Sunday, September 10, 2017

More on word count, because it's not over till never

Over the past few months, you've made a few comments on Twitter and on your blog about word counts and autorejections. I doubt your recall, but we even had a brief (pleasant, I hope) exchange on twitter on a question of high word counts for genre.

As a data point, I would offer this rejection I received today. I've not included any agency info, as I don't wish to point fingers, I'd only like to share my experience.

Thank you for your query but we're going to decline at this time. While your premise is certainly intriguing, the word count is very high / low for this genre. A great resource for acceptable word counts by genre, we recommend checking out Literary Rejections: Word Count.

Thank you for considering us for your work and we wish you great success with your writing career.

The link embedded in the email was a dead link, and I'm not sure what information the site should have included.

This was a rejection on an epic/blackpowder fantasy, adult category of 122,000 words.

The rejection is fine as far as that goes. At this point I'm (mostly) used to it. I'll keep writing, and I'll keep submitting. I do admit it can sometimes be discouraging when it is difficult to find consistent information regarding expectations in the query process.



A new way to make writers crazy! I love it.

For starters, who ever those guyz are, they're wrong.

It's not only possible to sell historicals and sff at 120K, it happens often enough not to be an exception to the norm.

Now, these guyz are trying to be helpful. They've heard your cries of woe about non-responders, and form emails. Their thought is  here's some info to ease the pain.

What they forgot though is that word count, like a lot of "givens", is a moving target.

Ten years ago, if you'd asked me if I could sell an essay collection, I'd have screamed with laughter.

Now, not so much screaming as strategizing.

It's true though that some agents learn "the rulez" and never bother to think about why the rule became one. That's how they miss trends and savvier agents create them.

Vampires are dead! Long live Stephanie Meyers.

Self pubbed fan fiction is a joke! Long live 50 Shades of Grey.

Your novel is too long! Hello George RR Martin who was writing big ass tomes LONG before Game of Thrones made it to HBO.

Your novel is too short. Hello Jeff Somers and Chum, a rollicking book of somewhere around 50K.

It's clear you're not tearing your hair out over this rejection, and that's a good thing.

There are some absolutes on word counts right now. 40K is too short, 300K is too long.
Between those two points there's a lot of flexibility depending on where you're publishing, and what kind of book you've got.

In the end a rejection means the agent you asked didn't think s/he could sell the book. That doesn't mean I can't or someone else can't either.



18 comments:

nightsmusic said...

While the genre I write in is typically considered a good word count at 80-90K tops, fantasy/scifi can't really build a world under 120K. At least, that's been my experience when reading them. Martin, Gabaldon, Woodiwiss, all write/wrote HUGE books and have a following many authors only ever dream of. I agree with Janet on this one. Sounds to me like they didn't think they could sell your book so sent a form letter with an ambiguous reason.

Dena Pawling said...


In case anyone's interested, here's a link I found for Literary Rejections - Word Count

http://www.litrejections.com/word-count/

John Davis Frain said...

There's a good story nearby when the answer to an imponderable begins with a link to nowhere. Okay, I'll volunteer to creep into this rabbit hold--maybe I'll find Lewis Carroll there.



It's dark, but I'm already getting curiouser and curiouser...

Melissa said...

When I started my first novel, I obsessed about word count. I, along with the other wide-eyed new writers, would ask at each conference, "But how long should the book be?" The instructors in all their wisdom would reply something like "It'll be as long as it needs to be." Such an infuriating answer. I needed to know to set a goal and to know when I was done.

I set my own goal of 60,000 and then that 60K became 80K after rounds of edits. At the end, the book was as long as it needed to be. I recently finished my second at 76, which became 72 after beta readers cited the middle as sluggish. I don't worry about word count anymore.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

My kind of writing is live-and-die by word count kind of writing.

Melissa, "...as long as it needs to be," is what I have heard and what I am plugged into now that I am branching out into the world of tens of thousands from a couple of thousand or few hundred.

kathy joyce said...

This is so heartening! I'm working on something I love, love, love, but I don't see it getting to 80k words. This gives me hope, even if it's short.

OP, did the rejection actually say "high/low"? That's just mean. They couldn't even pick the one that applies?! But I bet they're on social media complaining when authors don't personalize queries. Grrrr.

La Mandarin said...

OP I got that rejection once and my word count was within the word count for my genre per the link when it was active. Don't sweat it. :) it's just a form.

Joseph Snoe said...


