on The Write Life:
“My memoir is 270,000 words long.”
I heard these words during a breakout session I led at a local writers conference.
An editor friend of mine, Shayla Eaton with Curiouser Editing, was sitting in on the breakout. We gave each other knowing glances, and because I didn’t want to break this poor memoirist’s literary heart, I nodded at Shayla to take the lead.
As nicely but as directly as she could, she explained to the memoirist that a 270,000-word memoir was excessive. Even if she self-publishes, the cost per copy would be high, and few readers would slog through such a tome — particularly for someone who’s not famous.
And no agents or publishers would even look past that number.
The prose could be as fleet-footed as Fitzgerald’s. The life story could be as compelling as Lincoln’s. The platform could be as broad as Oprah’s. But no agent would get to know that because they’d see “Memoir: 270,000 words” and hit delete before reading any further.
So, how long should a memoir be?
For that matter, how long should any book be? How long is a novel? What’s the ideal book word count?
If you’re writing your first novel or any book, you’re probably asking these questions.
The short answer is: long enough to tell the story but short enough to consistently hold the reader’s interest.
The long answer is, well, longer.