In a tangle about Tangled

I need your help. I’m in a bit of a tangle – my book is not marketable.


The size of Tangled?

Well, not to the gatekeepers anyway. As many of you already know, the word count for Tangled, my draft YA manuscript, is over 170,000. That’s a first draft word count and I’m hoping to reduce it substantially, but I can’t see me chopping more than 40,000. So the word count will – at best – come down to 130,000.

From what I’ve read, traditional agents and publishers won’t even glance at a book that large from a first-time author. Especially not for YA. According to Colleen Lindsay, a former literary agent who blogs at The Swivet, mainstream YA should be between 45,000 and 80,000.

In his e-book, Straight Talk from the Editor, W. Terry Whalin says the typical novel is ‘between 80,000 and 100,000 words. If you’ve written a story which is double the word-limit, it is going to be a large book to produce. This weighty book is going to involve shipping and packing challenges plus other marketing concerns. I understand you’ve devoted a huge amount of energy to write 200,000 words. At the same time, don’t be surprised if your submissions are routinely rejected on the basis of your unusual word count.’

Pretty hard to argue with that. From what I can see, I have two options:

  • Market the story as two books, Tangled Part 1 and Tangled Part 2.
  • Go it alone and self-publish Tangled.

The pros and cons of these options, in my opinion, are:

  Two shorter books One long book
  • More likely to be picked up by a traditional publisher
  • If picked up:
    • editing, distribution and marketing would be provided and (hopefully) more successful
    • my professional reputation would be boosted significantly
  • Doesn’t leave the reader hanging at the end of book one
  • Self-publishing allows for total artistic control and greater profit per unit sold
  • no closure at the end of the first novel for readers
  • making readers pay for half a story, potentially ‘burning’ them
  • very unlikely to be picked up by traditional publishers
  • higher expenses and failure rates with self-publishing
  • ‘vanity’ stigma associated with self-publishing


I’m keen to hear your thoughts on these options. Please note I’m well aware there are no guarantees that splitting Tangled into two books would get it published, just that the chances would be higher. But do those ‘higher chances’ justify doing something that would drive the majority of readers crazy?  Just this morning, I read a book review on Good Reads bemoaning novels that end on a cliff hanger. Tangled wouldn’t be left on a cliff hanger, it would be left on ten.

There is another option, of course. Treat Tangled as a learning experience and file it away in a drawer to gather dust. I’m not afraid to do that, if I come to the decision it’s not worth reading. But if I can get it to a stage where I (and esteemed others) think it’s a strongly written, entertaining piece of fiction, then I want it to be available for people to read. And if that means self-publishing, so be it.

But what do YOU think? Is it worth splitting a book in two for the sake of marketability? Would you want to kill an author who made you wait for a second book to see any plot lines resolved? Have you read any books like this? Would you self-publish your work if you believed it was worth reading but not marketable to traditional publishers?

Do tell!



Filed under Writing

32 responses to “In a tangle about Tangled

  1. Cally, I feel your pain. The Night Watchman Express came in at over 150K, since it really was a trilogy all slapped together in one volume for ABNA. I have slashed it down to under 140K, and I’m going to publish it as two separate volumes (with a third coming out this summer, since I’m writing a sequel now – because I just didn’t tell enough story before….)

    I hate to “burn” my readers, but 140K is hard to market, tough to ship, and makes for one thick spine.

    What have I learned here? Write in printable chunks……

    In any case, I am looking forward to reading Tangled!

    • Very interesting. I definitely agree with your learning – I’ll be aiming to make my next book much less complicated! Are any of your plot lines resolved at the end of the first volume?

  2. There are TONS of books that leave the reader hanging. I happen to love them, even if it’s frustrating to have to wait for the next installment. Currently in YA there is the FALLEN series, the SHIVER series (both waiting for the third books in August) as well as other series like THE HUNGER GAMES, MORTAL INSTRUMENTS, A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY, THE GOLDEN COMPASS and even HARRY POTTER, as well as lots of others.

    If TANGLED was my book, I think I’d try splitting it in half. Choose a good spot that might allow you to put some questions to rest, at least temporarily, and then maybe work over your new ending a little so the reader gets some sense of closure on some levels even if the bigger picture is totally leaving them hanging. If you’re telling a good story, people will love it, and they will eagerly await the sequel. They may be annoyed, but in a good way, as in wanting to find out what happens next. The indisputable success of series that have been written this way suggests that readers will come back.