I edited Escape from Brazil down to 99,600 words to fit in the 80,000 to 100,000 range most websites list as appropriate for thrillers. The linked website (see Dena's comment above) says thrillers should be in the 70,000 to 90,000 word range.

Well, dang. I hope I find an agent who hasn't read that post.

O.P. The linked post recommended 90,000 to 100,000 for fantasy, but 110,000 is okay too, and some publishers will "happily accept" 120,000 (but don't aim for that).

If I reclassify "Escape from Brazil" to be a fantasy, I guess I'd be okay.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Word count has been the bane of my existence. I have had agents say must be x long or won't even look. I tried like mad to keep my WIP under 100k words. Hit 110k - that is short for my genre (fantasy) and I am dead sure of that. I read widely, expansively even, in my genre but still there are agents who won't even look at me. Going to have to believe it's their loss and move on. Someone will love me eventually. I mean once I put my toes in the query trenches.

Oh, and I just found out Irma is coming to visit. Our school system has closed for tomorrow and Tuesday. I had thought we in middle Georgia were supposed to be well clear of this thing. Ah well, I have beer and bananas. I should be fine,

Ardenwolfe said...

A good story still trumps word count.

Craig F said...

My particular form of madness always makes my manuscripts end up between 90 and 95K. I guess I have just always liked the weight of books around there.

OT: You don't know how stir crazy you can get sitting and watching something like Irma roll in your direction at 9-12 mph. It is maddening because we pulled so much stuff into the house to protect it that I can't even get to my exercise equipment. I can't even watch football because all of the local stations have been droning on about the storm since Thursday, at least.

If I get lucky, though, I will have a hurricane's eye pass over me in the morning. That will be a first for me.

Sharyn Ekbergh said...

I would like to know what an epic/ blackpowder fantasy is. It's got my imagination going.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

I wrote a lean skeletal draft of 66,000 words. Revised and plumped it up to 99,000 (for Women's Fic) before sending out to a beta reader. Revised after the beta reader and it went over 100,000. Tweaked it some more so it's roughly 96,000 and just about ready to go off to another beta reader.

Am I obsessive? Naw.

Time to get back on my wee critter wheel.

Timothy Lowe said...

Word count bookends. What's inside them better be good.

Megan V said...

You and me both Lisa you and me both.

I have this horrible obsession with word count. I think it comes from the fact that A. I write in the MG and YA age categories and B. I tend to write lean.

Since there is a current trend of longer and longer books in those age categories, I have this tendency to feel like I'm being left behind as a writer, that I'm too many words behind in a nonexistent race and I'll never catch up. Some days, it's tempting to say, you know what, those sidelines look awfully nice. Maybe I should just stay over there.

Which is exactly why the whole word count debate should be thrown out the window.

We're not all running the same race. Even though we're all running on a blasted hamster wheel, the story's the thing that decides whether we're finished at 3k or 10k.







Lennon Faris said...

Yes this is definitely one of those things that is super fun to obsess over. If you get all your boxes checked, then it's statistically higher that they'll pick you, right?

My goal is to follow the rules once, do an epic job, and then stop obsessing. We'll see how well that works out!

Craig that sounds exciting all right. Stay safe!

Colin Smith said...

As long as Janet (or any other agent) doesn't view my track record here as evidence of my ability to edit or keep within a word count, I should be okay... :D

As a wise person once said, it's all about the story. First novels are going to get a little more scrutiny because you're an unknown. I daresay after you've been on the best seller lists for six months, you'll probably get a bit more leeway with your following books. There's no way JKR could have published a tome like Book 5 as her first novel. But she built credibility (and, dare I say, platform) with the first few books.

After these posts, I'm about ready to break my woodland creature wheel. Or at least put it into storage until I query the next novel... :)

Lynne Main said...

Being that the book I'm querying is a YA Historical Fantasy, I've been told not to let the word count go past 90,000. Originally, the book was at 129,000 words, due to several bits of dialogue in French with English translations. Realizing that would be a headache-inducing proposition for a reader, I edited. And edited. Got the word count down to 114,000 and then 104,000. I'm now at 88,000 and change. Granted,I had unintentionally info dumped a lot of historical facts, which sent me into yet another editing frenzy.

Although I'm happy with the M/S as it is now, I wonder if I have enough world-building in the story--I think I do, but who knows? It drives me nuts that an adult fantasy can hit 120,000 words, but a YA fantasy--especially by a debut novelist--doesn't get the same slack.

In the end, I just wanted to tell the best story possible...'cause that what counts.

For everyone in Irma's path, stay safe.