The Business and Craft of Writing: Expectations for Book Lengths and a Bit on Genres

I finished writing my first book when I was 14. I was so proud of that thing. I had hand-written 150 pages of fantasy. And a 150-page book isn’t the shortest book out there, especially for a middle-schooler.

Here’s the thing that I didn’t know then: there are certain expectations about book lengths and genres that are a decent indicator of whether or not a writer is a beginner.* And everything about my story screamed NEWBIE.

First thing you should know: when you’re writing a book, most people in the publishing industry go by word count. Page count is often inaccurate because there are so many variables (including font size, font type, spacing, and even what version of Word you’re using) that affect what each individual is actually seeing. But I could do an entire post on formatting.** In fact, I will do a post on formatting in the future.

Second, there are so many different genres you could be writing in, and those affect word counts. Usually when I say genre, I’m referring to where on the bookshelf would someone who’s selling the book place each book. Unfortunately, there are several different definitions of genre, which makes it very confusing. For example, there’s nonfiction, general fiction, genre fiction (which is romance, science fiction, fantasy, horror, etc.), children’s books (which even that entails more than you’d think), and on and on and on.

A novel is what most people think of when they think “book.” A novel can be anywhere from 40,000 words on up. 110K-120K is typically the safest high-end word count a novel can reach before people get antsy about the length. If you’re writing for children, those numbers are lower.

For adults, here’s a guideline that can at least get you started.

Short Story: 0-7,500

Novelette: 7,500-15,000

Novella: 15,000-40,000

Novel: 40,000+

A book like the one I wrote is considered middle grade fantasy or MG for short. Excluding the two missing pages, which I’ll generously guesstimate totaled 1000 words, that story is 26,000 words long.

Middle grade books are typically for kids 8-12 years old and are approx. 20,000 to 40,000 words long. Technically, yes, my book was in the correct MG word count range, but since it’s a fantasy, it’d get a few side-eyes from agents just on the length along. (Fantasy books for any age are generally longer since you need more words for adequate world-building.)

This article on Writer’s Digest gives a better breakdown of acceptable word counts per genre and age group.

*Like anything and everything with writing, there are definitely exceptions. Some best-selling books are shorter than the norm and others are waaaaay longer. (I’m looking at you, Branderson.)

**Design and layout is one of my other true loves.


The Business and Craft of Writing: What is publishing?

This seems like a funny, no duh kind of question, but seriously, when I was 14 and looking for publishers, I thought that writers wrote their book, sent it to a publisher (i.e, paid the publisher), and then it’d show up in bookstores after the publisher made the word document into an actual book.

Ha. Haha.

Not even close.

I was aware enough to know that there were fake publishers/scammers out there, so I searched for publishers who didn’t cost a lot. (Also, I was 14. I had no money.) When I found a publisher who would PAY ME for my book, I was so thrilled! And then because I’m a procrastinator and my family moved halfway across the country, I never sent them my book.

*Current me wipes relieved sweat off face*

Turns out, there are different types of publishers beyond scammers and legit publishers. Forteen-year-old me had found what is called a vanity press. Technically, yes, that particular publisher would have paid me, but only after I had covered the cost of printing. More on that in a bit.

What I really wanted is what is referred to as traditional publishing. A traditional publisher takes submissions, decides if they want to publish that book, and if they decide YES, then they will contact the author with an offer. The author can then accept and sign the publishing contract as-is, negotiate for different rights/more money, or reject the offer. The publisher will then edit the book, design the book (both the cover and the interior), market the book, print the book, and get the book into bookstores. While an author has some input once a traditional publisher is working on their book, they actually don’t have that much control over most of what happens, (like the design and marketing of the book).big-five

In a later post I’ll cover contacts and payment. But for now, this is the basics of what a traditional publisher does. At no point does the author ever pay a traditional publisher.

Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, Hachette, Penguin Random House, and HarperCollins are known as the “Big 5” US publishers, but there are many other legitimate traditional publishers out there.

Next is self-publishing. There are so many ways to self-publish now that I’m not even going to attempt describing all of them, but essentially self-publishing means that the author is paying for and/or actually doing the work to publish their book. Self-publishing gets a bad rap since a bunch of authors either don’t know how to produced quality work (whether it’s the actual writing, the editing, or the design) or can’t/won’t pay someone else with the appropriate skills. Fortunately, that’s not the case for a large number of self-published authors. The upside to self-publishing (compared to traditional publishing) is that the author has complete control over every aspect of the publication for the book. It’s just more work for them.