    If you send out queries for a while and get no takers, then maybe consider self-publishing (and if you go to digital format there will be no concerns about weight and productions costs for a larger physical book.) But for what it’s worth, my two cents is give it a try the traditional route first 🙂

    • Thanks so much for your thoughtful reply, Susanna! I think it will be difficult to have anything resolved at what would become the end of book one because it is essentially the point where things really go to poo! I’ll definitely investigate the possibility but I’m not holding out much hope that it will work. Time will tell… 🙂

  3. Hmm…that’s a really tough decision.

    Personally, although cliffhanger endings can be a little bit frustrating in the “how could they leave me hanging” type of way, they also make me more excited to read the next book.

    If you were considering the two book route, depending on where you broke the story into two, you might find a way to add a chapter to conclude things some. Not everything, of course, but give it a more finished feeling. I recently edited a book that had a big cliffhanger ending. She changed the last scene a little bit, added a bit more, and voila, it was a more complete ending, but it still left enough for readers to want the second book.

    I do think the length of the book would deter most publishers. If you were to split it into two, you could always try that first, see what feedback you get, and then decide which way to go between the two books or self-publishing it as one.

    In the end, of course, you have to go with your gut and do what is the best. 🙂

    • Thanks so much for your comments, Cherie. I really appreciate them.

      To be honest, my gut is telling me to leave it as one book, skip the queries and just go it alone with my mega-book. But it’s early days in the editing progress so maybe I’ll have a brain wave about how I can make it work as two volumes. Time will tell! 🙂

  4. Do you have a strong subplot that you could wrap up at the end of the first split? That way there is some satisfaction to ease the burned feeling.

    I think I’d try splitting it.

    • I’ve got plenty of subplots, but I’m not sure whether I could wrap any of them up at the midway point. Because the book is told from two different persectives, chapter by chapter, with different plot focuses, things have only just started getting really dicey at the midway point. Agh, I think the real lesson in all this is not to create such a complicated plot! 🙂

  5. alberta ross

    as long as the end is not an absolute cliffhanger there must be feeling that it is a complete book not just one chopped in half, what makes for a good sequel is that each book satisfies – one wants to know more about the characters and wants to know how the bigger picture will be finalized but you will have to rejig the end to make it a sequel type book – If the trads. dont pick it up there is alessening stigma to going it alone as a self publisher it doesn’t have to be vanity press – but worry about it when you edit – loose some words and then find a natural end point and work on it – all the best don’t deapair do your beta readers think it’s good – do you – if so go for it cardboard boxes in wardrobes are for the bad novels not the good!!!

    • Thanks for your comment, Alberta. You’re right – the stigma of self publishing has lessened considerably over the past five years or so. The more I think about it, the more it seems impossible to split the story, so I think it is destined for either self publishing or notched up as experience. Either way, I’m still proud of it. 🙂

  6. First, I think the important words here are “typical novels” – meaning there are outliers. If you have a good hook, a strong story, and interesting characters you can get people to read a huge book. I, for one, only read HUGE books. I read too fast purchase a thin book and make the money spent worth it.

    Second – if you are going to break the book into two and write a sequel you NEED a cliffhanger. Or at least a good reason for someone to pick up book 2, and a cliffhanger is a very good reason. As long as you untangle(!) a few knots by the end of book 1 I think you have a good chance of get a traditional publishing deal 🙂

    • Hehehe, I love your pun, Rebecca. But I’m not sure I’d take that as a compliment as my husband often tells me I have a bad-dad-joke sense of humour!

      I’m not liking my chances of tying anything up by what would be the end of the first book, so I’m leaning more and more towards producing one of those door stoppers that you enjoy so much. 🙂

  7. Hey Cally,

    I would say 2 things:

    1. Its perfectly acceptable to have it as 2 books, but make sure you have some conclusion, as well as some cliffhanger, at the end of the first. People will only be pissed off paying for two books if they dont get any sense of conclusion from the first.

    2. Have you thought about, having finished the book, shelving it for a little while (i know, i know, hear me out) and either doing something smaller, or doing some contributions to compilations, that sort of thing? It sounds like you’d much prefer to keep the book together to release as a single piece – do you want that more or less than you want it to be your debut release?

