Publishing may be a numbers game, but writing isn’t

I have never checked Text Stats nor do I want to, but this article (The Secret Lives of Novellas by Daniel Torday) caught my interest for several reasons. One, because it referenced a couple of my favourite books, Annie John and The Great Gatsby: books which may not have met the standard for novel length but which are fulfilling and complete reads nonetheless, never mind what early critics and Fitzgerald himself may have thought of Gatsby in particular.

Two, because I find there’s a bit of an obsession over word length by authors-in-progress – i.e. I did x number of words today or how many words blah blah blah…. I never know the answers to these questions because I’m not in the business of numbers, the tool of my art is words and words count for me in so much as they matter to the story. So how many words are in the book, as much (or as little) as it takes to tell the story completely.

Three, because I’ve had to contemplate the novel/novella classification in marketing my newest book Oh Gad! It is my third book of fiction and based on the distinction drawn along numerical lines, my first full length novel. I don’t consider it my first fully told story however and know of at least one friend and colleague who is critical of what she sees as the dismissal of my earlier work by referring to Oh Gad! as my first novel. But, to be clear, I do not reject either The Boy from Willow Bend or Dancing Nude in the Moonlight – and if you haven’t read them already, I hope you will after reading this. Because for me they are stories fully told as much as Oh Gad! is. But the writing of Oh Gad! did feel like a marathon in a way that they didn’t for many reasons. The length of it is one, sure. But it’s more than that. The sheer number of characters, comparatively speaking; the wandering into, for me, unfamiliar territory; the struggle to understand the characters, something that was not as much a struggle with my earlier work; the number of parallel plots, again comparatively speaking. It was just a lot more to keep track of and realize, and the realizing of it is a significant milestone for me as a writer. So it is third, but it is also a first for me, again not just because of the number of words (which I don’t know) or the weight of it (which I also don’t know). Though I have to admit the size disparity between it and Dancing struck me the night of the launch as they sat side by side ready to be signed. The next story may take a different form and represent another first in my growth as a writer – because I consider myself ever to be a student of this craft. But suffice it to say that on the subject of novel/novella, this is a case of size does not matter for me, but what’s contained in the package and I hope that readers will find in each of these books something of value.

So, the point of all this; when writing, tell the story, I’d say…numbers and classifications and all that is less about the art and craft of writing than the business of publishing. In order to fully immerse myself in the world of my characters and tell their story authentically, I have to keep these two things separate. I think the writer of the referenced piece kind of found that to be the case as well.

As with all content on, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, and Oh Gad!). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about Wadadli Pen and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.

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Filed under A & B Lit News Plus, Links We Love, Literary Gallery, The Business

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