Thursday, April 15, 2010

Author Tip #2: Word count matters.

No, wait.  It doesn't just "matter."  Word count can completely dash your chances of representation. Sound a little drastic?

I just read a query for a hard SF manuscript.  There I was, intrigued by the synopsis and all juiced up to request sample chapters.  My eyes must have skipped right over the bit that said, "Complete at 240,000 words" as I went back to sighing over what looks like a fabulous breeze outside my window.  Thankfully I snapped back to reality enough to read that sentence again, and a rejection letter soon followed.

Read this and read it good: 240,000 is obscene.  Ob. scene. for a first novel.

You might think, "But Amy, what about authors like JK Rowling and Tad Williams?  They've published gazillion-word novels that have done fabulously!"  And you'd be right.  But those authors earned the right to such lengthiness.  They started out, like everyone else, with novels of a more palatable length.  If they weren't above the rules, bucko, neither are you.

So what should you be shooting for?  A good average is around 90,000 words.  45 - 60,000 if you're writing a YA novel.  A thriller better reach 85k.  Anything too much over 120,000 words and you're likely fast-tracked to a form rejection.  Keep it in mind.

Happy writing, y'all.

Amy Hayden


Necessary Qualifier: This is simply the mind of one agency. Some agents, see Nathan Bransford's post on Word Count, have a far more...lenient approach. That's cool. He, of course, has a fair point. In the end, if the work is stellar keep-my-eyes-glued-to-the-page-for-all-240 THOUSAND-words- stellar, than YEA, I'm in. But that has only happened once in Linn's 15 year track record.


And she battled the work down to 180k. 
Case and point.

2 comments:

  1. I'll be referring my writing friends back to this post. Especially the ones who don't put a word count in their query because they know the novel is too long. Thanks!

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  2. Hi Deb,

    Please see our "Necessary Qualifier" - It's so important to know what each individual agency is OK with. These are *our* standards, from what we know of the industry and what we are willing to work with.

    Glad to be of help!
    -AH

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