(And what to do with it, if you have written a 600 page novel.)
In the past few years I have seen two trends rise up: super short mini novels ranging from 40,000 to 75,000 words and mega giant epic novels with 600 pages of tiny fine print. Neither are very good sellers, though the shorter works are picking up in sales faster than the longer works.
The trend towards the super giant monster sized 600 page novels is seen mostly in the high fantasy genre (a genre I specifically DO NOT read because I barely have time to read a standard sized 200 page novel, so will not even attempt to read a 600 page novel no matter how good it sounds.)
This trend in 600 page fantasy novels was triggered by the release of The Lord of the Rings movies, which inspired a wave of sales in the novel by Tolkien. The novel is sold in 600 page editions, which causes new and young writers to (falsely) assume they HAVE to make their own novels reach 600 pages in order to get published. The problem here is they fail to realize that The Lord of the Rings is in fact a series of 9 novels, which publishers first compiled into sets of 3 books (Fellowship/Towers/King), each of those 3 books containing 3 novels combined. The large 600 page books sold under the title "Lord of the Rings" is these 3 sets of 3 novels each book, now combined into one volume of 9 separate stories, with the separation removed so that readers can read the whole story as though it were 1 single solitary novel.
It is folly to look at Lord of the Rings and say because it is a 600 page novel, I therefore must write my novel in 600 pages, because Tolkien in fact wrote a series of 9 novels at aprox 90 to 120 pages each. (The font of the 600 page editions is greatly reduced in order to get all the words in those 600 pages, this having been done because there are no printing presses in the US that are capable of printing a book with more than 600 pages in it.)
If you are going to use LOTR as your justification for a 600 page novel (which is what most new writers do say as their justification) than you also need to look at the fact, that when it was written Tolkien DID NOT sit down a write a 600 page novel. Tolkien sat down and write a 120 page novel. Than after publishing it, he wrote a second 120 page novel, and so on and so forth until he had written 13 novels in the series. (Only 9 of which are included in the 600 page single bound edition, the remaining 4 did not fit, as the text could not be shrunk small enough to make them fit and there are not printing presses able to produce a book with a higher page count, thus 4 books [the beginning and end of the series] were cut out and remain largely ignored, with many fans of the series being completely unaware that there was much more to both the beginning and end of the story.)
I receive many questions from first time writers, stating they have written a 600 page book and can't find a publisher for it, and are confused because they read LOTR and can't understand why publishers don't want 600 page manuscripts when LOTR is proof that 600 page fantasy novels are a huge success.
The fact of it is, LOTR is proof that a series of 13 fantasy novels each averaging 120 pages was a big success, and was able to be compiled (30 years later) as a single volume 600 pages long, simply because it had already been a best selling series for 30 long years.
Let's look at a recent question involving a 600 page fantasy manuscript planned to be the first 600 page book in a series of 600 pages books:
"I'm a first time writer still going to college (18 y/o) and have been creating a entire world filled with everything you can think of, in a dark fantasy tone and realism ...(details of story removed)... my first book is estimated 600+ pages. And this is to be a series, my head is like 2 books in advance of events. I just need to get better at writing before I begin writing for real.
I have thought about contacting a publisher and just talk to him / her and ask questions etc, perhaps they have some insight? "
There are a lot of things going on in this question, but as the primary question is in regards to having been told no one will publish a 600 page book, so let's look at this part of the question first. In conjunction with that, let's also look at your very warped perception of the term "short story". A 100 to 300 page story is nothing close to being a short story. Harry Potter at 300 pages was considered a mega giant epic novel. Harry Potter at 300 pages was one of the largest fantasy novels ever published. Epic sized mega monster length Harry Potter at 300 pages is only half the size of your 600 page super Goliath.
There are a few things you need to consider here, starting with #1 there is only 1 printing press in the USA that prints books over 700 pages long and they only print Bibles on onion skin tissue paper and college textbooks. (You can not use regular paper thickness for books of more than 700 pages. The bigger the book, the thinner the pages.)
If you were to self publish it, LuLu.com will publish a book over 600 pages up to 700 pages but they will charge something in the range of .10c per page on top of regular printing fees (which means your book will be priced at around $75 per copy).
There are about 375 words on the average page of a printed book. This can vary from 250 to 430 depending on font size and margins.
The industry standard used by most publishing houses falls into the range seen here, which assumes 375 to 400 words per page:
Flash fiction - 3,000 words or less; fewer than 10 pages
As you can see from this chart, the true, proper and correct definition of a short story is a work of fiction 10 to 40 pages in length. And yet you have stated in your question that you might be able to write a short story of maybe 300 pages. Honey look at those numbers again: a 300 page story is considered a "BIG novel" and is often considered too big for publication.