    • You raise some very interesting questions, Liam. You’re right, my strong preference is to leave it in tact as one book. Are you suggesting that I might have more chance getting it traditionally published as one book if I build more of a name for myself? I have zero desire to leave it be at the moment, but I’d consider getting it to a readable stage and then just giving it out to family and friends, with the intention of going back to it at a later date…

  8. Cally I know how tough this is, I had the same issues with my story for ages, even when I was still writing it. People kept giving me the advice that if I was going to break it up into two books then the first book needed to be stand alone. That was so frustrating for me because the way I saw it, it was just one big story which would need to be split in two if I’m ever to be published.

    Well, it took me ages, but I finally get it. The story is still being told in two books but for the first one (which is just over 80k words at the moment) I made sure at least one of the major conflicts was resolved at the end. Not the overarching one, but something big. I didn’t leave my characters in the middle of a war, or on the verge of some big disaster. And the biggest ‘aha!’ for me was reminding myself that the main character needs to change. They grow. What they want develops. So in the first book they get what they want from the start of the story, but at the end of the first book what they want changes, and that is dealt with in the next book.

    I hope what I’ve said here makes sense, and is helpful in some way. It took me so long to get my head around this.

    Good luck!

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Sari. It’s great to see I’m not the only one that’s come up against this conundrum. The way you described your novel is exactly how I feel about mine. I’m hoping I have the same type of brainwave as you did but at the moment it’s not seeming likely. The main reason for this is I can’t see that ANY of the conflicts could be resolved at what is essentially the midway point of the story. Hopefully I’m wrong. Time will tell! 🙂

  9. Hey! Thanks for mentioning my book review. 🙂 Hang in there with the writing … and stay true to what you want to do with the ms.

    Also – – you’d be surprise what you can actually cut out of the ms to tighten it up. My first ms was about 110,000 words, and when I started getting a gazillion rejections and realized my word count was too high – – I did a revision with the singular goal of cutting words.

    Every chapter, every scene, every sentence, every word needs to move the plot along. If it doesn’t – consider cutting it. Ask yourself, will this paragraph even be missed if I cut it?

    And, you can cut a ton of words by fixing all of these: “was thinking” to “thought” … “was watching” to “watched” … 🙂

    good luck!

    • You’re welcome, Margo. You’ve given some good advice – which I intend to follow. At this stage, I think I’ll keep it as one book but just make it as lean as I can. Thanks for your advice and support. 🙂

  10. DO NOT sacrifice your book by slashing it or cutting it into two chunks if you are happy that it’s a satisfying whole – and the only person who can decide that is you.
    I’d be submitting it to agents without talking about a word count – just the usual stuff, synopsis and sample chapters. If an agent likes that they’ll probably ask for the whole manuscript, and having gone to that trouble you can only hope they’d read it through and, if they felt it was unpublishable as one book, would advise you why and whether to slash it. And even then I’d be wary of their advice unless it came from a few of them.
    I think as writers we should rise up and refuse to be boxed by genres, word counts and spine thickness. I can’t help thinking of Bryce Courtenay’s The Power of One. Rejected by heaps of Australia’s publishers and agents because it was way way too long, then fetching a million US up front (and this was around 20 years ago) and selling over a million copies in 16 different countries within a couple of years. Whether you like the book or not, can you imagine the tragedy if he had slashed it in half so some dimwitted publisher could give it the right label and spine thickness.
    Fair enough, as a last resort self-publish. But first polish it until it shines BEFORE you send it to agents. We’ve all made the mistake of sending stuff to agents that, reading it a year later, makes us cringe. There is no second bite at the cherry once they’ve rejected it!
    Good luck

    • I’m flattered that you would even think to compare my book to the Power of One, Ian! Your argument is quite convincing. Even the famous Brisbane author Nick Earls agrees with you (see his comment below).

      The only potential drawback I see with this plan is I thought most preliminary submissions required you to include the manuscript’s word count. Despite this, I still think your idea has merit. Rising up and refusing to be boxed definitely sounds attractive!

      Thank so much for your support. I appreciate it. 🙂

  11. mgbauer

    Hi Cally
    I think you’ve thought through the various pros and cons of the two options well. If you did self-publish a book that size the costs would be fairly high and distribution is always a big problem.
    Personally I’d be trying for the traditional publisher. If they thought it was suitable to be published as two or three books then I don’t think you’d be ‘burning’ your readers because they would be buying the first one fully aware that it was only Book 1. In any case series are very popular particularly with fantasy or spec fiction. I don’t know if this is the genre of your story.
    I think the big question is whether you feel the story can be effectively split and still leave each section able to stand alone as a satisfying read.
    I wish you all the best with it.

