Author Archives: Colleen Lindsay

Colleen Lindsay

About Colleen Lindsay

Colleen Lindsay is an unrepentant nerd who spent most of her formative years hiding beneath the blankets with a flashlight and a book. Colleen is Book Country's former Community Manager and now serves as Book Country's Strategic Adviser. She is also the Associate Director of Marketing, Social Media and Reader Experience for Penguin's NAL/Berkley Group.

Meet Brandi Larsen!

Posted by February 11th, 2013

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We’ve added a new member to the Book Country team! Meet Brandi Larsen, the new Director of Book Country.

Brandi will be driving the business side of Book Country, as well as helping to shape the vision for the future of the community. (She’s also a cat person and has an affinity for werewolves over zombies, so she gets an immediate thumbs-up from me!) Brandi and I sat down recently and chatted about her goals for Book Country, her background at the Chicago Tribune and her own love of writing.

Colleen: Congratulations on joining the Book Country team. What drew you to this project? What are you most excited about?

Brandi: Thanks, Colleen. I’ve been following Book Country since it started and loved the idea of it. As a writer myself, having an online home that will support me from first drafts to book signings is very appealing. I’m most excited to join the community and help grow it into the best spot for writers on the web.

Colleen: You just moved from Chicago. What made you uproot your family and take the plunge and move to New York City?

Brandi: An insane love of small apartments? (laughs) Seriously, when I saw the description for this role, I knew I had to apply. It’s a dream job. I tell my friends what I’m doing, and they all nod their heads and say, “Oh, yeah, that’s perfect for you.” My favorite writing teacher, author Meg Medina, once asked me to pay it forward—to share what I had learned from her to improve the lives of others. It makes me so happy that it’s now my job to do just that.

Colleen: In your previous role as Content Development Director at the Tribune, you helped newsrooms imagine the future. What does that mean?

Brandi: My role at the Tribune was incredible. I got to work with amazing people to answer questions like: “What should newspapers look like on a tablet? How will people read on a phone? What kind of content do people want from a newspaper?”

Colleen: That sounds very cool! You’ve also worked in television and at an Internet start-up. How do you see Book Country in the context of your experience?

Brandi: My career has been centered around the love of media and technology. Every role I’ve had involves storytelling. Whether I was figuring out how to grow an audience or determining the right content approach, I was solving problems to create the best experience for users. Book Country marries all of that expertise together. I get to build upon the amazing site you, Molly, Nevena and Danielle started. I’m looking forward to taking it to the next level for our current and future members.

Colleen: What changes do you have in store for Book Country?

Brandi: The Publish section re-launched just as I arrived and it’s pretty slick. I look forward to growing that area. We’re also working right now to rebuild the Community section so that the technology really supports the discussions happening on the site.  That’s a big one. I know you and Nevena have wanted us to expand the genre map, and it’s a great idea to embrace more writers. I also want to create more content that’s valuable to writers at all stages of the process. I have a couple more ideas up my sleeve, but I want to meet our members first.

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Colleen: You mentioned above  that you’re also a writer. What’s your process like?

Brandi: Ha, that assumes I have a process. I do, but it’s constantly evolving. I used to be an early bird, getting up before dawn to write. It’s been harder to fit in the time as I take on a new job and a new city. Once I finally get in the chair, I listen back to the moment that has captured my attention the most and try to get as many details down as quickly as possible.  Anne Lamott’s advice about only writing what you can see in a one-inch picture frame has always helped me. I try and take the square and then expand it, asking myself: “What happens next? Then, what happens? Then what?” I allow myself the freedom to write anything. I always edit in a separate session. That’s when I start peeling back the text to the essentials of what I’m trying to convey. Also, I read every single word aloud. Seriously, though, getting my butt in the chair is the most challenging. I was inspired by what Book Country author Kerry Schafer said during your recent Twitter chat. She works a full day, goes to school, and still has time to promote Between and write the rest of her trilogy? Man, after hearing that, there’s no excuse.

Colleen: Now we’re curious! What kinds of things do you write?

