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.


  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!

  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!