When you go to publisher's websites and look at what they ask for, you will find that most every one of them says:
"Seeks manuscripts of 90,000 to 120,000 words; will not look at anything under 75,000 or over 150,000. Most of our books are edited to 280 printed pages."
You can search hundreds of publisher websites and you will be hard pressed to find any publisher big or small, that will consider ANYTHING longer (or shorter) than 280 pages. 280 pages is the standard, not because it's easier to read or anything like that, but rather because it's the cheapest trim size (known as mass market paperback) for print shops to print up. A publisher is not looking at how good your writing is, as much as they are looking at how well you can write what they can publish cheaply enough to make a profit.
you write a book significantly longer (or shorter) than the standard mass
market trim size, the publisher has to pay extra fees to have the
printing press change their paper rollers and signature gluers around.
This costs the publisher several thousand extra dollars, which means
instead of earning dollars per book sold they are now earning pennies
per book sold. In order to justify doing this, they have to be guaranteed your book is going to sell millions and get picked up for movie rights.
Sure you may have a
spectacular story that readers will love, but readers are not willing to
pay more than $5 or $7 for a paperback book, and if the publisher can
not sell your book in that price range, they are going to refuse to
publish it not matter how great it may be.
When your book goes to a publishing house, the editor is going to look at it asking:
"Can this be edited down (or up) to 280 pages?"
They are not asking if it is good writing or if the story is great. They don't care about that because ANY story no matter how crappy it is, can be edited into something great and ALL writing no matter how shitty and full of errors can be edited into perfect grammar. The editor will be looking at page count first and foremost.
If your story is really wicked super duper good, the best thing he's ever read spectacular than the editor will ask you to chop the script down to 120,000 words or less; or very rarely will ask you to divide it up into 2 or 3 volumes of 120,000 words or fewer each.
If you tell them you won't do it because your dream is a single volume 600 pages long, well then there are plenty of other authors out there who are more than willing to stick to guidelines and edit their books down to 120,000 words, so why should they waste their time on someone who's too much of a spoiled brat to work with the editor and make the book publishable? If you start bragging you can't or won't edit your book from 600 pages to 280 pages than you'll be viewed as a snotty egotistical spoiled brat not worth wasting time or money on, and they will move on to the next author.
Sorry to say it, but you are only a drop in a bucket, and for every great manuscript you send there are thousands more just as good as yours sitting in that slushpile waiting to be read by that same editor.
You have to decide what is more important to you: getting published or writing the book your way?
If getting published is important than you are going to have to learn to make huge sacrifices with your stories by cutting out entire characters, subplots, and even chapters, in order to comply with the publisher.
If writing the book your way is important, and if your way means each volume of your series is 600 pages long, than really your only option is to self publish.
Remember the issue here is not how great your story is, but that the publisher is using a machine that only produces books 280 pages long, so you can bitch and moan and scream and cry and boo-hoo all you want, but if their machine only makes books 280 pages long, there ain't nothing you can do to change that unless you have a few million dollars in pocket change laying around so you can buy the publishing house a machine which does glue up books 600 pages long. They simply can not make a book 600 pages long if they do not own the machinery required to create a 600 page book!
If you are seeking to be published, than you MUST write a story 280 pages long (120,000 words) no IF, ANDs, or BUTs about it. No amount of "But my 600 page story is a masterpiece!", is going the convince a publisher otherwise, because a publisher has a huge machine that only prints up books 280 pages long. No more no less. 280 pages. You either write a book that machine can print up, or you don't.
Now that you have a better understanding of WHY a publisher can not publish a 600 page book not matter how great it is, lets look at your options. You seem to think your only option is a set of giant super sized books, but I can assure you that this is far from being your only option and it is also far from being your best option.
When you said you had created 200+ characters, two things came into my mind. Pulp Serial (which can be either a series of short stories or a comic book series) and RPG (Dungeons and Dragons, PathFinder, etc)
The typical standard novel has 1 main character, 1 to 3 major supporting characters, and 5 to 7 undeveloped minor characters who likely don't even get assigned names. That's it. Rarely will you find a book with more than 9 characters even mentioned. Most books only have 3 characters who are named.
Your book has 200+ fully developed characters, which indicates you are designing either a serialized story or massive multi player game, and not an actual novel.
I understand your plight here. I too created a massive universe. In my universe there exists 75+ main characters and countless supporting characters and entire villages of minor characters. There are cities, empires, solar systems, planets, star ships, races, religions, recipes, rituals, cultures, languages, maps, everything. It's a massive world 35 years in the making. I doesn't fit in a novel. But it does fit is serialized short fiction. I started writing it in 1978 and today 35 years later there are more than 200 stories in the series, each story ranging from 10 to 75 pages long for a grand total of well over 7,000 book pages of text. Yeah, and you thought yours was long at 600 pages.
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