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Self-publishing: Price vs Length vs Girth

Carl Doherty

While wandering clueless around the London Book Fair earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to see the manuscript for Alan Moore’s epic Jerusalem. It was a towering monstrosity, a paper-based monolith granted its own private space in the centre of a round coffee table, so that passers-by could stop and marvel at its height.

I’ve always had a weird size envy when it comes to novels, and longed to write something that could be used as a Cluedo-esque deadly weapon. But Alan Moore and is Alan Moore, and he’s earned the right to break the rules, and write material of a length that no publisher would otherwise deem cost effective. As has George R.R. Martin and his burgeoning Song of Ice and Fire volumes.

Jerusalem - Alan Moore

About halfway through writing Welcome to The Fold, I realised that at over 200,000 words it was getting too damn long and considered splitting it into two volumes. Ultimately, though, however I worked the divide it never felt like a comfortable split; the narrative was already too deep into development, and I’ve always felt that works of literature or art work best in the format their creators originally and instinctively intended.

One day, when I finally finish work on my time machine, the first thing I’ll do is head back to 2008 and slap twenty-something Carlos around the cranium until he sees sense.

Gearing up to release the physical copy of Welcome to The Fold, I’ve had to face the consequences of my ambition, and accept that it’s simply not going to be possible to self-publish physical copies of the book (now around 165,000 words) and make a profit, or even sell the book at a reasonable price. Even at the larger 5.5 x 8.5″ dimension I’ve begrudgingly settled on, I’ll need to sell paperback copies at over £12 to make a penny of profit. Simply put, nobody is going to place that level of bet on a new author.


Oh well, the digital copies are still there for those who’ve embraced modern technology, and maybe they’ll enjoy it enough to want to splash out on a tangible souvenir… On to my second novel, then, which will be around 150 pages in its entirely. vegan(Vn) is virtually a glorified novella, and I’m happy with that. I can sell vegan(Vn) for £6-8 and still receive a reasonable royalty.

So if anyone’s made it this far, and is in the midst of writing and/or planning promotions for their first novel, please take my advice, and the advice of publishers, agents and literary sites everywhere, and keep your first effort under 120,000 words. That’s around 300-400 pages, depending on font size and page dimensions, and can be sold at a discounted price as part of a promotion without losing its author money.

Now, back to work on that time machine, so I can… oh, sod it, I wouldn’t listen anyway.

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