket, mainstream fiction. It's generally fiction that has a high concept. Something that you can easily talk about. Women's fiction can often overlap inside commercial fiction, historical too, to a certain level. And it becomes about what's the point of view, are these issues that are typically considered women's issues, which again, I have lots to say about the nuance of that, but generally it's a female audience, oftentimes a female author, a female identifying author and writing about more domestic areas to a certain extent and writing about topics between love and relationships and, and really thinking that through. So that's kind of where women's fiction lives. Historical fiction has two different sides in terms of readers. You've got the typically male reader who's reading like World War II.

Brandi Larsen (12:15):
And then you've got, the more typical could be women's fiction, kind of a book where you've got multiple timelines, right, where you're reading in maybe the civil war and the present day in terms of what we're looking at in page count. I wanted to do an overview and see like, where are we? And so this 80,000 ish words still kind of still applies to all of these, although historical can even go longer, it can go up to 150,000 words. And so if I say to any writer like, oh yeah, anywhere between 80 and one 50 is kind of bonkers, right? Not very helpful for you at all. It really depends on the sub piece and like what it is that you're writing. Right? And so inside literary fiction, when we look at page count averages over the last five years. And so I wanted to see what comps were out there.

Brandi Larsen (13:01):
And a comp is a title that has been published inside your genre in the last five years. Generally it has similar themes of topics, but the big criteria five years and in your genre. And I pulled all the titles that were published by traditional publishers and independent publishers though, you're talking about big five. And then you're talking to some of the smaller and presses from 2018 to now, but there's 3,700 that are out there. And they're in cloth with a hardcover, a library binding, which is generally more reinforced. And it's so the libraries can lend them out to multiple people and they, they can survive that and paper binding, which in literary fiction is often a trade paperback. So you've got three different types of books. And when you think about page count of books, that doesn't exactly translate to word count. And the reason is, is because the books have interior design.

Brandi Larsen (13:55):
So it's not the, you know, like, think about the beautiful drapes that, you know, an interior designer for your house and places the table, just so there are interior designers on books who are thinking about the font and the weight, and like, what is the font of the title page? What is the font and the weight of the interior pages of just like your regular chapter pages? What are the, what's the font and the weight of the page numbers? Like what does that look like? Is serif, is it no-serif? How big is that font? Right? And so that's where it starts to get squishy in terms of like, okay, well, if I have an 80,000 word novel, how many page book is that? And the answer is, it depends. If it's a serif font, it's gonna be a little bit bigger. If it's a non serif font, it's gonna be a little bit smaller.

Brandi Larsen (14:40):
There's a great resource. If you're trying to figure out, like in terms of your comps page count and word count is Kobo. If you look on their, on any of their book detail pages, they often will show, they will show a typical book in its page count as well as its word count. So that's nice. But yeah. So what we're talking about in average and literary fiction is we're seeing 300 pages is what's been published recently inside straight historical fiction, which again, that ranges pretty widely based off of the type of, of readers. We're looking at 380 pages out of 2000 titles that were published in the last five years. So that's like a big difference right there, just based off of knowing what your book is and who its audience is.

Laura Maylene Walter (15:24):
This is so, so interesting to get this kind of behind the scene, nitty gritty, look at it because I think a lot of writers don't, we don't always think about this, especially when we're deep in the work of writing and, and how our words translate to actual page counts in a book, I can share really briefly about my novel BODY OF STARS, which has some supplementary material in it. There's a few drawings and there's a few like shorter sections excerpts between the main chapters. And so all of that increase the page count. And I actually don't have my book with me right now. And I don't know how many pages long it is. The final book, I think 330 ish would be my guess, it's definitely over 300 pages, but I can share my word counts in case this is useful for writers out there working on their own books.

Laura Maylene Walter (16:10):
My first draft of the novel, the very first draft was 105,000 words, which is long, but I wasn't worried about it because my first drafts are extremely messy and I don't plan them out. So I knew that almost didn't mean anything for me. And then over the years, a year later, it was only 90,000 words. It went down into the high 80 thousands. Then it started creeping up with revisions. It got all the way up to 112,000 words long. And I knew that was not going to cut it, but I needed to have it expand that much during revision. Eventually I got it down to 87,000 words, and that is how long it was when my agent took it out on submission. And when Dutton, which is an imprint, a penguin ran house, bought the book. Then I worked with my editor who is fabulous. And she actually encouraged me to add more material. So I think my final word count was probably between 92 and 94,000 words. So that is just to give you an idea of the journey that your book might get bigger and smaller as you're revising. And it's important to go through that process and give it the revision that it needs.

