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Progressive word count in Harry Potter series

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  #1  
Old 11-24-2008, 09:15 PM
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Default Progressive word count in Harry Potter series


I thought this progression of word counts for the Rowling series was interesting:
And the QUARTER MILLION words it got up to. Over three times the lenght of the book that made her bones for her.

One thing this might mean to the rest of us: keep your first books short?


Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - 76,944 words
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - 85,141 words
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - 107,253 words
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - 190,637 words
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - 257,045 words
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - 168,923
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Approximately 198,227,

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  #2  
Old 11-24-2008, 09:18 PM
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Something else. I was surprised at the low count for the first book. An awful lot happens in that book, but it's only 76K.
That's something to think about, too.
People diss Rowling for some reason, but she writes extremely tight without giving the impression of it. No wasted motion, she movies right through the business of telling Harry's story while also laying down the overall narrative arc and depicting an alien world for us.
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Old 11-25-2008, 12:42 AM
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Interesting points. I've also read that your unsolicited manuscript, sent to agent or publisher, is more likely to be read if it falls between the 80-120K mark. Longer works, especially by unknown writers, tend to mean a lot of excess verbiage, hence a lot of editing work to make it publishable. No one expects a submitted manuscript to be word perfect, but it also shouldn't require heavy editing.

Back to Rowling, I actually thought the longer books dragged in places, and considering her impressive filing cabinets, extensive notes, and the length of the last novel, it's disappointing that she still left loose ends. Guess she decided that a lot of unnecessary deaths and a preposterous battle scene were more fun to write.
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Old 11-25-2008, 11:37 PM
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Interesting points. I've also read that your unsolicited manuscript, sent to agent or publisher, is more likely to be read if it falls between the 80-120K mark. Longer works, especially by unknown writers, tend to mean a lot of excess verbiage, hence a lot of editing work to make it publishable. No one expects a submitted manuscript to be word perfect, but it also shouldn't require heavy editing.
That really is true!

Back to Rowling, I actually thought the longer books dragged in places, and considering her impressive filing cabinets, extensive notes, and the length of the last novel, it's disappointing that she still left loose ends. Guess she decided that a lot of unnecessary deaths and a preposterous battle scene were more fun to write.
Also agreed. She went too fast in places, dragged in others.
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Old 11-26-2008, 08:08 AM
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Interesting numbers, Lin! Rowling isn't the only author I know of whose later books get progressively longer. (Tom Clancy and Diana Gabaldon come to mind.) I can make a few inferences from those word counts:

1) She had more time to craft the first book and make it perfect before submitting. After that, she may have felt pressure from the publisher to churn the sequals out at a regular pace: i.e. less editing time. I know I tend to write more words in my first draft than in later edits.

2) The story expanded as she wrote. The first book laid the groundwork, but from there she kept expanding out, with multiple plot arcs.

3) Publishers are more willing to publish long books if they have a commitment to the author already or if the author is proven to sell books. Rowling's first book established a strong market for Harry Potter, so no-one told her to make her next ones short. Thet would just disappoint her fan-base.
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Old 11-26-2008, 08:44 PM
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Yeah, that's mostly true...

Especially the third one. About the first, I don't know if I agree. Her books were - only slightly, though - better as she went on.
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Old 11-26-2008, 09:13 PM
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I feel the further she delved into the story adding new predicaments for the characters the less descriptive she got. I enjoy the descriptions because it makes me feel like Im watching it happen in my mind instead of having to guess what someone or something looks like.
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Old 12-06-2008, 02:50 PM
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I like the way she writes more and more, it helps me dive into the story and it becomes more interesting.
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Old 06-15-2009, 01:56 AM
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I've been pondering this recently, as it appears my novel will be pushing 140-150,000 words when finished. I do think that her later books, though still interesting, suffered from some pacing issues. But I think that has more to do with rushing them than total word count. My favorite books in the series were Azkaban and Goblet, the latter of which was quite long. But it still had good pacing and a very involving plot, IMO. It was the last three that suffered (and I would guess that the movies coming out, stretching herself a bit and pushing to get them out quickly had everything to do with this).
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Old 06-15-2009, 07:41 AM
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Rowlings is the exception, rather than the rule. Her popularity ensured her readers would buy any length tome she put out. Us mere mortals aren't so lucky,

Finish your book first, then worry about cutting to make a publisher's word count.
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Old 06-15-2009, 08:40 AM
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Not really an exception. Lot's of major selling authors get longer with time. She's just extreme.

The advice to slash out, then cut might work for some people (I believe the technical term is "masochists") but not others.

Almost anything people do--art, crafting, work, etc--they try to get an idea for the size and scope of the finished canvas size, length of song, blueprint of building, etc.

Deliberately writing in order to cut later is weird.

So zizban, where you been?

Last edited by Lin; 06-15-2009 at 08:46 AM..
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Old 06-25-2009, 06:24 PM
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Originally Posted by Q Wands View Post
Interesting points. I've also read that your unsolicited manuscript, sent to agent or publisher, is more likely to be read if it falls between the 80-120K mark. Longer works, especially by unknown writers, tend to mean a lot of excess verbiage, hence a lot of editing work to make it publishable. No one expects a submitted manuscript to be word perfect, but it also shouldn't require heavy editing.

