• Melissa Carmean

Thinking of padding your word count? Yeah. Don't.


Is your book too short? Were you perhaps shooting for 50,000 words and ended up with 30k? That sucks. We’ve all been there. You may want to ask me what the solution is, aside from padding the word count to add that extra 20K, but I’m not going to answer quite yet.

I’ve seen it before: authors padding their word counts through the usage of excessive words or passages do nothing to enhance their work but instead cause the reader to slog through pages of bullshit that essentially have no relevance to the story at hand.

Why does word count matter? Well, if you want your book to be classed as a novel and not a novelette or novella, you might need as many as 40k words in your book. A novelette should have anywhere between 7,500, and 17,000 words. A novella should have about 20k-40k, and a novel would have at least 50k words total.

Most authors think they have a full novel. They sit down to write the novel, they tidy it up, and at the end, they find out that—oh shit!—my book is only 30k words! That person then does some research and finds out that for their novella to transform into a novel, they're going to need a higher word count.

But the word count isn’t what makes the novel. It’s the content and the quality of the writing that constitutes a novel. If you panic and start adding a bunch of shit that has nothing to do with your story, yeah, you might have a novel-length piece in your hands when you’re finished, but it won’t be a great novel, and your readers aren’t going to be fooled. They’ll simply flip through the worthless passages, chapters, and sentences or they’ll give up reading because, well, your book sucks!

So what to do when you’re shy of that 50k? Well, you’ve got a few options. My absolute favorite option would be this: you wrote a novella. Cool. Why does it have to be a novel? If you have everything you need within that piece of work, and it’s shorter than novel-length, what the hell do you care? You’ve told a (presumably) good story. You’ve spent the time to write it. Maybe you had 45k to begin with, but your content editor tore you a new one and she was right, so you had to go ahead and cut the shit that was worthless in the first place. Now you have a shorter, more concise, easier to read novella instead of an almost-novel. What’s so wrong with that? If your editor has approved the work and everything is in order—so what? Leave it! It’s fine as it is! There’s no need for you to freak out over word count and start adding words/scenes that don’t matter.

Don’t make your book unreadable simply for the sake of word count. It’s reckless and it will compromise the quality of the book. Say you send that shit back to your editor, after you’ve padded the word count. Well, the editor is going to tear you another new one and just tell you to cut that shit out, anyway. So just skip the middle man and don’t add anything. Leave your novella a novella, be proud of your accomplishment, and move on with your damn life. Maybe next time you’ll have enough content for a full novel. But you don’t today, so it really doesn’t matter.

Another option would be to, I don’t know, add scenes that enhance the story and further the plot. This will be tricky after the fact and may require a rewrite because when you add scenes and passages, you have to go back through your manuscript to ensure the other details are in line with the new, added details (they won’t be), and you’ll need to tweak your entire book so the newer scenes and subplots feel organic and make sense.

Why do I advise against the second option? Because it doesn’t always work out for the best. Oftentimes, it’s easy for the editor to discern what you’ve done, which means; those added scenes? Yeah, those don’t feel original; they stand out as additions and don’t blend into the current storyline. Such scenes and subplots often feel forced. If you’re a highly skilled writer with a ton of experience, you’ll be much more likely to pull this off, but if you’re a first-time author, I’d advise you to think long and hard before attempting this because it can (and most often will) screw with the balance and pacing of your book.

The worst option is to just go ahead and pad the shit out of your manuscript against the advice of your editor and see what happens. Let me save you the hassle. Here’s what happens: your book sucks, everyone hates it, you get horrible reviews and you never write again. Does that sound pleasant to you? It doesn’t sound pleasant to me.

My point here, after rambling for almost 1,000 words, is this: don’t worry about the word count. Don’t worry over whether you have a novel, or a novella. Just write your story to the best of your ability, find a great editor, and whatever the final word count—that’s what you’ve got. Accept it.

Don't pad your word count unless you can make those added passages relevant to your story, and/or unless they move the storyline forward.

What a short and sweet post from yours truly, huh? I just needed to get it out of my system. Next post will follow shortly, and that one will be about cutting all the words you do not absolutely need out of your manuscript.

Happy writing!

-Mel

#creativewriting #contentediting #wordcount #manuscriptadvice #manuscripterrors