Brandi Larsen (17:15):
Yeah. And your book is beautifully designed. You know, I think one of the things about BODY OF STARS that's so fun is that the design is part and adds to the work. Good book design does that. And that's why it's an “ish” in terms of page count, because you want your partner who, on the publishing side, who's working on the interiors to imagine your book on the page better than you, right. You're doing the writing,

Laura Maylene Walter (17:38):
You know, definitely. Well, let's move on quickly to a few other genres. So what about science fiction and fantasy

Brandi Larsen (17:44):
Longer? So if we're thinking about standard 80-ish thousand words, sci-fi/fantasy is a place where you can be a little bit longer. And so if you are going out there as a first timer, starting around 90,000, and again, that can go all the way up to 150,000, but the higher your book gets in terms of its word count, the harder it is to sell. And so if you've got someone like epic, oh, like, this is gonna be a trilogy. This happens a lot in sci-fi and fantasy, right, where you've got this, this trilogy worth of material, but you query one book at a time. I might eventually, you know, buy three books as the publisher, but generally I'm gonna buy one book, maybe two and see how it does. You wanna be careful because it's not like you can just be like, oh, well, I'll cut it in half.

Brandi Larsen (18:33):
Like every book is its own discreet entity. Like you want, you know, you think about why you read. If I just paid $28 for a book or $25 for a book. And it's like, and to be continued, I'm not going to feel like the writer has really satisfied me. Right? So you, you want to think about your readers too. You don't wanna put them that they're sitting on your shoulder as you write, but you want to imagine them, you know, in their own cozy reading nook and really getting into your story. And so what are the things that they expect, the different sub genres in sci sci-fi and fantasy can really affect that word count. So there's some that are, are definitely like living on the shorter side. And there are some that are, you know, like an epic fantasy kind of lives longer.

Laura Maylene Walter (19:16):
Okay. Well, what about romance novels?

Brandi Larsen (19:18):
I love romance novels. So that generally lives in the same place in that 60 to 80,000 words. So that one's like a little bit shorter. I would argue that anything below 65 get you in trouble. And so sticking like real close to 80 is really nice, but it's funny too. Cuz when I looked at like the page count for romance, there's been 9,500 romance titles left for the last few years. And that page count is averaging around three 20. And so we're seeing some bigger books inside romance right now, even though we typically say like, okay, a little bit shorter is better. So it's a fun place. It's all an ish.

Laura Maylene Walter (19:57):
Right, right. There's always a little, a little bit of wiggle room as well. And you had shared a great graphic with me about different lengths of books and if you're safe or if you're edging into not safe territory. And I will add that to the show notes so that listeners can check that. What about thrillers, horror or mystery and crime? What about those kinds of books?

Brandi Larsen (20:18):
Yeah, same thing, 60 to 80 is what people say around those. The crime can live is both, literary fiction-ish, like when you think about crime noir, and then kind of faster mystery, and then of course thriller and generally the word cout count is there and the pacing is faster. The pacing's a little bit slower in a cozy or an amateur sleuth, like the gore does not happen on the page. Right. And there is a lot about the relationship and the world that is there, but in a procedural, in a thriller, like the point of it is that like you wanna solve the puzzle alongside and you want your heart to race. Right? And so it's the kind of book that you're flipping through all of the different pages. And that comes in a little bit longer. These days, we're seeing 350 out of 12,000 titles alongside mystery and thriller that's been published in the last few years. There's a great book that is coming out very soon by Sue Shapiro. It is called THE BOOK BIBLE: How to Sell Your Manuscript—No Matter What Genre—Without Going Broke Or Insane. What she does there is she interviewed is editors of different genres and really goes into depth in terms of examples and their numbers on word count. And so that's a really nice resource for folks. I really liked the mystery thriller part of that book specifically, cause it gave so many examples.

Laura Maylene Walter (21:42):
That's a great tip. That sounds like a book I would love to sit down with and read just like I Courtney Maum’s BEFORE AND AFTER THE BOOK DEAL. So why don't we move on to memoir? Tell us a bit about how memoir might work similarly, how it might be different and you have a memoir that you had worked on uncultured. Maybe you could use that as an example and share a bit of that process.