Brandi: A lot of short pieces. Mostly relationship-based. I’m working on a novel that doesn’t fit on the current genre map. Once we expand it, I’ll upload it.

Colleen: Do you workshop your writing? Or work with a critique partner?

Brandi: Yes and yes. I’m a huge fan of partnering with other writers. I was really fortunate to attend the Dreyfoos School of the Arts throughout middle and high school for writing and that, along with my training at the Fiction Writing Department at Columbia College Chicago, really prepared me to work with other writers. My husband is also a writer and we left behind an awesome critique group (hello, Recall First!). The value of critique partners isn’t just in getting someone to read my work, though that makes a big difference. I get a lot out of reading to improve someone else’s work—that’s how I really see what can be strengthened in my own. It’s one of the reasons I’m so excited to join Book Country. There are so many new writers to discover, secrets to share, and accomplishments to celebrate.

Colleen: Wow! Good luck with your writing! Okay, last question—is there anything else you want our members to know about you?

Brandi: Hmm. I collect antique typewriters, love to laugh, and can’t imagine a life without books. Please Connect with me on Book Country—I’d love to read your work! Also, if there are any New York City Book Country members, I’m on the lookout for great writing spots…

Colleen: Thanks for your time, Brandi. We’re thrilled to have you on the team!

One last piece of news: I’m moving into a new position myself! I’ll be the new Associate Director of Marketing, Social Media and Reader Experience at Penguin’s NAL/Berkley Group. Brandi will be helping Nevena with the management of the Book Country community as I make the transition into my new role. Additionally, I’ll be remaining as a strategic advisor to Book Country, and an active moderator/giant nerd/ban-hammer-of-doom on the Book Country discussion forums. I love the community that I helped to build, and don’t plan on disappearing any time soon!

In the meantime, please join me in welcoming Brandi to Book Country!

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On Word Count and Novel Length

Posted by March 9th, 2011

Size does matter, especially in fiction!

I sat down recently with several fiction editors and hammered out a comprehensive list of suggested word counts by genre & sub-genre. As you read through this, keep in mind three important things:

  • These are suggested word counts; rules get broken all the time.
  • These suggested word counts will most often apply to debut writers; successfully published authors are the ones who end up successfully breaking the rules.
  • If you are planning to e-publish only, and your book will never be printed out on actual paper, these guidelines aren’t nearly as important.

Something I saw a lot in queries as an agent were word counts that exceeded 100k. Often, a manuscript exceeded this by a considerable amount: I’ve seen word counts of 140k, 160k and one writer actually told me about a YA manuscript he’d written that was 188k.

Somewhere out there a myth developed – especially amongst science fiction and fantasy writers – that a higher word count was better. Writers see big fat fantasies on the shelf and think that they have to write a book just as hefty to get published. And sometimes a writer just writes a long book because they aren’t yet a very good writer. Good writers learn how to pare a manuscript down to its most essential elements, carving away the word count fat that marks so many beginning writers. And the fact of the matter is, most of those “big fat fantasy” books you see on the shelf actually only have a word count of about 100k to 120k.

The exceptions are usually authors who’ve already had an established track record of sales with previous – shorter – books, like George R.R. Martin. And, yes, once in a great while you will see an incredibly long debut novel. But the writing has to be absolutely stellar; knock-down, drag-out, kick-you-in-the-teeth amazing. (A good example is Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, which clocks in at just about 240,000 words.)

And I should also point out here that the longer a successful writer has been with a publishing house and the more actual dollars that author brings to the house (and the bigger that author’s advances get), the more clout that author may have regarding being able to keep his or her novel intact, without taking advantage of the editorial guidance being offered. And that is never a good thing for the book. Editors exist for a damned good reason, and no author is ever such a fabulous writer that a good editor can’t find things to make better in his or her manuscript.

There was a time about ten or so years ago when bigger word counts were the norm and not the exception. Like everything, the book industry goes through trends. But these days, editors of adult fiction – even editors of epic fantasy – squirm a little when presented with a manuscript that runs over 110k words. Books with a higher page count cost more to physically produce, resulting in a higher per-book manufacturing cost, meaning even more copies will need to be sold to make the estimated P&L work.