    • Thanks so much for dropping by and giving your thoughts, Michael. If I self published, I’d focus on e-books to avoid the distribution and production issues – but obviously this would bring the potential readership down significantly, particularly in Australia where e-book readers are only just starting to take off.

      You’ve targeted the main issue – I honestly don’t think I could make the first half of the book satisfying as a stand alone volume. This blog post and the subsequent comment conversations have really helped my crystalise my own position on the matter, which is that Tangled needs to stay as one book. It’s early days in the editing process though so it’s possible I’ll change my mind!

      Once again, thanks for dropping by. 🙂

  12. Nick Earls

    Hey there,

    My thoughts are quite a lot like Ian Wynne’s.

    I’d be much happier splitting a story into pieces if there were good narrative reasons, rather than just because it was big.

    I’d say aim to hook a publisher/agent in the usual way (covering letter, synopsis, sample chapter(s)) and if they’re keen then send them the whole thing and listen to their views on size when they’ve read it.

    I know one person who was signed up based on a 40,000 word novel that became 80,000 with publisher support, and I also know of books coming down in size by 10,000s.

    It sounds as though, to reduce it seriously, you’d need to unpick a plot line or two, and I can see why you’d be resisting that, because it’s hard and presumably the plotlines are all there for good reasons.

    If you’re thinking of self publishing as only an e-book, learn well how to sell e-books first. If you’re thinking of self-publishing as a p-book, bear in mind your unit cost will be high and those books will take up an awful lot of space somewhere (you’re in charge of warehousing, as well as everything else).

    I’d say bait the hook with quality and see what you can land.

    • Thanks so much for dropping by and leaving your comments, Nick. You’ve hit the nail on the head – there is no good narrative reason to split the story. I’ve been considering that purely for marketability reasons.

      I would definitely have to untangle (hehe) plot lines to reduce it seriously and I’ve already done that between the previous version (Entwined) and this one. Each of the subplots that remain add something valuable to the story and I would be hard pressed to find any that I could axe without causing serious structural damage.

      The approach you’ve suggested makes sense. There’s no harm in giving the traditional publishing avenue a crack before I decide to pursue self publishing. To be honest, the main reason I’ve been considering jumping straight to self publishing is impatience – which probably isn’t the best motivator.

      So I shall continue on with my editing, making Tangled the very best it can be as one, stand-alone story!

      • Nick Earls

        Ah, impatience. I remember that. I was impatient to get a break from 1978 to 1995, then impatient for a bit longer waiting for the book to come out.

        It’s not entirely a bad thing. It’ll give you energy to push through the crappy bits (unless you manage to avoid crappy bits better than I did, with four non-winning entries in the Vogel and a few hundred thousand words that hindsight has taught me to look on as practice – you’ve been more successful finding your writing voice than I was during that time though).

        • I’ve had plenty of crappy bits along the path so far, but if it was easy, everyone would do it, right? So far, I’ve had one non-winning entry in the Vogel (Entwined), which even I can see didn’t deserve to win. Fingers crossed my future path is lined with something other than crap. 😉

  13. What I have been learning on my road to publication is that if you are writing and considering a series, you should write a book that can stand alone but could also continue just in case it is not picked us as a series.

    I just learned this at the SCBWI conference that I attended last month. I have sever stand alone ideas that I am working on and several books that are series ideas. But I am taking under advisement the comments of the panel about making sure the book can stand alone.

    With you story not planning to be a series and it really is just that long, it is hard to tell you what to do. Just make sure you have it as tight as possible. Maybe outline it with the main points and work from there and then see what you can afford to cut without losing the concept of the story. I hope that you make your word count where you want it to be. Hope this helps. Best wishes!

  14. Vicki Tremper

    I have to agree with many of the above comments – you want something marketable and that doesn’t have to mean disappointing your readers. If you can find a way to make the split work, I’d recommend it even if you epublish. If it’s good, people will come back for the second book whether it’s in print or digital.

    But you said you’re in early days of the revision. I think you need to revise heavily, looking to cut wherever possible, and see what you’re left with. Splitting in two doesn’t have to be at exactly the mid-point. Stop the first book wherever you can provide some resolution while still leaving readers wanting more.

    Good luck with it!

  15. Definitely split it into 2 books. =) More profit that way.

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