Brandi Larsen (22:05):
Yes. I'm super excited. UNCULTURED comes out in September of this year from St. Martin's press. The author is Daniella Mestyanek Young and I am the “with” author, which means that you'll see my name on the title page. UNCULTURED’s a coming-of-age story, really of grit and determination. Daniela is one of the most amazing people I've ever met. And she was born in the Children of God Cult and got herself excommunicated to become her college valedictorian and join the Army during the Afghanistan war. She becomes one of the first women in deliberate ground combat there and is working in intelligence. And so the book really looks at the groups that we belong to and helps us figure out like how those change us and how the cult and the military are more similar than we might expect. And so it gives us like all memoirs should do.

Brandi Larsen (22:57):
It gives us a viewpoint into a world through someone's lived experience with memoir. It can kind of go either way. There are books that are sold with memoir, like ours was that are sold on a proposal, which means we didn't write the entire book before it was bought by the publisher a novel. You want to have that ready to go tip-top in shape. Right? You had all of your words up and down, up and down. Like we hadn't finished it by the time what we were doing. There are some that are sold that way. And then there were some that you need to finish the entirety of the memoir. And so it kind of depends on the read and the story behind it. And so memoir is a little bit tricky when you're thinking about word count. I think we were contracted with St.

Brandi Larsen (23:40):
Martin's to deliver between 65 and 85,000 words. And we were a little nervous because we knew that we were writing a lot, right. There was a lot to say about her lived experience as we compare these two groups and figure out how we are in America to where we are right now. And so we delivered a book that, um, St Martin's publishing, it'll be 350 pages when it comes out in September. So it's a larger manuscript. And what we discovered is the idea of like delivering in the read. And so even though it's longer than what we were contracted for St. Martin's beliefs, that it can carry a price point of 28.99. And so that's a place where like, it's all an “ish,” right? Of like here are the rules and by rules, we mean, here is a way that you can get published that is easier to sell.

Brandi Larsen (24:31):
It's easier to sell a book that's 80,000 words because it looks the right level on the shelf. If you wind up selling a book and then it gets longer, that's gonna be okay because your publishing house is going to believe in you, right. If your editor's like, we're all good, then you're all good. Right? Your editor asked you to make your book longer. And so I think we, as writers can get in our heads about, oh, it must be this. There are the things that will make your life easier to sell, right? If you fit squarely in a category and you understand what your audience is and who your comps are, right. That makes your much easier to sell than if it's like, there's never been another book like this.

Laura Maylene Walter (25:10):
Yeah. And I do want to point out that it is so tough to sell a book, even when it is really polished and falls in the perfect word count and all of this. It is such a tough industry and business that if you are trying to publish through a traditional publisher, it really doesn't hurt to try to remove any obstacles that you can. But that does lead me into my next question, which is about exceptions. So we do sometimes hear, you know, there are exceptions and even a debut, maybe someone's debut novel is 160,000 words. I mean, that's very rare, but it can happen. And so what would you tell writers in terms of these exceptions? And should they be hoping there'll be the exception? How would you encourage them to approach this?

Brandi Larsen (25:54):
I like data, as you might have been able to tell. And so I think you need to look into yourself on like how much of a risk taker are you and what is the data saying? If you start querying and your book's 160,000 words long, and you get polite rejections that are forms from everyone. That might be a moment to start to troubleshoot your query. For me, I would immediately go, oh, this book is not hitting with agents because it's 160,000 words long. Right. And so I might think about, oh, have I been disqualified based off of, nobody wants put in double the amount of work to make this book half of what it is. Right. They need books that are much more easily sellable because it is so hard. You can be the exception if it delivers in the read. Right. But are you willing to bank you the start of your career on that?

Brandi Larsen (26:46):
I mean, I think it happens. It happened to us, right? Like when I saw Danielle's story, I was like, oh my gosh, this is EDUCATED and GLASS CASTLE. And you shouldn't come to the book. That's been on the bestseller list forever and ever, and ever. Right. And we did because it really, we feel like it really is. And that's where St. Martin is saying is that uncultured is for readers of GLASS CASTLE and EDUCATED. There are the moments where it can happen. It's harder to do that, you know? And so, so we're not saying don't do that, but we're saying, be intentional if you're going to do that.

Laura Maylene Walter (27:22):
Right. Be informed about what that means. Well, UNCULTURED sounds great, by the way, I can't wait to read it. So how much do you think, let's say a writer is sitting down to write her first book, she's writing a novel. How much should this writer be thinking about word count during that process, during the writing process? I mean, is this something writers, do you think they need to worry about that? Or what stage should they really start thinking about this?