Publishers want to make money; bookstores want to make money.
Do the math.

When you search around the Internet for information on word counts, you get a lot of conflicting information, some of it just plain wrong, and often this information is coming from sources that would appear reputable to a writer who didn’t know any better. One article I read last week that was posted online at a major writing magazine actually insists that the average novel (non-genre) is 150,000 words. I have no idea where the writer of the article got his or her information, but that’s simply untrue. An average novel length is between 80k and 100k, again, depending upon the genre.

Word counts for different kinds of novels vary, but there is are general rules of thumb for fiction that a writer can use when trying to figure out just how long is too long. For the purposes of this post, I’m only talking about YA, middle-grade and adult fiction here. And bear in mind that there are always exceptions, but good general rules of thumb would be as follows:

middle grade fiction = Anywhere from 25k to 40k, with the average at 35k

YA fiction = For mainstream YA, anywhere from about 45k to 80k; paranormal YA or YA fantasy can occasionally run as high as 120k but editors would prefer to see them stay below 100k. The second or third in a particularly bestselling series can go even higher. But it shouldn’t be word count for the sake of word count.

paranormal romance = 85k to 100k

  • romance = 85k to 100k
  • category romance = 55k to 75k
  • cozy mysteries = 65k to 90k
  • horror = 80k to 100k

western = 80k to 100k (Keep in mind that almost no editors are buying Westerns these days.)

mysteries, thrillers and crime fiction = A newer category of light paranormal mysteries and hobby mysteries clock in at about 75k to 90k. Historical mysteries and noir can be a bit shorter, at 80k to 100k. Most other mystery/thriller/crime fiction falls right around the 90k to 100k mark.

mainstream/commercial fiction/thrillers = Depending upon the kind of fiction, this can vary: chick lit runs anywhere from 80k word to 100k words; literary fiction can run as high as 120k but lately there’s been a trend toward more spare and elegant literary novels as short as 65k. Anything under 50k is usually considered a novella, which isn’t something agents or editors ever want to see unless the editor has commissioned a short story collection. (Agent Kristin Nelson has a good post about writers querying about manuscripts that are too short.)

science fiction & fantasy = Here’s where most writers seem to have problems. Most editors I’ve spoken to recently at major SF/F houses want books that fall into the higher end of the adult fiction you see above; a few of them told me that 100k words is the ideal manuscript size for good space opera or fantasy. For a truly spectacular epic fantasy, some editors will consider manuscripts over 120k but it would have to be something extraordinary. I know at least one editor I know likes his fantasy big and fat and around 180k. But he doesn’t buy a lot at that size; it has to be astounding. (Read: Doesn’t need much editing.) And regardless of the size, an editor will expect the author to to be able to pare it down even further before publication. To make this all a little easier, I broke it down even further below:

—> hard sf = 90k to 110k
—> space opera = 90k to 120k
—> epic/high/traditional/historical fantasy = 90k to 120k
—> contemporary fantasy = 90k to 100k
—> romantic SF = 85k to 100k
—> urban fantasy = 90k to 100k
—> new weird = 85k to 110k
—> slipstream = 80k to 100k
—> comic fantasy = 80k to 100k
—> everything else = 90k to 100k

Editors will often make exceptions for sequels, by the way. Notice that the page count in both J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series gets progressively higher. But even authors who have been published for years and should know better will routinely turn in manuscripts that exceed the editor’s requested length by 30k to 50k words, which inevitably means more work for that author because editors don’t back down. If a contract calls for a book that is 100k words and you turn in one that is 130k, expect to go back and find a way to shave 30k words off that puppy before your manuscript is accepted.

Remember that part of the payout schedule of an author’s advance often dangles on that one important word: acceptance.

