We’ve all read mystery novels that seem to plod along endlessly, going into explicit detail about every irrelevant fact as we slog our way through in hopes of finding out whodunnit. Then there are those thrillers that end without warning – leaving us with more questions than answers. Finding the right length for your crime fiction novel can be tricky; you never want to leave readers with unanswered questions or logical fallacies, but you also need to keep momentum and build to a suspenseful climax. What’s a crime fiction author to do?
Happily, there are general guidelines you can follow when finding the right length for your crime fiction novel. As a rule, the revised and edited draft of your mystery novel that you’ll submit for publication should come in between 80,000 and 90,000 words. When published in paperback, that’s usually somewhere between 300 and 400 pages. Competitions like NaNoWriMo encourage writers to get 50,000 words on paper, which gives you a great starting point. From there, you can revise your crime fiction novel, adding descriptive details that will bring your novel to life.
So why is it so important to find the right length for your crime fiction novel? Presumably, you’re writing a mystery with the hopes of having it published, and 80 to 90 thousand words is the “sweet spot” for most publishers. Anything less may give the impression of shortchanging readers, while significantly more can be intimating to readers. Agents, editors and publishers want work that’s appealing to readers and won’t cost a fortune to produce – particularly when it comes to unproven authors. Because competition is so fierce, making your crime fiction novel an appealing length will make it more likely an editor will read and publish it.
Of course, any crime fiction novelist should focus on telling a good story and being true to characters like Alex Stone and Lou Mason rather than hacking down a mystery novel to meet these guidelines – or adding frivolous fluff to a tightly crafted novel of suspense to hit 80,000 words. When in doubt, seek out an objective perspective. Get a friend to mark up your overly long thriller with a red pen, or ask someone to read your too-short mystery and tell you where it feels thin.
The right length of your crime fiction novel is certainly not set in stone, and there’s some wiggle room on either side of the 80 to 90 thousand word count goal. Keeping your work close to that mark is a great goal for first time writers. After you’ve signed a book deal or inked the next bestseller, you’ll have a little more flexibility to write the next Great American Epic!