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Word CountsThe ever contentious subject of how long/short is too long/short


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Poll: In Range? A Word Count Poll (249 member(s) have cast votes)

What's the word count of the book you are currently pitching?

  1. Right in the sweet spot (75-80k) (43 votes [17.27%])

    Percentage of vote: 17.27%

  2. Upper end but not scary (80k-100k) (91 votes [36.55%])

    Percentage of vote: 36.55%

  3. Praying because I write historical fiction or fantasy I'll get away with it (101k - 125k) (37 votes [14.86%])

    Percentage of vote: 14.86%

  4. I like to push boundaries but I'lll be leaving the word count OUT of my query :) (125k-150k) (16 votes [6.43%])

    Percentage of vote: 6.43%

  5. I am ENTIRELY delusional (150k-200k) (2 votes [0.80%])

    Percentage of vote: 0.80%

  6. There are PHONE BOOKS smaller than my tome (over 200k) (4 votes [1.61%])

    Percentage of vote: 1.61%

  7. novella anyone? (less than 60k) (9 votes [3.61%])

    Percentage of vote: 3.61%

  8. I am a little short of words but the ones I have are irresistable (60k to 75k) (30 votes [12.05%])

    Percentage of vote: 12.05%

  9. I write YA/Juvenile/Childrens so there is nothing wrong with 50k or less (17 votes [6.83%])

    Percentage of vote: 6.83%

I think the books coming out today are --

  1. Too short -- when I pay $20 bucks I want more than 200 bleeping pages (94 votes [37.75%])

    Percentage of vote: 37.75%

  2. Just right (141 votes [56.63%])

    Percentage of vote: 56.63%

  3. Too long -- this is the age of the 140 character Tweet, please folks! (14 votes [5.62%])

    Percentage of vote: 5.62%

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#101 Loose Cannon

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Posted 14 May 2012 - 02:58 PM

Reading this all makes me very uneasy. I've been writing for a few years now, and on and off for a few before that, which has given me some time to...accumulate.
I have written two full volumes and am part way though a third, and this is where I have mixed feelings. When I saw the poll, I was very surprised by the options. The first book of the series I've been writing is LONG. And I'm not talking exceeding the recommended guidelines by a few thousand words, or even 20k. We're talking MS Word-freezes-when-I-open-this long. What's worse, the second is longer. By about a third. I have never published before, and am starting to think about finding an agent.
Anyone have advice about what to do here? I always thought it would be whether or not the agent found it worthwhile, not that it was too long. Should I try and cut it into separate volumes? The only thing is, the flow would quite possibly be irreparably broken.

#102 Robin Breyer

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Posted 15 May 2012 - 11:18 AM

Length is a tricky issue. It really depends on your genre and how you want to go about getting published. If you want an agent, you follow their rules. There are always exceptions, but in general, keep it below 100k unless you write historical fiction, space opera, or epic fantasy, then keep it under 120k. As I have pointed out countless times, for epic fantasy that isn't even an average length for new writers. The average is 145k. But in that genre it is better to sell to a publisher and find an agent after the fact. That is how Carol Berg (who averages 170k per book) and Brandon Sanderson (who averages over 200k per book) got published. But if you want an agent, you either have to have a killer book, or stick to their limits. Better yet, both.

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#103 Loose Cannon

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Posted 15 May 2012 - 11:32 AM

Thanks for the reply, Robin. I'll see about finding a few good dividing points to turn it into potentially three volumes. I didn't know about the bypassing of an agent straight to the publisher (I do write epic/literary fiction). Right now, I'm averaging ~360k per, and that would divide, at least as word count is concerned, nicely. Thanks again.

#104 Litgal

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Posted 07 June 2012 - 03:23 PM

Whether you can approach a publisher directly depends largely on your genre and the size of the publisher you are looking for. Be aware that many publishers who allow direct submission still handle those submissions differently than agented ones. I don't think going directly to a publisher (at least in many genres) is much of an end-run around a length problem.
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#105 A M Pierre

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Posted 07 June 2012 - 03:57 PM

My current YA sci-fi WIP is 115K, down from 144K. I think I could maybe swing it down to 109 with some blood (and tears), but much more than that and I'll be cutting into the story's soul.

Problem is, I still get nervous when every list I see seems to shorten the word count expected.

#106 Robin Breyer

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Posted 07 June 2012 - 04:23 PM

Litgal, the writers I know of who write epic fantasy and have a traditional publisher all sold their books to the publisher and THEN got an agent. I'm not saying the chances are good, but the publishers seem much more willing than agents to look at the quality of story without judging the length.

