Thursday, September 8, 2011

Word Count

I don't believe I've ever had a post yet about word count. Mostly because I assumed writers (those participating online) knew all of that information already. You can find it anywhere.

I just Googled it. BookEnds has a great post here. Colleen Lindsay has laid it out in handy bullet points here. Even Wikipedia puts its two cents in here, by way of a chart to show the word counts for novels, short stories, and novellas.

When reading queries, agents do discriminate based on word length. Even if your query is pretty good, if you're pitching anything over 120k, I'm going to reject it. Only in fantasy or some sci-fi will I look at anything over 100k. On the other side of the coin, I will also reject (most) anything under 60k (including YA--I've mentioned in a previous post here that I prefer longer books; just don't get too long).

If you are a debut author, stick to the guidelines. When you're famous you can do whatever you want.

Based on genres I represent and what I'm looking for, I give you the bullet-pointed list of word counts:
  • YA contemporary: 60k-90k
  • YA fantasy/para/sci-fi: 70K-100k
  • Adult para/UF/sci-fi/fantasy: 70k-100k
Pretty basic right? (I didn't list every genre because you can probably get the hint from this list). Due to world building, I expect fantasy-esk genres to be on the upper side (closer to 100k--but not over!). Many people will say that for adult or YA fantasy/sci-fi that up to 120k is okay (and I just said above I might look at it), but aim lower if possible.

Before you query or pitch, get your word count to a desirable length. Never say in a query or pitch that "I know it's a bit long/short, but I am open to suggestions on how to lengthen/shorten." This your job as the writer--deliver the best product possible. More than once I was being pitched a novel and when asked the word length the writer would reply with the word count while wincing. If you wince when you tell people your word length, you know it's not appropriate. Instead, say that it's not ready to submit and you're aiming for x. Then don't submit until it's edited, polished, as perfect as you, your critique partners, editors, friends, writing guides can make it.

13 comments:

Jennifer Pickrell said...

Thanks for the bullet-points, very helpful!

Giles Hash said...

That's great advice! I love hearing what agents think about word-length. And I like that you have your own opinion about YA. I've heard a couple of times that YA of any genre/subgenre should be 80k max. And even more than 70k is pushing it.

Martha Ramirez said...

Nice handy list. LOve bullet points:) They make life a little easier.

Katy said...

I love that you love long stories. :)

Paul Anthony Shortt said...

Well this makes me feel much better about my 70k first drafts! Thank you!

Scott Clark said...

I really dislike the whole Word Count philosophical jargon. The story is either good or it's not. I think that there are fewer GREAT books of depth written today because writers are worried more about word count than the phycological underpinnings of the characters and concepts they represent.

Based off of Word Count, many of the GREAT novels throughout history would have never been published. Yes...I know we live in a much faster age with too many distractions, but I believe the only good that comes from Word Count is that it forces the Author the rethink what is truly important in considering what is crucial to both character and story arch.

Perhaps I'm saying this because I've spent so many years crafting my world and characters; but when I know this is the first of what I plan to be a seven novel series, there are a lot of seeds to plant so the tree can spread out in all of the right directions.

To date, I have cut approximately 80,000 words from my manuscript--yeah, scary. But it's stronger for it.

Marsha Sigman said...

I think word counts should be a guideline and not set in stone.

Lisa McMann's Wake series has a seriously low word count, the first one was approx. 42,000 words, but the story was tight and really held up all the way through.

Jessica Silva said...

I think something writers don't keep in mind is that you could be querying an 80k novel, find an agent, and then after all the rounds of revision, it could become a 50k novel. What we see on the bookshelves is a finished product, and while some word counts don't change, many do. So while there are a lot of great books that are outside of some word count guidelines (Twilight, Wake), we can't be sure how far off they were before publication. It's a whole new ball game after you get an agent!

Rebecca Gillan said...

The best bit of advise I have ever gotten about word count was from a seminar for new writers:

* Go to a book store.
*Find several novels that you think your story should be classified with.
*Look at how many pages it has and what size the print is. The average is 250-350 words per page.
*Match your final MS to that and you will get your foot in more doors.

carrieannebrownian said...

I agree with Scott about too many people today reacting negatively to supersized books. I love reading and writing extremely long books and think too many books nowadays are just too short. Now I no longer worry about "word count" issues and just write and edit my books as I see fit. If you're writing historical sagas that are deliberately planned to span many years, contain many characters and subplots, and with a large story arc, you kind of can't fit all that in within only 300 pages. If you did cut out hundreds of pages just to please modern mainstream tastes, it wouldn't be the same story anymore. I think it's sad so many modern people have forgotten how satisfying it is to climb into a huge book and live there for a few weeks, as opposed to being able to read something all of 300 pages long in a few hours.

Margaret M. Fisk said...

Thanks for the post. I linked it in my interesting links.

One side comment though...

Are you aware your links show as plain text unless hovered over? It makes it hard to tell there is a link rather than that you forgot to link it. Just thought you might want to know.

zoeiona said...

I'm fairly sure that such short word counts receive bad reactions from unpublished authors due to the high extents that said authors commonly read. As an unpublished SF author (polished and edited manuscript sitting at 135K), I would be most interested to read a blog entry on the discrepancy between length as read and length as written.

wandy said...

Lots of great books up there. The Faeries of Dreamdark by Laini Taylor are fantastic MG books- good for boys or girls.
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