Some famous author once said that if you can’t tell a story in 50,000 words then you shouldn’t tell it. While I don’t totally agree with that statement, I do agree with the sentiment it expresses. Two of the books I started recently (won’t mention titles, but one of them is consistently in the top 3 bestsellers on Amazon) were so padded with useless words and descriptions that I couldn’t even finish them. As an author myself, maybe I’m more sensitive to such things. One of them was, after all, a best seller. But that doesn’t mean the reader got their money’s worth.
When a writer starts a new project, the publisher generally gives them a word count goal that’s in line with their genre. If you write sci-fi or fantasy, don’t hand in anything less than 90k words or it will be handed back to you with red ink, stating “TOO SHORT.” This is a problem because sometimes a story only has so much life in it before the pacing begins to fizzle out, and adding more scenes to it will surely come off to the reader as forced. But the publisher doesn’t care, because it’s all about the word count. Epic fantasy needs lots of words (half of which can’t be pronounced) whereas romance and literary fiction can get by with shorter works.
This is where indie writers and traditionally published writers get to creatively part ways. Just as independent filmmakers can get away with producing content directly for their fans, so also indie authors can take advantage of their freedom and write their story without the silly limitations imposed by a marketing group somewhere. There’s no fear of breaching your contract in the independent publishing world, unless you’re signed to a small pub house that’s trying to be a major one.
Personally, I don’t shoot for a lesser page count, but I’m free to write the story I think my readers will enjoy… without any extra padding. That makes me very happy, and it’s the reason you won’t find any fluff or extraneous scenes within my work. Words should function in an luminary way, lighting up the world you’re creating and moving the events that transpire through a progression until the story culminates and no more can be said on the subject because you’ve exhausted every interesting angle. Of course, for a series, there’s something to be said for leaving some gas in the tank, so to speak. But even the books of a series should be tightly written, so as to not waste the time of the reader.
You’ll notice some word count meters in the side bar of this website. My current work-in-progress “All American Addict” is set to 50,000 words. That is what I consider the minimum amount of words to complete the story I’ve already outlined (and finished, in screenplay form). If the book ends up being 70,000 words, that’s okay by me… so long as every scene and description I write moves the story forward. The Lamp was only going to be 40k words but I kept finding interesting angles to explore and the end result was 15k words over. But I doubt there’s a single wasted word in the whole book (I’ll let you be the judge of that!). Sometimes it’s easy to look at an outline and know instinctively how long the book will be. That’s something that kind of comes with experience. I’m working on only my third novel right now, so sometimes my instincts are off. All part of learning, my friends.