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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

So Many Wasted Shoes!

And so many wasted words. Yesterday, I talked about querying too soon. Okay, mostly, I talked about my encounter with the trash man, but still, I made reference to querying too soon, didn't I? At any rate, I thought I'd spend the rest of the week (and possibly the rest of the year) talking about why my ms wasn't ready when I first queried it. And today's topic is...WORD COUNT. When I first queried my completed ms, it weighed in at 110,000 words. Whoa! That's a lot of words for Young Adult! According to the SCBWI, of which I'm a proud member now, the maximum word count for YA is 65,000. Unfortunately, I did not know this back then because I hadn't even looked into it. (Other sites will tell you it is 80,000, so that's what I'm going with. 30,000 is easier to cut than 45,000, isn't it?) Out of those five agents I queried, only one responded. And it was a form rejection. I have a feeling they all saw my word count and laughed out loud. I'm so glad I only sent it out to five before learning the rules. I spent the next three months cutting words, scenes, and even entire chapters. I got it down to 85,000 words. Close enough, right? We'll see... It may seem unfair, but as a new writer, it's important to play by the rules. Unless you are an established author like Jodi Picoult or Stephen King, or an exceptionally lucky novice like Stephanie Meyer, agents will look at your word count. Why else would they want it specifically stated in the query letter? This is just my yet-to-be-published opinion. What are your thoughts? How important do you think word count is?

25 comments:

Corey Schwartz said...

I read a lot of agent blogs, and they definitely do look at word count! Janet Reid will drop you like a hot potato if your word count is way off.

Eileen Astels Watson said...

I believe word count matters as they are trying to fit the publishers requests, but Stephanie Myers is proof that if your story is unique and shines they'll bend the rules.

You probably know this, but for agents I'd especially be careful to read their own guidelines of what they represent. If you're writing YA, make sure the agent your querying is big on representing YA authors, and follow their submission guidelines to a 'T'. They're all different by a bit.

Lori said...

I think word count is something very easy to modify. I at least don't have problems cutting entire pages and scenes, although I must say it is very difficult for me to expand on those. But I don't see why an agent would freak out too much on account of the word count.

jbchicoine said...

I queried my YA novel (ignorantly pitching it as Women’s Fiction) at 150,000 words. No wonder that out of about 50 queries I had no requests. The good news is, since I classified it in the wrong genre, I still have a whole new pool of agents to query when I chop it down to size.

Janna Qualman said...

It's important. I had the same issue with my first, only it was too short: just 50,000. I too am learning.

Danyelle said...

Word count is always so fun. Luckily, I write in the fantasy sub-genre of YA, so my word count is okay around 80,000. :) I would be in trouble otherwise.

Stephanie Faris said...

It all depends. I tend to run a bit short on the word count. With YA, I was initially targeting publishers that stipulated 40,000 so that was what I got used to writing. Then I queried an agent who said YA should be a minimum of 50,000 words...so I was just plain confused. I WISH I wrote long! It seems it would be easier to cut than to struggle to get to 50,000 words when it doesn't feel natural. My single title romances have to be 90,000-100,000 words, which I get to just fine but I end up always falling just below 90,000, in the 89,000 word range. I don't know why I write shorter.

Jill Kemerer said...

Well, first off, I'm going to say I will never regret querying too soon. Every rejection made me dig down and learn more. I don't think I would be as far along as I am if I hadn't been sending out not-ready-for-publication books.

Secondly, yeah, word count is important. Fantasy books are long, long, long. Harlequins are short. Single titles and YA have an acceptable range, which most authors can realistically fit their books into. We have to do our homework!

Great topic!

Karen said...

I never thought much about word count until I started reading Nathan Bransford's and Janet Reid's blogs. And now I totally get it. It seems kind of arbitrary, but they do this stuff all day, every day. If a YA novel is 100,000 words, the query needs to explain (concisely) why that many words are necessary. Otherwise, they'll assume (most likely) that you are a rambler and don't know when to stop.

FictionGroupie said...

I think word count is definitely something to pay attention to. Agents seem to shudder at the 100k plus YA novels. My YA is 85k, and I received five requests when I queried, so I guess the range was acceptable. Although, I have seen some publishers that specify a much shorter YA count.

Dominique said...

As one who as a child walked around libraries grabbing whatever looked thick off the shelves, I don't think 85K is a necessarily bad place to be at. It's on the longer side of things, but not out of the realm of possibility.

