How Long Is Too Much?

Too much of a good thing can be wonderful — Mae West

Shanyn's avatarby Shanyn Hosier

So, I’ve got this project I’ve been writing on-and-off for a few years and, predictably, this cold-war coming-of-age saga has reached an epic length. Even after some serious dynamite-wielding rounds of editing, it’s clocking in at a hefty 240K words. More editing is to come from my critique partners, but it’s also (at least) 7 chapters away from being finished!

As a reader, I adore epic tomes and multi-book series–when I fall in love with a cast of characters, I never want the story to end, I guess. But as a writer, I hear repeated admonitions to write short! That publishers, editors, and buyers prefer novellas (20K-50K) and short novels (70K-90K). I’m all for tightening up my writing, but what if my story needs more time and space than that to develop?

In a panic, I googled “word count” and found this bit of comfort: some of my favorite long books and series are also huge commercial successes! The Harry Potter series (to which I am devoted) racks up at over a million words, spread out over 7 books, and I’m pretty confident JKR could write on and on in that world and readers would lap it up. The Twilight series was nearly 600K/4 books, and that thing sold gangbusters in a genre (new adult) that generally discourages long stories. The Lord of the Rings series of epic fantasy seems brief in comparison, wringing a mere 550K out of 4 books. (Source: Mark O’Bannon)

My current WIP spans 19 years in the lives of the protagonists, so 250-260K doesn’t sound that unreasonable, does it? Still, I recognize it’s a big bite to chew. What do you think? Should I break it up into smaller bites?

Shanyn Hosier adores reading and writing in the same way she loves breathing and eating, deriving a similar nourishment from each. For more information about current and upcoming releases, please visit her website, You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.



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