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I've written a 225,000 word manuscript for a historical novel adapted from a reliably good story, shifted by me into a more modern, popular setting that I love and know a lot about (England during the Wars of Napoleon). The manuscript has been beta read extensively and tightened up and sent back out to betas and gotten encouraging reviews, for what it is worth. But professional editors say its very rare for books now to be of this length anymore. Several people have suggested making it a duology including the betas.

There are not ant books on Amazon about how to books on how to write a duology and this story is not written in the spirit of a series. My grasp of terminology is sketchy, but my understanding is that essentially a writer does not want to have a cliffhanger, or at least the wrong kind. And you need Book One to feel like a completed tale.

Halfway through the story, news of Napoleon Bonaparte's escape from exile reaches England, directly impacting the two military families at the center of the story. So internal and external conflicts among these family and friends get overlaid by news of war and a new conflict.

The aspect that makes me uncertain of how and where to split the book is that the story's main promise and conflict centers on the related themes of honor and redemption, with the protagonist being a riotous, profligate party-animal who, at the halfway mark makes a heartfelt vow to his father that he will turn things around. But of course he does not really fully prove himself until the battle at the end. There are stages and obstacles in which he begins to prove himself, and subplots (friendship and romance arcs, unresolved plot threads that support the main theme). Possible break points are the scene where the news of Napoleon's escape arrives; the scene where the protagonist vow's to his father; the scene where the protagonist puts his old riotous friends on notice he will one day part ways with them; the scene where he succeeds at his schools big Speech Day event just before embarking for the war; or perhaps the scene where the father says his fateful goodbye to his wife (the protagonist's mother) as he leaves for the war.

I certainly can write a new chapter or two into the break point to better create a feeling of a complete story at the end of Book One, but I'm not sure how, and reading of terminology like "unsettled status quo" has me a bit confused, and well, unsettled.

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  • I remember Brandon Sanderson in one of his writing classes saying cliffhangers were acceptable if they increased the stakes or if they changed the scopes. So, Napoleon escaping would be a good cliffhanger if the previous stakes for the protagonist were different, like becoming an officer to be able to court the woman he loves or fulfilling the promise to his father. Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 21:26
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    Thanks for the your thoughts. One barometer that hits me now is this: will readers fee like they are being forced to buy the second book, versus simply wanting to buy the second book. Commented Jul 6, 2023 at 21:52
  • Would you comment on a specific split point, based on a brief summary? It's not long after the news comes that Napoleon has escaped. After this news, son and father have their much foreshadowed confrontation. Commented Jul 6, 2023 at 22:22
  • The son wows to fight and speaks in so sincere a way it is very hard to doubt that he will fail to follow through on any aspect of his vows, which includes embracing his father's political legacy (in the Shakespeare he is the son of the King, here the father is a an abolitionist but shooting star in Parliament). Commented Jul 6, 2023 at 22:22
  • It's so well done by the Shakespeare in its sincerity that when the father believes his son without the slightest bit of doubting, even that seems believable to the audience, and I think I have replicated that. Commented Jul 6, 2023 at 22:22

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It sounds like a bit of a pickle.

You've already written, edited and polished the book, so I assume you're not going to easily lose around half the length? Its current length will make it more difficult to find a traditional publisher for it (but not impossible if it's good enough).

Selling half a story as a the first book is tough - the perceived wisdom is that book one should work as a standalone, and needs to be a 'complete' story without requiring the reader to purchase book two.

The definition of 'complete' is nebulous, but fundamentally it means you have to tie off the main plot line for that particular story. How would it feel to just read half your book, up to the point where Napoleon returns? Is it satisfying to stop at this point? Are character arcs completed? Has Act 3 of part one come to a fitting climax? Or are we still very much in the middle of the same story?

E.g. The Napoleonic wars lasted a long time. A book could conclude with an individual battle, campaign or the first defeat of Napoleon. A series could take us through multiple battles, etc (see Sharpe etc)

The leaves you with some possible options:

  1. Send it out to publishers & agents anyway and see if you can get any interest

  2. Self-publish it (readers of historical fiction aren't particularly scared of long books)

  3. Perform an extensive re-write to massively chop down the material into an 'acceptable' novel length for a single, complete book

  4. Extensively re-write to make it into two relatively standalone novels (the first one certaintly has to be standalone, the second one can lean on the first more heavily)

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  • Thanks for taking the time to respond. It strikes me now that I have to set it up so the reader does not feel like they have to get the second book. It may be something they want to do, but not feel coerced or manipulated into it. Of course, my completed story is adapted to a work by a master storyteller (Shakespeare) and he was not kind enough to leave a broken disjointed story, easily split. I posted a solution above - would love to hear your thought on it if you have a minute. I can repost it hear also. Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 0:48
  • I was at university when 'The Lord of the Rings' was first popular. I borrowed Vol. 1 from the library shortly before I was due to spend a year abroad. I couldn't bear to wait a year to find out what happened next, so I bought the one-vol. paperback to take with me. I didn't feel 'coerced or manipulated', I was just enjoying the story! Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 8:25
  • Sorry, it's pretty much impossible to advise without a lot more detail. If you feel you can make it work, then go for it. I agree with Kate, the issue is unlikely to be with readers, more that publishers are risk averse, especially with unpublished authors
    – Phil S
    Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 16:25
  • Both comments are quite encouraging and make sense. Thanks . Commented Jul 7, 2023 at 19:43
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You wrote: "this story is not written in the spirit of a series"

  • Gone with the Wind contains more than 400,000 words. And I see no point where Margaret Mitchel could have broken into two different books.
  • J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" manuscript was rejected by 12 different publishing houses before she finally found a publisher.

Do you honestly find a breaking point on your story? Otherwise, if you feel you have done a fine work, stand for it. Do not ruin the plot consistency to please editors.

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