There is something called hybrid-publishing. Essentially it’s a combination of the previous two. The vanity press that I found when I was 14 is a great example. They would have done much of the work of a traditional publisher, but I would have had to pay the costs of printing and done the marketing myself. There are various combinations to hybrid publishing and there’s a debate on whether or not it’s a separate category from self-publishing.

Whew. That’s a lot of info and I’m really just skimming the surface of what publishing is. For the majority of this series, I’m going to focus on traditional publishing since that is what I’m most interested in. I may touch on self-publishing a bit, but I’m not particularly familiar with it.

Let me know if there’s a specific publishing- or writing-related question you and I’ll do my best to answer it in another post!

Introducing The Business and Craft of Writing Series

22159317_1509436672426752_1079978262542680064_nI’ve been meaning to update for months, but I’ve been busy with life and my writing. (So it goes… Sigh.)

Anyway, last November, I did an Instagram photo challenge for writers. One of the items was to post our “Author Bucket List.” I hadn’t ever specifically thought of what my bucket list would be, though I did have some long term goals and hopes. Two of which kind of go hand-in-hand: 1) Present at a writing conference and 2) Teach a creative writing class.

As I was thinking about what I wanted to do with this blog and my bucket list, several things occurred to me.


A) My passion is publishing and writing. I majored in English and minored in editing, but I frequently said that if my minor had been a major, I would have dropped English in a heartbeat. And maybe someday when my kids are out of the house (or basically out of the house), I’ll actually work in publishing.

2) I LOVE to advise people on writing and publishing.

3) If I want to teach or present, I better start practicing.

All of which is a very long-winded way of me saying that I’m starting a new blog series! At first it’ll probably just be a random compilation of various tidbits about the publishing industry and writing craft, but eventually I hope to have a system worked out.

The first few topics will be things that I wished I knew back when I was 14 and looking at getting my first novel published. I’m already working on the first post, so keep your eyes out for that one!



Writing goal updates

Earlier this year I set four writing goals for myself.

  1. Finish a first draft of something
  2. Revise an earlier novel
  3. Write a short story
  4. Write more consistently

I’m happy to say that I *am* writing more consistently than I was and I’ve started numbers 2 & 3. Goal number 1 is kinda not cooperating, so I’m changing tactics.

The story that I had originally hoped to finish the first draft of is so broken right now that I really don’t know where to begin fixing it. I have some ideas but I think one of the biggest issues is that this particular story is one that I technically started when I was 14, then trunked until after college. I’m not the same person I was 10+ years ago and I’m not interested in the same things in the same kind of way I was then. So I’ve decided that this one is getting re-trunked for now. I might pull it back out later, but we’ll see.

I have several other ideas floating around that I’m interested in writing. One of them is a middle grade (MG) fantasy in the style of Diana Wynne Jones, who is my writing idol. A second idea is a Victorian romance. I’ve already started the MG book and I have a rough plot idea, but I’m not super interested in writing that at the moment. But I don’t know for sure what direction I’m going with the Victorian romance either. So currently I’m researching and fine-tuning both ideas. Later this year I’ll work on one of them and *maybe* try NaNoWriMo in November. (That’s super iffy though.)


Last month I mentioned that I was starting a short story for my July Camp NaNo project. I’m glad to say that I won again! Of course, I set my official goal so ridiculously low that I wrote almost half of it the very last night of camp, but hey! It kept me motivated.

I’m still working on that story and hope to finish it this month. As soon as I’m done with it, then I’ll see where I am with research/fine-tuning and either start a new story or continue with my revision in September.




New Things

I’m keeping this post short since I have a sleeping baby in my arms and limited brainpower.

Bartholomew is here! He was born at the beginning of June and life hasn’t slowed down since then. My in-laws came into town for a visit, followed by a family friend from Denmark. And now my toddler (Edgar) is sick. So not much happening in the way of writing…

But since it’s Camp NaNo again this month and one of my goals for the year is to write a short story, I’ve started a new piece. This one is purely for fun and I’m not going to show it to anyone until I’ve completely finished it. I’m excited about trying short stories again since I had an awful time with them in my creative writing class in college. I guess I’ll see what I’ve learned about writing since then!