Brandi Larsen (27:46):
I mean, I think it depends on how you write, like, are you a plotter? Are you a pantser? It is easier who said it, that it's easier to edit a page rather than a blank page. It was someone brilliant. And I think, I wanna say Tony Morrison, but I don't know. It's one much more brilliant than me. I'm a fan of like, get it all down.

Laura Maylene Walter (28:03):
I am, too.

Brandi Larsen (28:04):
Right. Get it onto a page, right.

Laura Maylene Walter (28:06):
A hundred percent 

Brandi Larsen (28:08):
You know, you can't edit from nothing. I think also I would advise a writer walking into the process to understand what are my books like, who are the books that are like this? Who are the readers going to be? But I'm talking only if you're writing a book that you see as a publishable commercial venture. I think there's lots and lots of reasons for writing and writing a book because you have an idea and wanna get it out. And that's good enough, completely a legitimate and awesome way to write a book. If you are thinking that you want to be published and you want a career in writing, I think it pays to understand what shelf will your book live on? Book people talk about books in other books. So where does your book fit in the pantheon? And so then you can get an idea about word count, right?

Brandi Larsen (28:55):
80, thousand's a solid dart in the wall unless you're working inside one of these deep genres, because you know what your readers want. But otherwise, if you're writing your, a novel that you want a big five or an indie to pick up is a solid dart. And there are programs like Scrivener. You can actually set your target as it. And it'll like, make the math happen itself. And it'll tell you like you are 50% of the way. And you, if you're a serious platter, you can actually figure out like the beats for each scene and how long it can be. Like you can be that obsessive if it delivers in terms of what's on the page. If that helps you use that structure, if it doesn't, toss it. Overall, when you're starting to think about getting this ready and putting together a publishing package, which putting together a pitch for your book and writing your book two different jobs when you're putting that publishing package together. And you're thinking like a reader, you're thinking like a publisher, you're thinking like an agent you're really thinking about how is this book going to sell? And that's the place where if your book is an outlier, you have a harder sale. If you can prevent that, that will make your life easier. If you can't, then gear yourself up for the hard sale.

Laura Maylene Walter (30:05):
Yes. And I appreciate what you said about there being many reasons to write and to try to complete a book and not everyone is trying to write a commercial novel that a Big 5 publisher would necessarily pick up. So writers do have other options. If they want to publish in the first place, there are smaller presses, university presses, independent presses, those presses, in addition to novels and essay, collections, and memoir, they might publish poetry, collections, short story collections, all of which those tend to have a smaller page count, a shorter page count. And then there's also self-publishing. So I'm curious on your take. In self-publishing, obviously there are no barriers, so people can make their books as long as they'd like, but do you have any thoughts or advice for writers who might be exploring other avenues aside from the Big Five publishing industry?

Brandi Larsen (30:54):
I also love self-publishing, but it's a job, you know, in a traditional house, you've got 60 people who are touching your book, who are loving it into life. When you're publishing independently. Like self-publishing, you are all of those 60 hands. So ideally one, you are hiring a team of skilled people who know what they're doing and can help you fill some of those hands. Again, two different reasons for publishing the book. I think there are many people who it is completely legitimate of. Like I need to see my book in world and my book is beautiful and amazing as the creature flawed or as beautiful as it might be. I'm down for that. If you want your, your book to sell at a level, that's really going to create a career. And there are plenty of amazing authors who have created careers inside. Self-publishing, you know, I'm thinking about Abby Vandiver,
one of our own, right, who started self-publishing in mysteries and then was picked up by Berkeley to publish as Abby Colette.

Brandi Larsen (31:50):
And she's got a brilliant way about thinking about it, of like, what is your audience wanting. Really reading deeply inside your audience, inside your genre and understanding what's expected. And so even if like, I think the same outliers appear, right? If your reader is expecting an 80,000 or 60,000 word book you're off 5,000 words here or there, it's probably okay. But if it starts getting super long, your reader's gonna be like, this thing is never ending. Right. And if it's super short, they're gonna say like, oh, well I paid this much for that. Come on. And they're not gonna wanna read you again. And so I think it's the same thing. You really are fitting in the expectations of what type of book you are and what else are on your shelves.

Laura Maylene Walter (32:31):
Well, I did also want to briefly ask you about your advice for writers, who do want to publish through maybe a traditional publisher, but their word counts are just not aligning with the standard. So I know you've worked with a lot of writers. I've also worked as a freelance developmental editor. So I've seen a lot of unpublished manuscripts that I've worked with. And I've had people at both end of the spectrum contact me. So I've had people whose books are too short. So maybe 50,000 words for a novel. I've also had more commonly, I would say people with projects that are in my opinion, far too long. So I've had writers contact me and their novel is between 180,000 words and 200,000 words. 