Back to Rowling, I actually thought the longer books dragged in places, and considering her impressive filing cabinets, extensive notes, and the length of the last novel, it's disappointing that she still left loose ends. Guess she decided that a lot of unnecessary deaths and a preposterous battle scene were more fun to write.
I fall right in there, 81,000 words and I don't plan to cross the 83,00 thousand mark.

I think that other authors would be in this same place, with progressive word counts, Chuck Palahniuk comes to mind.
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Old 07-22-2009, 09:23 AM
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I thought I heard something about publishers being skeptical about the Philosopher's Stone because it was too long for a children's book or something like that.

Originally Posted by Lin View Post
I was surprised at the low count for the first book. An awful lot happens in that book, but it's only 76K.
Each book in The Chronicles of Narnia is surprisingly short too but contains a jam-packed story. I kind of like short and to the point books.
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Old 01-23-2011, 08:22 AM
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That would make the word count for the entire series:
1,084,170
And if you add on the Tales of Beadle the Bard is supposedly 3,000 words
1,087,170
*kneels over in shock*
How the HELL did she do that?
My novel is 118,000 and that's after merging it with the second part.
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Old 01-24-2011, 04:35 AM
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Old 01-24-2011, 06:14 AM
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What about the progressive word count being a sign that J K Rowling was given free'er rein as she went along. So, after working like a fiend on the first book, getting it ready for subbing then getting it ready for publication, she didn't have as much pressure in her later books to get them "ready" so was able to leave a lot more in that she might otherwise have taken out?

Which makes me wonder. Do established authors with secure series contracts grow lazy in their writing and editing?
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Old 01-24-2011, 08:37 AM
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It's more like a shorter book is an easier sell. If she'd trotted in with a six figure book in the first place she might have even more difficulty placing it.
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Old 01-25-2011, 04:08 AM
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Maybe the publisher decided not to worry about editing her as much. After all, you know the books are going to sell extremely well, regardless. And by the later books, Rowling has more clout to argue for complete freedom (i.e. less editing).

A lot of fantasy series show this same sort of progression in word counts.
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Old 01-25-2011, 07:34 AM
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Yep, sounds about right to me, Steerpike. I've also seen it in some fantasy series where the later books were often much longer but not necessarily filled with more information. And it's fair enough that writers in Rowling's position have that kind of clout but at the same time, do they really know best? Just thinking about how subjective people get about their work and how difficult it can be to see the wood for the trees where our own stories are concerned.

Though, also agree with you Lin, about Rowling's first book being kept short to sell better. But that then leads in to Steerpike's post about later books not needing such a tight rein because the series is already selling, so Rowling and her publishing/editing team can relax a bit more. But is that relaxation a good thing?
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Old 01-29-2011, 01:21 PM
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Interesting that Order of the Phoenix was by far the longest, because if you ask me, it was the hardest to stay interested in. About halfway through that book, I debated whether I would finish it, 'cause Harry's pissed off the whole time, and it was making me feel pissed off the whole time, and it felt like it was never going to end.

And this is coming from a huge Harry Potter fan.

I think even the best authors with the most established story lines can still be dragging it on too long, as evidenced with that book. Rowling is one of my top five favorite authors, and someone I'd like to emulate, but I intend to study Order of the Phoenix to find out what else it was about that book that was so bad for me, because the only reason I didn't put it down was because I had read the previous books, and I knew it would get better.
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Old 01-29-2011, 04:42 PM
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I think it's simple business theory. A shorter book is a smaller investment manufacturing and marketing-wise. Not as many people would have picked up a 150,000 word book not having known anything about it. They're an easier sell when you have a dedicated fanbase though.
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Old 01-29-2011, 05:00 PM
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A little off-topic, but...

"Harry Potter is all about confronting fears, finding inner strength, and doing what is right in the face of adversity. Twilight is about how important it is to have a boyfriend." -Stephen King
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Old 01-29-2011, 05:41 PM
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Lol! I love that!
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Old 01-29-2011, 07:14 PM
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I've been trying to say that for months. Guess that's why he gets paid for it.
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Old 01-30-2011, 07:05 AM
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That's a scream.
But guess what? I'm at a major writing conference right now and it reflects the whole industry bent: we are women, publishing for women. Of COURSE having a boyfriend (or children) is more important than all that swashbuckling crap.
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Old 01-30-2011, 08:33 AM
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Originally Posted by Lin View Post
I'm at a major writing conference right now and it reflects the whole industry bent: we are women, publishing for women. Of COURSE having a boyfriend (or children) is more important than all that swashbuckling crap.
Ouch. What is it with women these days?
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Old 01-31-2011, 04:44 PM
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We men learn to survive the sexism and double standards.

I tell ya though... even other women were talking about all these NYC publishers there--little clubs of 20-something Manhattan cuties looking for HIGH literary. Somebody said, "It's like Sex in the City for juniors"
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Old 01-31-2011, 09:49 PM
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No wonder it's so hard to get published. My protagonists are white, male, heterosexual anti-spiritualists. And all these women publishers keep rejecting me...

Next character is going to be a stooge out of Eat, Pray, Love.
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Old 01-31-2011, 11:02 PM
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I'd rather see Twilight and Zombies.
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Old 01-31-2011, 11:53 PM
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Already done - Interview With The Vampire-Zombie was a winner!
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