When determining the length of a novel, I’d love to say that the only hard and fast rule is to simply finish the story.
While this is good advice, and in fact vital advice (you do, after all, have to finish the story), if we’re going to be realistic in the agent-hunting, first-time publishing world, there does come a point when enough is enough, word-count-wise, and there is also a point where you might be falling short. Having an appropriate wordcount for your first novel will do wonders for your chances at landing an agent and eventually getting published.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, on both ends of the spectrum, but I think it helps to at least keep in mind a target word-count. You might have to push the boundaries, sure, but at least know you’re doing it! If your novel is abnormally long, it might help you in the editing process to know it’s not a big deal to cut out that huge chunk of monologue you were unsure about. And, if you still decide to keep that lengthy monologue, at least you won’t look completely clueless when you proudly announce to the agent across from you at the writer’s conference that your simple, YA book is 500,000 words. You’ll know you need to brace them for it. And you’ll know how lucky you are if he or she still requests your material!
In any case, at the end of the day, the decision on word count is yours. But if, like me, it helps to have a target word-range in mind (and mind you, there is already a lot of flexibility built into the word-count ranges), I have found this lovely link to Jennifer Laughran’s blog, in which she outlines the average and best word-counts for several different genres. And I have to admit, when I did simply finish the story, it landed nicely in the appropriate range. What luck, eh?