I cannot stress highly enough that there are always exceptions to every rule, especially in SF/F. Jacqueline Carey and Peter F. Hamilton, among others, have proven this quite successfully. If an agent finds a truly outstanding book that runs in the 200k range (yes, it happens!), he or she may advise your cutting the manuscript into two books to make life easier for everyone. But for a debut novelist who is trying to catch the eye of an agent or editor for the first time? Err on the side of caution with your word count.

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The Economics of the Advance Reading Copy

Posted by March 2nd, 2011

The lowdown on galleys and ARCs!

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 Most new books will have a galley (or Advanced Reader Copy) created. Not all books are treated equally, however. The number of galleys will depend upon the distribution of said galleys, how much the publisher is willing to pony up for said galleys, and – ultimately – how much the publisher initially ponied up for your book.

For example, lets say that the sales department wants 450 galleys to mail to independent booksellers, and another 650 to go to a Barnes & Noble Managers meeting. The publicity department would like 250 to send to reviewers, bloggers and long-lead media. The marketing department would like 300 to send to a special book club mailing. The author wants 50 to send to friends for quotes and blurbs and just in general to show off and say “Lookee here, I iz a published author!” An SF/F or romance convention may request 100 to use as door prizes, giveaways or auction items. The agent is going to ask for 20 copies as well. And then a copy of the galley goes to every bleeding person associated with the book, from the publisher to the production manager, which comes to another 50 galleys or so. (By the way, these last 50 copies are the ones that most often end up on the giveaway cart or in the garbage. Sad but true.)

So, right there, you’ve already got 1420 galleys needed, and that’s not even a large galley run. (A large galley run is when you have the great good fortune to have your book picked for distribution at Book Expo; a galley run could then run into as many as 6,000 copies.)

Now let’s do the math:

A galley costs roughly $6.75 to $8.00 to create, depending upon page count. For the sake of this post, lets split the difference and say that this galley costs $7.25 to produce. So, 1420 x $7.25 = $10,295 just for galleys. This number is run by the marketing director or associate publisher; he or she balks and cuts are made. Why does the author need so many? You copies are cut in half. Why do the indies need so many? Send to the top 150 stores, not the top 450. Why does publicity need so many? Cut to 125, send only to long lead periodicals and then use finished books for a later mailing to reviewers and bloggers. (FYI, a finished book costs about one-third the price of a galley, so using finished books is a hell of a lot cheaper than using galleys to promote.) Why does the agent need ANY? Cut to zero. Agent throws temper tantrum, raise back to 10 copies.

You see where I’m going with this. It always comes down to the bottom line.

Keep in mind also that more and more traditional publishers are now turning to electronic galley distribution services like NetGalley, which significantly cuts down on the actual number of physical galleys a publisher needs to produce.

When does a book not get a galley?

—> When the manuscript comes in too late (this happens quite frequently and is invariably the author’s fault – authors, pay attention to editorial deadlines!)
—> When the book is a mass market original: not all publishers produce galleys for MM originals. As a writer, however, you are welcome to request one; sometimes the publisher will oblige you.
—> When a book is a trade paper or mass market reprint.

What do you do if your publisher hasn’t produced a galley for your mass market original?

—> Ask your publicist (nicely!) to – at the very least – send bound manuscripts to the trades and genre-specific reviews (Publishers WeeklyLibrary Journal,Kirkus Reviews, Romantic Times, Locus, etc.). They’ll usually review from bound manuscripts as long as the pertinent publication information is included (title, author, publisher, ISBN, pub date, price, contact info of publicist, page count, format, and one paragraph summary).

My publisher will only give me fifteen copies of my galley and I need more for my friends and family!

—> Dude? NO. You really don’t. Galleys serve a very specific purpose in promoting your book and they are extremely expensive to produce, so for that reason alone, authors and agents are limited to only what is absolutely necessary. If for some reason you feel you’ll need more than a couple dozen galleys, you’ll need to let your editor know well in advance of your publication date and then you should be prepared to pay out-of-pocket for the extra print run.

I think that about covers it. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments section and I’ll be happy to try to address them!

[Photo by Svilen Milev; licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported]

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