Being new is hard.
Being an author is hard, too.
Being a new author with a book breaching 200,000 words is doomed to failure.
Being doomed to failure is hard.
My debut Purge of Ashes clocks in at around 204,000 words, about double what ‘they’ say a newly minted author should attempt. Everywhere I looked my word count was not just implausible or foolish, it was impudent and rude. A sure sign of an upstart university kid who thinks piling words from his engorged lexicon comprises prose fiction. The gall of it, going a book’s length into the sextupal digits. And yet here I am writing with both a publishing deal and the guile to work the word ‘sex’ into a post sans smut. University was a long time ago.
The word count was one of the most daunting aspects of completing Purge of Ashes. Attracting an agent or publisher would be based on their opinion of whether or not I would make money for the company. At first there would be no bearing on quality. The gatekeepers were therefore math types who were hedging their bets to calculate the odds of your book being a success – a risk worth taking. At 204,000 words all the algebra in the world would never fit the right numbers into the right variables for me. The cost of the excess paper required to print the novel outdid my potential, especially if the measure of that potential was 250 words on a single query letter.
I could never simply lop a chunk of the book. The ramifications were either too vast to consider or too damaging to the atmosphere or pacing. Nor could I split the book in two. You don’t set out on a mass exodus only to have the story end mid-jaunt when people’s feet are starting to get sore. One option seemed ideal: print as is and cuff the norms.
The thing is, they say write what you know for a reason. If there was one thing I was comfortable with in my knowledge, besides the TV show Futurama, it was my understanding of why my favourite fantasy series were so great. The Wheel of Time, A Song of Ice and Fire and then later Malazan Book of the Fallen and First Law. None of these were small books. None of them squirmed into the presentation britches of the so-called rules of publishing. If these were what I knew, then an 80,000 page one-off to get my feet wet was not for me. Not grand enough by half.
So what could I do? I had done it my way like a cool dude, but now my way had petered from a paved highway into a lapideous streambed.
An offhand comment from @Grimdark himself, Joe Abercrombie, did the trick. I was beside myself at how impossible maintaining my 204,000 words seemed in a day and age where the internet could tell me ahead of time the many reasons I would fail. No one was going to care to represent my work and my craft was going to be for nothing but a few loyal friends. Then, halfway down the comment section on a thread purporting to tally ‘caps’ for word count by genre, I came upon an old post of Abercrombie’s calling the results into question – and you’re welcome to read it here. (A search for ‘Abercrombie’ will find it for you quickly.) He basically implied that a great number of impressive debuts in the preceding years, including The Blade Itself at 190,000 words, were closer to 200,000 than anything else… so why imply limitations? The successes belied the restrictions.
This prompted in me a steely resolve to ensure Purge of Ashes failed or thrived as conceived. If other excellent books could skip the line then so could I. Even the most famous authors started out timid over their capability. Let April 5th be the judge of the company it will keep.
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