Brandi Larsen (33:13):
Ooh, that's long.

Laura Maylene Walter (33:14):
But I am curious, where would you tell writers to start? Because I don't think, as you mentioned earlier, just chopping a book in half because it's twice as long and creating two manuscripts out of it that doesn't just work. You need the full arc for each book. What would you tell a writer who is far too long or a writer as well, who is a bit too short?

Brandi Larsen (33:33):
I'll start with short. So short, you've got some options, right? Like if you writing inside genre is pretty awesome to have a little novel in between, in a series. That's not gonna be the first book in your series. Uh, when I was at Penguin And Random House, we brought books that were a novella in conjunction with, and that gave us a lot to play with cuz we would space out the publishing plan so that it kind of was like bridged us from book two to three, for example. And it was like a little novella in between. And so we were really excited about those types of books, but they weren't debut authors. And so if your book is 50,000 words, that's a novella, in my opinion, and a novella is something that is priced much, much differently and does not stand on its own.

Brandi Larsen (34:20):
So if you have written a novella that’s awesome, super cool. And it's like, that's just the length that it's gonna be cool. Go write your next book. And then we can come back and we can figure out where that falls in terms of all of this world that you're creating. But a novella…it's not its own book. If you want to be traditionally published. I think if you're, self-publishing using a novella also as a publishing strategy, super smart as a way to like get people into your series. Maybe not as book one, but very close in there, like book one and a half. When we're talking really, really long books, I think you need to have a really honest conversation with yourself. Pick up the books on your shelves. What are you reading? What is their page count, pick out like what are what's their arc, try and map that to your own.

Brandi Larsen (35:11):
I was struggling my book and actually mapped it to FROZEN. You know, it doesn't have to be a book. It can be a movie right. Mapped it. And just to see like, okay, that where's the turning point where the climax, what is happening in my favorite pieces of media, whether it's a book, it's a movie. Am I doing that on the page and have a real conversation with yourself? Because if your book is that long, you might not be. And so what does that mean for your revision? Doing the good work of understanding what it is you read for might help you do the good, hard work. God it's brutal. Right? I have a folder of 150,000 words that are not going into my novel. Yeah. And it just called later.

Laura Maylene Walter (35:54):
Yeah. That's makes sense to me.

Brandi Larsen (35:57):
You need to do what's best for your book and not every piece is needed. Right? You don't need 7,000 word chapters. So as a woman who writes 7,000 word chapters, trying hard to write 2000 word chapters, really think about it as your readers, understanding and reading so deeply in what you write, I think is essential.

Laura Maylene Walter (36:15):
Brandi, this is so helpful. I think we're all so lucky to benefit from the depths of your knowledge. You know, so much about all this, it's so great. I know we could probably talk about the data and go on for hours, but out of respect for your time, we can wrap up. But is there anything else you'd like to share with us? Any lasting advice for writers or anything else that you gleaned from your research into different page counts for books?

Brandi Larsen (36:38):
I just wanna say, find your community that your people are out there. You need them, you need them when you are writing. And you're reading by the authors that you're reading, support their careers in person. If you can, and online have people read your work so that it's not just the precious thing in your head and take it advice from people who are reading like you're reading and understand what you're writing and keep going your work matters. The world needs your work. I believe you can get it out there. And so have fun with that.

Laura Maylene Walter (37:10):
What a perfect note to end on Brandi. Thank you so much.

Brandi Larsen (37:13):
Thank you. What a joy it is to be here.

Laura Maylene Walter (37:17):
Thank you so much to our guest Brandi Larson. Visit her website at brandilarsen.com and @BrandiLarson on social media. That's Brandi with an I, and Larsen ends with E N. Page Count is presented by the Ohio Center for the Book at Cleveland Public Library. Learn more online@ohiocenterforthebook.org. Follow us on Twitter @CPLOCFB, or find us on Facebook. If you'd like to get in touch, email Ohio Center for the Book@cpl.org and put podcast in the subject line. Finally follow me on Twitter and Instagram @LauraMaylene. Thanks for listening, and we'll be back in two weeks with another chapter of Page Count.

				

If you enjoy Page Count, please subscribe and spread the word. Get in touch by emailing us (put “podcast” in the subject line) or find us on Twitter or on Facebook. Learn more about Cleveland Public Library.