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#107 SC_Author

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Posted 07 June 2012 - 07:31 PM

Quicky question:

Is the 250 words/page a valid method to measure word count to put in queries? Because with that method, I run at 83K words, but without it, on the MS Word word count function, I have 91,600ish words. (Yes, I cut a lootttt from my previous count of 136 K :) (based off of MS Word).)

Obviously, I like the 83K better than the 91K. Can I put the 83K in my query instead?

Thanks!
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#108 C. Taylor

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Posted 07 June 2012 - 07:34 PM

Quicky question:

Is the 250 words/page a valid method to measure word count to put in queries? Because with that method, I run at 83K words, but without it, on the MS Word word count function, I have 91,600ish words. (Yes, I cut a lootttt from my previous count of 136 K :) (based off of MS Word).)

Obviously, I like the 83K better than the 91K. Can I put the 83K in my query instead?

Thanks!


SC, I'm afraid it's the 91K now that writing programs do automatic word counts.

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#109 Loose Cannon

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Posted 08 June 2012 - 01:21 PM

Litgal, the writers I know of who write epic fantasy and have a traditional publisher all sold their books to the publisher and THEN got an agent. I'm not saying the chances are good, but the publishers seem much more willing than agents to look at the quality of story without judging the length.

That's mildly reassuring. Would it count for anything if more volumes than the first are already written? Still at the way too long length, but it does mean the story is there, so there wouldn't be any uncertainty in finishing it.

#110 Lanette Kauten

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Posted 09 June 2012 - 07:48 AM

Loose Cannon, from what you said, you write epic/literary not epic fantasy. If how you categorize your writing is correct, then what Robin said regarding epic fantasy publishers don't apply.

No matter which genre you write in, you'll still need to reduce the word count. You can do it by cutting the volumes in half, but usually the problem there is an incomplete book. You could eliminate a bunch of words and a subplot or two, or you can figure out which scenes and subplots can be moved to future books.

I have the opposite problem of most writers. I tend to use too much word economy, but my current WIP needs a lot of world building, so I should finally get a novel that's up in the 80K range instead of the upper 60's.

#111 Robin Breyer

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Posted 09 June 2012 - 11:39 AM

The thing about an epic story is that takes a lot of words to play out. It doesn't matter what genre it is in. Stephen King writes epic horror stories. Carol Berg, Robert Jordan, and Brandon Sanderson write epic fantasy. James A Michener and James Clavell wrote epic historical fiction. These stories could be broken into more volumes, but they really can't be told in fewer words. The stories are just too complex. That is what readers of these genres expect, complex. Not every genre has such epic stories. If you can't list off a bunch of books with epic plots in your genre, then you need to simplify the story and make it shorter. If your genre supports epics (and like I said, few do), then need to figure out how to get your epic story into print. Usually these things are best done when planning your books. I plan the length of all my books from the beginning. My longest book so far fell short of my original goal, which is a good thing. My last two Fantasies were right on the mark, but the second of those might grow on editing. The thing I would recommend to do is to study your genre and learn what the plots are like, find out what agents will look at, and write a story that fits the length and complexity requirements. Make it a stand alone. Then when you land an agent for it, then you can bring this book out and see what they say. The fastest way to find an agent is to write something brilliant that fits the genre, is marketable, and fits with what the agents are looking for. If you do anything else, you probably will have to find a different path to publication than starting with an agent.

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#112 Loose Cannon

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Posted 09 June 2012 - 12:13 PM

Thank you both for your wisdom. I've been looking through what I first wrote a few years ago, and now that I'm more seriously considering publication, revising it. The thing is, instead of shrinking, it's growing. Also, there is a fair amount of complexity that, if removed, makes everything make far less sense than it already does. The entire story is built off of having different points of view and the subplots surrounding them.
I would place the genre along the lines of what Jordan and Snaderson write. Several times, I have tried to find breaking points, but it really doesn't work. Perhaps after some heavy revision, there will be a better division.
Thanks again

#113 Lanette Kauten

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Posted 09 June 2012 - 01:42 PM

Since you can't remove subplots, maybe you should try Robin's suggestion. Write another book in the genre that's closer to the word count requirements, and after it sells, introduce the ones you have now.