In the meantime, enjoy these birds from my public library!




Am I really ready for that feedback?

I think I’ve mentioned at least once or twice (or twenty or thirty times) that I took Brandon Sanderson’s creative writing class in 2016. At the end of the semester, he asked the 15 of us in the class to turn in 5,000 polished words that he would personally critique.

I was excited about getting that feedback. I felt like I’d learned a lot in his class and had really improved my writing. Now, I knew that I wasn’t going to amaze him since I’d already been getting feedback from him when he’d drop in on my critique group, but I wanted to impress him at least a little bit.

Well, the class ended that April and my wait began. I anticipated getting a response in December-ish since Brandon IS busy with big published author obligations. As Dec approached, I got antsier and antsier.


So I emailed his assistant in January. Brandon hadn’t forgotten me. He was still working on my critique between his other work, but don’t expect anything for a few more months. So I settled in for another long wait.

I took another look at everything I’d written in Brandon’s class and saw SO. MANY. FLAWS. I’ll be honest, while I had cleaned up the first 5,000 words of that WIP, I didn’t pay too much attention to it. I really did think that it was polished and I was trying to reach the high word count goal that Brandon set for the class. At this point, I knew that if *I* was seeing problems, Brandon definitely would.

So I got to work revising everything immediately following the section I sent him. And I was excited about my story in a way that I haven’t been in a long time.

Recently I got his feedback. And he said some stuff that surprised me and even more stuff that didn’t really surprise me. He pointed out flaws that I hadn’t really considered. And immediately I started brainstorming fixes.

When I shared his feedback with my family, they commented on how well I was taking it.

It’s because I was actually ready for it. I had distanced myself enough from what I sent him that I wasn’t looking for mild (or exhuberant) praise anymore. I really wanted to know what he thought wasn’t working.

How many times are we actually ready for constructive feedback versus hoping for a pat on the back and maybe one or two small things to fix?

I’m discovering that perhaps, at least for me, I’m not always ready like I think I am.


Camp NaNoWriMo – April 2017

Towards the end of last month, I had another “I’m a terrible writer because I can’t reach my goals and I’m never going to finish this book. I’m a horrible person” slump. I tend to set some pretty high goals for myself that I know if I just sit down and actually write, I can reach them​. Of course, I set those goals when I’m feeling pretty productive and optimistic and forget that Edgar is almost a toddler and Bartholomew is still on his way. Which, of course, means that in general, I do not have the ideal circumstances on a daily basis for reaching my theoretically doable goals.

Anyway, this particular round, I was reading some old entries from my 8th English journal. Pretty much any entry that was a free write was either about the novel I was writing then or about how I wanted to be a writer or editor. So then I had to ask myself whether or not I loved writing now as I did as an 8th grader.

And the answer is yes. But I am too caught up in trying to make it as a professional to enjoy it.

I told myself that for April, I had permission to write whatever I felt like writing. So that’s what I’ve done this month. I set a low word count goal for Camp NaNoWriMo and told myself to just write.

The first week or so I had to fight myself to write on any sort of consistency, but I counted my journal, brainstorming, actual story, etc. And then I found myself looking for a few minutes here and there to jot down ideas.

Tomorrow is the last day of Camp. I won’t reach my word count goal.* But I still won. I’m excited to write again.


*Update: April 30, 2017

I actually did reach my word count goal today so I spirit-won AND won-won! Needless to say, I’m even more stoked about my writing progress this past month. It’s nice to know that I am capable of achieving​ my goals despite real life responsibilities.


Current reads: Paper Magician trilogy and Dragon with a Chocolate Heart

Yesterday I got an ARC (advanced reader copy) of Stephanie Burgis‘s The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart in the mail. I won it in a giveaway to her North American readers since it doesn’t come out here in the US until May. (Her UK readers got it in Feb.) This book is about a young dragon who wants to show how tough she is, so she goes out to catch a human and instead is turned into a human herself when she drinks some enchanted hot chocolate. Since I love dragons and am a *huge* hot chocolate fan, this sounds right up my alley. I’m excited to read it.

