Wednesday, January 10, 2018

You think you're asking about word count, but uh oh

My MS is an adult thriller with a 102K word count. I recently learned of "word count expectancy" and what is perceived as typical by literary agents. I believe the anticipated word count for an adult thriller is between 60K-90K.

My question is, would the discrepancy between (current) actual and expected be considered a deal breaker? My MS contains a detail rich plot and reviews (some published) I have received have been complimentary of the books pace, so I am a little reluctant to change the content. Having said that I don't necessarily wish to be filtered out by one phrase or it being a reason for exclusion.

The only time word count is a deal breaker is when you're so far over or under that it's clear you're going to need major revisions. Word count on the upper end doesn't bother me cause I can always pare down. Word count problems on the lower end (50K thrillers, 70K historical fiction) are more troublesome cause it's figuring out what's missing.

But the real problem here is when you tell me that you have published reviews of your book. That's a huge red flag.

That more than word count would make me think twice about reading your book.

Either you don't know what reviews are (and no one was born knowing all this terminology, it's not a character flaw if you misused the word) OR you've done something like solicit prepublication reviews.

A review is generally an objective assessment by someone who doesn't know you. It's intended to be published so readers can decide if they want to buy the book, or as part of an overall, ongoing discussion of the category you're writing in.  In either instance, an unpublished book shouldn't be getting reviews. When I take on new clients, the first thing I do is have them make some editorial changes. Some have a lot. Some are just clean up. But the ms you send me is almost never the ms that goes to editors, and certainly never the ms that is the final published version.

If you've sent this out for pre-pub reviews (you can pay people to say nice things about your book) it tells me you're pretty inexperienced AND you haven't done much research about how querying works. Pre-pub reviews are utterly useless.

In any case, if your query isn't getting any traction, my first choice for why is the review mention. The word count isn't setting off any alarms.

Any questions?


Colin Smith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
E.M. Goldsmith said...

Yeah, the mention of reviews sent alarm bells ringing for me too. Yes, the Reef does that to you.

102k in any case is not an extreme word count in adult fiction. Curious as to what OP meant by reviews. Perhaps, he means beta feedback? In any case, not something to be mentioned in a query.

Colin Smith said...

I'm curious to know where Opie got the idea that published reviews would help his/her query. Who's peddling this kind of "advice"? That could be a theme for a blog post: "Things You've Been Told Will Help Your Query But Really Won't--Quite The Opposite." ☺

Unknown said...

Hm, didn't even know this was a thing. How does one even get published reviews on a draft? Don't answer that. Not useful anyway. I like Colin's idea.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I like Colin’s idea a lot. There is an awful lot of misinformation out there that can easily lead an aspiring author astray.

Stothers said...

My thoughts exactly. This sounds like a "first MS" and learning the ropes of querying/agenting is a whole new world. I would love to give the benefit of the doubt, but I suspect they sent their MS to a "review website".

Writing a novel is only the start of the adventure. The editing/querying/agenting/publishing is a different kettle of fish.


Craig F said...

Is "detail rich plot" a euphemism for an infodump?

Word count for MG had been around 50k until someone named Rowling came along. Guidelines are just that, they aren't really rules.

Julie Weathers said...

Yes, the same thing set my alarm off and I haven't had my coffee yet. I confess I am a layabout today. 102,000 words, ah wouldn't that be a lovely problem to have. I think my prologue is that long. Well, maybe not quite that long, but yeah, 102,000 words will never be my problem. No, that's not too long IF the story merits the words. The only time it's too long is when they are boring words.


Is "detail rich plot" a euphemism for an infodump?

Not necessarily. It could be a complex plot with a lot of subplots going on. Even if you have a so-called infodump, there are interesting ways to do them. We had this discussion on Litforum a little while ago. Sometimes you can dump a little out in an interesting way or do what Diana Gabaldon calls jacquard weaving. You have information you need to impart, but you pick up the various threads and weave them through a conversation while people are doing things. Some women are quilting and one imparts how her husband disappeared for five years, but they also talk about the Jones girl who donated that pretty pink dress to go in the quilt and wasn't it a shame about her breaking her arm.

Anyway, if you're skillful, you can weave in that info without boring readers and sometimes they are necessary.

I'm not sure what the OP is referring to by detail rich plot here, but it isn't necessarily a bad thing unless it's boring.

John Davis Frain said...

Julie, you quip about prologue length reminds me a James Michener quote, which I'm sure you'll enjoy. He was never noted for brevity, and once said "It takes me eight pages to say hello."

More on topic, my favorite line from James Michener:
"I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter."

A year ago, I had no idea how spot on that quote is. I had a 102,000-word ms over a year ago, OP. Today, I'm going through a much-improved version of that same story, but this is the 81,000-word version. Cut, cut, cut and it gets better, better, better.

