In publishing, there are written and unwritten rules that authors must follow. These standards include genre specific word counts, paragraph lengths, font styles, and other assorted information. As much as authors may want to break from canon – what if this a romance needs to be 250,000 words? – doing so will greatly diminish the likelihood that a manuscript will be published.
But there are always a few rule breakers. Alan Moore is one of them.
Today is the official US release date of Alan Moore’s magnum opus Jerusalem. Reviewers describe the book as “epic” and “stupefying in scope”, and they aren’t wrong. The work is over 1200 pages and 600,000 words long, which is about six times the length of a standard novel. (To compare, Jerusalem towers over even other long titles; J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is 257,045 words, and George R.R. Martin’s A Storm of Swords is 424,000 words.) Moore has divided the book into three parts each of which contains eleven chapters. Though the book is intended to be read as a single work of literature, the Knockabout, the book’s UK publisher, has divided the work into three simply because it is difficult to hold a 1200 page book.
The contents of the book are just as vast as its production values. In it, Moore creates an alternate mythology set in Northampton, UK where, as the official summary puts it, “eternity is loitering between the firetrap housing projects. Embedded in the grubby amber of the district’s narrative among its saints, kings, prostitutes, and derelicts, a different kind of human time is happening, a soiled simultaneity that does not differentiate between the petrol-colored puddles and the fractured dreams of those who navigate them.” If a typical author sent a manuscript like this to most publishers, they would laugh in his or her face.
But Alan Moore isn’t a typical author.
Alan Moore (1953-) has been publishing works for nearly 50 years. He has found massive success with comic books such as Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, all of which were made into successful films. As a result, Moore has an extensive fan base, and his works are almost guaranteed to be successful. With the recent announcement of Moore’s retirement from comics, people are even more interested in Jerusalem. Moore can break the rules because he has proven himself to be a successful, money making creator.
I am a little jealous of that. I think authors like to believe that whatever we are writing is grand enough that we can afford to push the envelope of what is considered acceptable, but the reality is that unless we are among the Alan Moores of the world, writers who break the rules rarely have a chance to publish their works.
With that in mind, today I raise my coffee cup to Alan Moore. He put in his dues as a writer, and because of those dues, he can stretch his limits. May we all be so lucky someday.
Now I suppose I should get to work on making it through those 600,000 words. It may take me a while.