Readers who love long books might want to check out the classics. I’m catching up on the classics as I write this post, which may take some time. Currently, I’m reading An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser. Unfortunately, I could only get my hands on a mass-market, paperback size, which makes reading a book of that heft less pleasurable than it should be. The audiobook runs 34 hours and 12 minutes, so I think I’ll stick with the paperback version. Still, that’s a shorter time than listening to Mark Twain: The Complete Novels, weighing in at over 58 hours–well over the standard American workweek.
Here is a nonexclusive list of long books I’ve read:
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer
The Wheel of Fortune by Susan Howatch
The Royals by Kitty Kelley
The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers
Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe
The Triumph of Nancy Reagan by Karen Tumulty
Though I enjoy long books as a reader, I can’t necessarily pursue them in my role as a literary agent. I do agree with the saying “Never say never”; but so far, I haven’t been able to justify representing a book of over 1,000 pages.
As for the markets I serve as a literary agent, here is a basic guideline for what length is most likely to work:
Category stories, such as romance or mystery geared to a specific line: Approximately 55,000 words. Before starting your book, I recommend referring to the publisher’s website since each line’s requirements are distinct.
Trade-book novels: 80,000-100,000 words.
Nonfiction: 40,000-90,000 words. However, this guideline doesn’t include many academic works, such as Bible commentaries geared mainly to the academic market. And some tomes, such as biographies about past presidents and other figures, can be lengthy. However, major biographies tend to be written by historians with an eye to the general market.
Whatever book you plan to write, be sure the word count makes sense for the book, the audience, and the market. The more knowledgeable you as a writer are about your audience and market, the better author you will be; and the more likely you will be to find a great agent and publisher for your work.
Oh, the lure of lengthy books,
the groaning of the table,
as if a feast by myriad cooks
who come together, able
to keep palate fresh, delighted
(and sometimes close to overwhelmed!);
no subtle taste is ever slighted
and thus is approbation gelled.
But this applies unto the best;
there are pretenders to the crown
that put your mercy to the test
in tempting you to put them down
by heaving them like Highland caber
in fury over wasted labour.
Damon J. Gray
Back when I was younger and stupider and more ambitious, I decided to tackle Gibbon’s “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Volumes 1-6.”
Yeah . . . right.
I made it through Volume 1 and bailed out.
I read Gone with the Wind in high school when I had more spare time. I don’t think I’d have the patience for it these days.
There are very few books over 500 pages I enjoyed.
For fantasy and science fiction, over 100,000 words is expected due to heavy world-building.
Nevertheless, the longer the page count, the longer the book sits on my “to be read” pile.
Many agents and industry bloggers say publishers would not buy books from debut authors over 80,000 words. However, once you are a best-selling author, you get more word count leeway.
For my debut novel, I rather stay within 70,000 to 80,000 words.
Thanks for the advice, Tamela.
I read “Gone with the Wind” when I was in junior high school. It was assigned to read it over Christmas Vacation. I was the only one who did. I hid away in my bedroom and fell in love with reading. Thank you for taking me back in time.
I have a practical question for those of you who read heavy books. How do you hold them? My hands hurt if I try to hold a heavy book while I’m reading it. I’ve started switching to ebooks for this reason (the ebook reader weighs the same no matter how long the book is), but some books aren’t available in ebook format.
Kristen Joy Wilks
It has taken me years to learn to write shorter and shorter books. But I’m glad I developed the skill. However, it is sad that I cannot recommend any giant fantasy novels from a Christian world view for the fantasy readers in my life. They LOVE giant books.
I read Gone with the Wind several summers ago. It took me four months! 🤣 But so worth it. So many things in the book that the movie left out, as usual.
The two longest books I’ve read were collections: a complete Lord of the Rings including 100+ pages of appendices and the complete Chronicles of Narnia.
The main reason I purchased these four-inch thick print editions was so I could never lose a book in the series. “What happened to The Silver Chair? Didn’t we have a copy of The Silver Chair?”