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Word Count Conundrum

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#1 RadioactivePecan


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Posted 16 February 2018 - 10:49 AM

I’m in the process of cutting down my manuscript.  When I’m done it will be between 125k and 123k words.  I know that the usual cut-off is 120k words for a novel.  Will being 5000 words over get me an instant rejection? My novel is a fantasy/sci-fi, which I know can fall a bit on the longer side.  A part of me just wants to lie about the word count on the query and say that it is 120k, but if an agent gets the actual manuscript and sees that number is over, I feel that would not be good.

I’ve cut down as much as I can.  Removed redundancies, switched passive voice to active, trimmed dialogue tags, omitted unnecessary characters and storylines.  I can’t take anyone out without hurting and/or restructuring the whole story line.

I guess I just don’t want to get an auto-reject on an extra 5000 words alone after all the effort I’ve put in making the query and cutting down the manuscript to an acceptable word count.  :sad: 

#2 lnloft



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Posted 16 February 2018 - 01:12 PM

First off, don't lie on the word count. That'll just make you look bad when the agent notices the difference.


The word count issue is always a tough one. Sci-fi/fantasy is one of the genres that can get away with being longer, and it's especially frustrating when we can look at the shelves in the bookstore and see 300,000-word tomes there. But those certainly aren't the norm, and definitely aren't first-time novels. 120,000 is already pushing the edges, to be honest. Some agents might auto-reject at 120,000 and only be interested with shorter things, others might be okay with 120k but nothing higher, and some might figure that 5000 words isn't enough of a difference to be picky about. The problem is that you don't know which agent wants what, and those who might accept the higher end of word counts are going to be in the minority, making your life a lot more difficult.


So, yeah, you're in a bit of a tough spot, but if it's any consolation, the first book I wanted to get published was a whopping 250,000 words, and I know I won't ever get that behemoth under 200,000, despite knowing there are needs for cuts at this point. So it could always be worse.


My advice is actually basically what I'm doing with that aforementioned behemoth. Set it aside for a moment. Don't let yourself touch it for several months, at minimum. In the meantime, occupy yourself with other writing projects. But taking a step away (and the longer break you take, the better), then the easier it is to come in with fresh eyes and see that there might be a couple extraneous things you can still pare down. I believe you when you say you've been working hard at cutting, so I'm not trying to diminish that. And I absolutely believe that you need to tell your story as it needs to be told, so you can't cut to the point of damaging that. But there might still a few things that right now you are just too close in to realize are unnecessary, so taking a step back for a while will allow you to see them. I can vouch from personal experience that taking breaks allows me to see the flaws and how to fix them a lot more clearly.


If, after all of that (or if you've already done that), then you can try querying at 125,000 words. It's not impossible, it's just a lot harder, so you'd better be sure you have a squeaky-clean, tight manuscript and a damn good query. And then still be braced for a lot of rejections. But 125,000 words can happen for a first-time novel. So good luck.

Nothing to reciprocate on right now; I'm off in the query trenches.

#3 RadioactivePecan


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Posted 16 February 2018 - 02:16 PM

Thank you.  Good advice to let it sit for a bit.  I've already cut it down from 190k to under 130k, which I thought would be an impossible feat in itself, so maybe I can still manage to cut another 5000 - 10000 words out of it.  It's so frustrating not knowing what the limits of a high word count are.  Some websites say nothing more than 100k, others say 135-150k are perfectly fine for fantasy.  I wish I had thought more closely about the word count as I was mapping out my plot :/

#4 Nessa


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Posted 16 February 2018 - 02:32 PM

Try not to worry. After giving it time, you will come back to it and be amazed at how much you can cut out.
The first book I prepared to query (YA Fantasy) was 100,000. Months later, I was able to cut it down to 87,000 words and ​add a subplot.
The key is to continue writing (new projects) and reading (surrounding your genre).
Word count for fantasy-- I've heard the same limits as you. 100,000 is generally the "safe zone" for all debuts, but fantasy certainly has leeway. I suggest getting down to at least 120,000 words.

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