Cramazing. <<<-- See that! Two words down to one. (Don't worry, I didn't really edit that way.)

Theresa said...

There has been discussion on various online sites about writers getting blurbs for their manuscripts prior to querying. (Yikes!) Maybe this is what OP has. Or maybe they are querying an already self-published manuscript. It would be helpful to have that clarification.

Barbara Etlin said...

Sometimes bad advice comes from surprising sources.

Believe it or not, I attended a legitimate, respected writers' conference that recommended that attendees solicit blurbs from published authors to include with their queries. I knew an author in my genre, did this, and included the short blurb with my query letter.

What horrible advice! I would never do this again because I know better now. Luckily it didn't scare off the agents.

Unknown said...

Theresa, I saw some of this too, including a company discussed on Goodreads. The company's website says to upload your MS, so it's not for published work. I won't mention the name, since the owner apparently didn't like the criticism and was quite angry. On the other hand, it might be fun to watch our shark chomp on him. :)

I think we had a discussion about this a while back. Someone must be pushing it.

Megan V said...

I agree, there should be a post about the advice that will land you on Carkoon instead of landing an agent. (I realize I’m pushing the boundaries of a Carkoonian visit, butcan’t count the number of times I was given poor advice as a new writer, and the amount of rotten advice I see floating around out there is astounding)

Karen McCoy said...

Last year, I did book reviews for a company, but most everything I received was either self-published or already traditionally published and available for purchase. That being said, I once, by mistake, received a manuscript meant for developmental editing. Unfortunately, it needed a lot of work. I can't imagine why someone would shell out money for a review on a book when they could get editorial feedback to help make their book better.

All the more reasons for posts like the one Colin mentioned.

Steve Stubbs said...

Here’s a thought: try editing. OP's original message is 109 words.

As a drill, I edited it down to 53 words, thus:

"My adult thriller is 102K words. I recently learned literary agents consider typical word count for an adult thriller is 60K﷓90K."

"Would that be a deal breaker? My plot is detail rich, and reviewers have been complimentary, so I'm reluctant to change it. I don't wish to be filtered out by one phrase."

That is a 50% reduction without losing anything. I could probably trim OP's MS down to 60K. More important, trimmed down it would have a better chance of selling. Editing makes the same material look more professional.

Also,,,, watch out for missing commas.

Joseph S. said...

OP - Different sources give different ranges for various genres. Several say 70,000 to 100,000 for a thriller. I faced an almost identical problem as you face and had no problem getting to 98,500. (I dropped half a page of substance. Everything else was tightening).

Joseph S. said...

Totally off topic – I bought my tickets just before they sold out to this year’s Southern Voices Festival. I am not as excited for this year as last year when I met C.J. Box and Lou Berney.

This year’s participants:

Friday night Keynote speaker: Steve Berry

Saturday authors: Paula McLain. Andrew Gross. Lisa Wingate. Daren Wang. Lisa Ko. Taylor Brown. Kelly Gray Carlisle. Stephanie Powell Watts.

I’ve not read any of their books but do recognize several of their book titles. Anybody's favorites in there?

Janice L. Grinyer said...

Okay, I need to clarify this "published review versus having requested a blurb for the final publication" thingy before I have a woodland critter meltdown - i.e. non-fiction-

In a proposal, I briefly mention I have two individuals w/standing who said they would be willing to give a blurb after the final manuscript is complete and show ready (final edit with a publisher.) This is a correct procedure when covering marketing potential in a proposal, yes?

And is not the same as what is mentioned above in Janet's post, correct?

BJ Muntain said...

Hi Janice! You're right. It's a huge difference. I can't comment on whether having blurbs ready for a non-fiction project is the correct procedure, because you know so much more about non-fiction proposals than I do, but I think this is correct for non-fiction.

Really, it comes down to the difference between non-fiction and fiction. Non-fiction is about topic and platform. Fiction is about audience. You're building a good platform, it seems to me, and I'm so proud of how much work you've put into your proposal and how much you've learned about pitching non-fiction.

I know Janet can tell you with great authority, but I hope I can at least smooth your feathers a bit. You're doing a good job.

Janice L. Grinyer said...

Thank you for helping me smooth my feathers back down, Bj! I rechecked my references and one of them specifically states how to include contacts for future blurbs in the marketing portion of a proposal, so it's all good. Phew! For a moment there I thought I would have to rewrite another section! :D

AJ Blythe said...

I also got the heebie jeebies at the mention of published reviews.After you swim at the Reef long enough I think you start absorbing by osmosis!

OP, have you given the manuscript a chance to rest for a few months? Putting it to one side and revisiting after a break allows you to reread with fresh eyes - it's amazing what you find.