#114 Robin Breyer

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Posted 09 June 2012 - 03:31 PM

One thing to remember, the best example of breaking a story up is Star Wars. George Lucas's original drafts were much longer and more complex. He truncated it and created a new climax. Then when he went back he had to expand what he'd abandoned and it turned from one long script into 3 movies. In the original concept instead of ending up on the Death Star, they ended up on Bespin, the imperial prison planet. Luke was supposed to be trained by Ben, so no Yoda or Dagobah. They rescue the Princess and then head for the rebel base on Endor where the Wookies helped them defeat the Empire and destroy the station.

So if you have a long complex story like that, you can pick a place an deviate to a climax devised for the first book. Then you come back in the second book and get them back on track to the main climax. Or you could do what Lucas did and spread it out to three books. What sort of climatic ending can you insert that will finish off book one and lead in to book two and not destroy your story? Often that sort of climax accomplishes some task that seems to resolve things, but when you pick up the story again, you remind the reader that was only a temporary solution or only got your characters partway to their goal, there is still more before they reach the real end of the story.

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#115 Loose Cannon

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Posted 11 June 2012 - 07:12 PM

Since you can't remove subplots, maybe you should try Robin's suggestion. Write another book in the genre that's closer to the word count requirements, and after it sells, introduce the ones you have now.

That is a very interesting, and slightly daunting idea. I have thought about writing something outside the storyline I am currently working on, but it has been so long since I started it I sort of lost track of everything else. If I could manage to write both at the same time, I think I could do it. I will certainly think this over.

Or you could do what Lucas did and spread it out to three books. What sort of climatic ending can you insert that will finish off book one and lead in to book two and not destroy your story? Often that sort of climax accomplishes some task that seems to resolve things, but when you pick up the story again, you remind the reader that was only a temporary solution or only got your characters partway to their goal, there is still more before they reach the real end of the story.

Another great suggestion, thank you. Splitting it apart would be much easier if I could work another climax into it, and I do not think that would be too difficult to work in, although it would certainly take some finesse.

Or I could do both, which might be the best option of them all. I'll have some people read what I have going, looking specifically for places where it could be broken. And in the mean time, I will get back to the old drafting tale.
Thanks!

#116 TonyLuv

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Posted 06 July 2012 - 03:02 PM

The total word count for JRR Tolkien's epic trilogy is 473k

The Fellowship of the Ring: 187k
The Two Towers: 155k
The Return of the King: 131k

#117 Litgal

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Posted 06 July 2012 - 03:11 PM

The total word count for JRR Tolkien's epic trilogy is 473k

The Fellowship of the Ring: 187k
The Two Towers: 155k
The Return of the King: 131k


And they were written between the world wars if memory serves. Here's the plain facts -- books have changed, publishing has changed, attention spans have changed. Getting big books published is much harder now that it was even a decade ago, let alone a generation ago.
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#118 S.K. Keogh

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Posted 06 July 2012 - 05:12 PM

And they were written between the world wars if memory serves. Here's the plain facts -- books have changed, publishing has changed, attention spans have changed. Getting big books published is much harder now that it was even a decade ago, let alone a generation ago.


So true, so true! I encourage unpublished writers to consider, as I did, keeping your debut novel short (my historical novel was 89,000 when submitted) since a shorter book is cheaper to produce than a longer one, something that might help tip an agent/editor in your favor. I considered it a marketing tool.

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#119 Loose Cannon

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Posted 06 July 2012 - 05:24 PM

Thanks for the advice, and as sad as it is what you say about the current generations' attention spans, I can see that more clearly now. Whether I get around to splitting it all apart, I've started thinking about writing something just to get myself out there. Hopefully far shorter.

#120 Robin Breyer

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Posted 07 July 2012 - 01:12 AM

And they were written between the world wars if memory serves. Here's the plain facts -- books have changed, publishing has changed, attention spans have changed. Getting big books published is much harder now that it was even a decade ago, let alone a generation ago.

Carol Berg just sold her latest, just as long as the rest. Brandon Sanderson continues to publish long books. New writers such as Sam Sykes and Brent Weeks have been published in recent years at the same length as the 3 volumes of LotR, the Thomas Covenant books, and Carol Berg's books. I've heard agents say it is harder, but the big publishers of Fantasy don't seem to have slowed down or slimmed down and there are new imprints out. I personally see the comments about smaller books in Fantasy to be in error. At least I don't see it in the bookstores or hear it from the publishers. The only smaller books are Urban Fantasy instead of Epic Fantasy. I'm of the opinion is is near impossible to sell a large book to an agent. Both Carol and Brandon sold directly to their publishers.

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