Many middle writers figure that their writing is so good it doesn't matter if their ms is a little long. "Those are just guidelines,” the writer thinks. “Everyone will love it. Anyway, look at Stephen King with those monster books he puts out all the time.”
Well, yes, Stephen King does get away with long stories. Stephen King is also a proven author who could sell his grocery list if he wanted some quick cash. As a never-published author, you, dear writer, are not Stephen King. You need to follow the rules.
Rule-of-thumb length estimates are as follows:
20-40K for a novella.
50-80K for some genres, especially romance.
70-100K for most novels. 100K is pushing it.
Unless you are going to a house that says it’s OK, DO NOT try to sell them a ms over 100K. They will laugh at you.
Before you submit to a house, look up their length guidelines so you have specific information, and then stick to these like glue. (And remember in your ms to avoid clichés like the plague :-) ).
There are two good reasons that manuscript length is a hard and fast rule. The first reason is that an overlong manuscript is typical of poor writing: passive voice, descriptive rather than active prose, too many adjectives and adverbs, imprecise story execution, and so forth. This is not to say that your manuscript DOES have these problems, just that a long manuscript will cause the editor to suspect your technique likely needs improvement. You’ll be starting out a reading with a strike against you.
The second reason is that long books are expensive to print. Although publishers bring provocative written works with valuable messages to an audience, ultimately for them a book is a product. Their ultimate goal is to make money. They are inundated each year with hundreds or thousands of unpublished manuscripts.
Imagine that you are an editor and have two manuscripts before you. They are both written by newbies with comparable platforms, qualifications, and skill. The messages of both are strong. One is 80K, and the other is 110K. You figure with the longer one you will have to charge more money per book and/or accept a smaller profit margin. Your profit margin on any book is already small. Which one will you take?
As ebooks continue to take a larger market share, and print books become less popular, it’s true that cost for publishing a long book may become less important. Even so, readers tend to gravitate towards shorter rather than longer works. And don’t forget that poor writing tends to lengthen prose.
Drill this in: LENGTH MATTERS. An editor is not going to make an exception for you because of an amazing story.