I think word count matters some, but I do know that for a great plot, great characters, and great writing, you can get some leeway. Evidence: Stephanie Meyer

Lori - Agents freak about high word counts, because a book with a very high count will be impossible for them to sell. Think of it this way, every page you ask the publisher to print is going to cost them money, so they need those pages to be worth it. A lot of kids don't want to read a book that looks like a volume from an encyclopedia, so a book that looks crazy thick might not sell. Again, money down the drain for the publisher. The word count will effect overall saleability.

Lazy Writer said...

Corey,
The agents who blog do make it very clear that word count matters.

Eileen,
I have noticed they are more particular with YA than with other genres.

Lori,
I've never had to add words, but I can see how that would be difficult.

jb,
That's a good point--determining the proper genre for your project is also important.

Janna,
I've never written to few words. I have the opposite.

Danyelle,
Yes, with fantasy, a higher word count is acceptable.

Stephanie,
Just add in a bunch of adverbs and adjectives. I'm kidding! :)

Jill,
I don't regret querying too soon, either. I learned a lot from the rejections I received.

Karen,
It does help to explain why a work has a heavy word count. At least they will pause and consider it instead of hitting delete immediately!

Fiction Groupie,
I notices your word count, which made me happy. It affirmed that 85,000 wasn't too many.

Dominique,
Great explanation! :)

Weronika said...

That darn word count...

Beth said...

You never cease to amaze me with all the references to shoes! Just like others have mentioned, from what I've read on agent blogs word count is VERY important.

Lily said...

Obviously, it's extremely important or they wouldn't mention it. Even before I found all these helpful blogs, I worried about it. I tried estimating average word counts from the books in my collection.

One thing that confused me... One site gave a 'formula' for converting Word's word count, based on dialog using up page space. I tried that and it seemed no where close! Should I just stick with MS Word's word counter?

Jody Hedlund said...

Not having the politically correct word count is definitely something that can brand us as amatuer and send a rejection right back our way. With as hard as it is to get in the door, we don't want something like that standing in our way. I guess all the more reason to study the market and know our stuff before querying!

Kelly H-Y said...

This one has been a building source of frustration for me because - as you mentioned - there are many that get away with NOT following the rules. BUT, as an unpublished author .... I think following the rules is the best way to go. So ... for me, that usually means cutting words! :-)

Kathryn Magendie said...

I did the same thing - my word count was too high for a general fiction novel (144,000 words) - lawd! so, I pared and pared and sliced and diced....Tender Graces was published at around 107,000 words I think it was. :)

I've seen first time novels that are THICK tomes and some that I wish had been longer...there's always exceptions....no way to ever know

However, I'd think YA would have to be shorter than adult fiction?

#167 Dad said...

I've been writing query letters for a couple of years - nothing. Agents and publishers are hurting and there are more and more self publishing success stories. I guess my theory is time spent in the query process is time I could have spent writing.

Cool blog. I'll check in from time to time...

Tabitha Bird said...

Oh I am so glad you blog loaded properly for me today. I have been trying for two days to get on your blog, I am so sorry I haven't commented. It wouldn't load the comments section when I logged on. Don't know why. Okay, now to actually comment on your post :)

I think word count is really important. I guess agents are doing what they are doing because they know what sells and where to sell it. so it makes sense that they would need to have words within limits of what publishers will accept for a certain genre. That's just my humble opinion though. :)

Lynn Colt said...

Word count is important, but usually agents won't hit the form-rejection button solely based on word count unless you're waaaay off.

I think a higher-than-usual word count is fine as long as the query (as well as the novel, of course) has no wasted words. A query letter that is concise as well as compelling shows agents that the novel probably merits the extra length.

Good luck with your ms!

storyqueen said...

blogger ate my post!

Anyway, I agree with Jill about not regretting querying too early, because you learn so much...you never know what you know until you know it.

Heather Sunseri said...

Yeah, I have to say that's one of those rules that we should "try" to follow as we're trying to be publised. After, well, maybe we can stretch the rules a little.

Anna C. Morrison said...

Word count matters because numbers speak louder than words sometimes. But really, you know, having that many words just means you actually have a series instead of just one book, right? (Looking for the positive on this one)

Diane J. said...

Learning is so much fun especially the hard way. =)

I like Anna's positive note.

Now that you know what to whittle down to, you'll be getting published soon and be sharing all the news.

Congratulations on finishing the book, that is such a huge step in itself.