I actually haven’t read anything by Stephanie yet, but a while ago I saw the UK covers for her MG* series, Kat Incorrigible, and thought they were adorable. I’m a huge fan of historical fantasy so that series has been on my to-read list ever since.

In the mean time, I just finished Charlie M. Holmberg‘s Paper Magician trilogy. I first learned about Charlie when I listened to her on Writing Excuses. This trilogy is a Victorian-era fantasy where magicians are bonded to a material (paper, in this case). The main character, Ceony, is an apprentice to a paper magician when his ex-wife breaks in and literally steals his heart. Ceony creates a paper heart for him and then chases down the ex-wife to get his real heart back. The rest of the series is about what happens after that.


I absolutely loved the first book! It’s clean and romantic and full of action. The other two books are also really good. The second book was a tad bit darker (but still clean) and the third  book had a lot more stuff happening that I wish Charlie had spent a little more time on. I definitely plan on getting the paper copies (I own the ebooks) as soon as I can. I’m also going to read other books by Charlie.


*MG = middle grade (typically readers are 8-12ish)


Beginning Tai Chi

Back in 2014, a vegan friend asked me to take him to the nearby organic grocery store. While he was doing his shopping, I browsed the small workout DVD collection and happened upon a Beginning Tai Chi DVD. I had plantar fasciitis at the time and was trying to train for a RAGNAR, so this looked like a pretty low-key way to loosen up at home. Plus I’ve always had an interest in trying martial arts. tai-chi-silhouette-cropped-300x214

At the register, a pretty massive guy with an even bigger hipster beard noticed the DVD and started talking to me about how much he enjoyed Tai Chi and yoga. We chatted for a minute, then he invited me to a big all-day yoga conference thing that weekend. I made some sort of obligatory “Oh maybe I’ll go, but I’m not sure what my schedule it” type of comment and bemusedly finished up my purchase and joined my friend at the door.

He shot me this big, cheesy grin and said, “I think he likes you.”

I didn’t go to the yoga conference.

Anyway, the DVD has two 45-min parts and up until yesterday, I’ve never made it past the 20-min mark of the first part. A large reason for this has been the lack of available space and then the lack of time/energy. Yesterday I decided that Edgar was old enough that I could probably try doing the workout while he played. So I popped it into my computer and started watching the introduction. Immediately he ran over and started hugging my leg so I couldn’t move without knocking him over.

Every time I tried to start doing the workout, he’d come over and start climbing on me or want held. Eventually I gave up and just watched the rest of the first part while I played with him. That counts as a workout, right?


My other hobbies

I feel like lately I’ve only been talking about my writing aaaaannnndd….that’s probably true. So, I’ve been thinking about all of my different hobbies and which ones I can feasibly do at this point of my life.

I love rock climbcrw_3305ing, caving, and running, but it’s winter. And I live in the Midwest. A) It’s super cold. B) I have a little kid I’m NOT willing to take out into the cold. C) There really aren’t places that I can go rock climbing or caving in the Midwest. (Ok, there are like 2 places and both of those are over an hour away.)

My photography’s dropped off pretty heavily but I did manage to get some nice shots while I was in Switzerland. While I love looking at pretty landscapes, I get most excited doing action shoots. And Edgar* isn’t quite ready for those kind of adventures. Hopefully once it warms up we can take him camping before Bartholomew** shows up.


Which leaves me with my other artwork. I LOVE painting. It’s something that just makes me relax. I haven’t had much opportunity to actually do much painting in the most recent years since I’ve been living in tiny apartments and whatnot. But now I’ve got a house! Which means I’ve got plenty of room to put wet oil paintings and not have to worry about them getting in the way or other people touching/smearing them! The other day I asked Nathan to help me brainstorm some ideas since I really would like to take my painting to a new level. So we’ve got a series idea for the study that we’re pretty excited about. (I’m not going to share it until I’ve actually done anything for it though.)

might start drawing again too, but I’m waaaaay more picky about my drawing than my painting for whatever reason, so it stresses me out more.

*Edgar is the nickname that my brother-in-law came up with to refer to our oldest while I was pregnant with him. (My oldest, not my B.I.L. Those tricky dangling modifiers.)

**Bartholomew, or Barth Vader, is coming in June. We’ll find out Barth’s actual gender here in a few weeks!