1. Imposter
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    The magical 110,000 word count limit

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Imposter, Mar 4, 2009.

    Hey gang. I have some questions.

    I have read on this forum, as well as others, that an new author should stick to 110,000 words or less with their first submission to have a chance of seeing it published. Why 110,000? How rigid is that guideline? I would hate to see anybody (myself included) hack away at their work just to get to a word count target when the story is marketable at 130,000 or even 150,000, new author or not.

    Thoughts?
     
  2. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Guidelines like that are hardly ever 100% precise. There are many books that are longer. I have seen some from first-time authors, but often they are by writers who have already established the fact that their books sell. If your work is good, but you can't get anyone interested in that extra-long book, put it aside, write something a little shorter, and then submit the longer one.
     
  3. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    I agree with Rei. And stressing over word count is likely to hurt your writing. I don't think you should force your grand project into conformity. Just write some lighter stories on the side to get your name out there.

    I'm working on something ridiculously epic, and of course, I have never been published. So I'm also developing some other ideas which should be a lot easier to write - and publish - when the stories solidify.

    You can also continue to polish the story between rejections. The longer it goes unpublished, the better it will be!:p
     
  4. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    It's going to be the quality of your writing, rather than the word length, which plays the greater part in your chances of getting published (as well as how lucky you are). There is no hard and fast rule, and 110,000 words is nothing more than a guess. That said, something ridiculously long by a first time author is more unlikely to be published.

    But your first focus should be getting it written. After all, you can't get a story published if it doesn't exist yet.
     
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    the point is that most publishers currently consider 80-100k [not 110] to be the optimum size for a new unknown writer's first novel...

    that said, some will have slightly different preferences, some being rigid and some fairly loose, so you must check their guidelines, to see what will be acceptable for that one and what won't...

    to ask to submit a ms that's under or over what they prefer won't necessarily get your query dumped, but it could... so why minimize your chances, instead of maximizing them?
     
  6. Imposter
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    It is written and it came in at 135,000 words. I haven't submitted it anywhere yet because I'm still having it edited by a knowledgable friend, but in order to get down to the 100K level I would be hacking away 25% of the book.

    Maybe it's good enough as it stands, maybe not, but it sounds like I won't even get a decent 'look see' from a lot of publishers because of its length and my newbie status. And you only get one bite at the apple so if I submit it at its current length and it doesn't get picked up I would be screwed if I wanted to reduce it to 100K and resubmit it.

    I do have another piece of work I'm beginning that will fall within the guidelines. The problem was it was supposed to be a sequel to the first one. I guess I can re-tool that and go from there. There's always self publishing as well.
     
  7. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Imposter,

    Edit/revise, tighten where you can. If it ends up 135,000, it ends up 135,000. Submit it to appropriate markets, and while you're doing that, write another, learning from the process.

    Terry
     
  8. pacmansays
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    pacmansays Senior Member

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    Personally I find it hard writing a lot of lines. I'm quite straight to the point and so i find it hard to bulk up the word count though with my latest work i will add some short chapters which are inessential to plot but help continuously build character...

    But like the post above said, keep it what size works best for your story
     
  9. TwoToTango
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    It all depends on what those extra 35.000 words are all about. I mean, are they intense plot-advancing action or flowery descriptions of every petunia in the characters come across?

    I think the question is, are the extra words necesarry or boring and could it possibly be split into two books? (And as such yield more sales in the publisers eyes.)
     
  10. iolair
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    iolair Active Member

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    From what I've read, and it makes sense, the "limit" is because a larger book is more of a risk - the extra pages cost extra to print, so the loss for the publisher if it does not sell is greater. I imagine then, that the longer a first book is, the more convinced a publisher needs to be that it will sell before they agree to print it.

    I'm curious why you're getting the book edited by a friend instead of doing it yourself... surely editing is part of the writing process? I agree with 2toTango that it may be worth restructuring your book into two if the story lends itself to that, or maybe shifting some parts to the sequel.

    Of course, you may have written something so brilliant that a publisher will take a risk on the cost of an unknown writer with a 135k manuscript... but if you submitted it long and then split/reduced if it wasn't successful, I suspect that could harm your chances of the split/reduced version being accepted.
     
  11. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    While the notion of splitting a 135,000 word novel into two smaller ones sounds good, the second being sequel, it is not necessarily that easy.

    The plot/structure of a novel doesn't necessarily lend itself to just cutting something in half. If anything, it will require quite a bit of rewriting--if it can be done successfully.

    Consider, instead of spending time reworking a novel by splitting it into two, simply going ahead and finishing the first novel, even if it is a bit long, and then working on a new project after sending agent queries or submitting to publishers directly.

    It will take more than a bit of time rewriting the first novel, splitting it into two, and with the sequel, you'd likely have to sell the first before the second could be sold anyway. Possibly it would be better to use the time to write a new novel and get it out on submission, this way (with roughly the same time and effort put into it) you'd have two out there seeking a publisher/agent, instead of only one.

    Terry
     
  12. Imposter
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    The editing I referred to was for grammatical help, not content. I have edited the book once and it looks like I'll be going at it again with sharper scissors.
     
  13. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    The first rule:

    Break the rules.

    Peace!
     
  14. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    Yeah, that'll definitely persuade a publishing house to give you a contract... :rolleyes:
     
  15. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    You have to master the rules before you can break them. Besides, we're talking more about the business end of writing. On that side, there are rules you MUST follow.
     
  16. Imposter
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    Very true, and in this case applicable. The plot/structure of my novel won't work as two seperate pieces.

    The suggestion about operating on two seperate fronts is a good one though. In one regard I will take a serious look at my first novel and see what I can do to bring the word count down and keep it's soul intact. On the other hand I will also continue to work on the second book and try and minimalize the sequel aspect and have it be a stand alone piece with loose ties to the first one.

    That should keep me moving forward.
     
  17. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    May be it will. It depends. I don't think anyone ever was the most successful person in their area of endeavor by playing it safe.

    I wouldn't be terribly surprised if I learned about a very successful first novel that was over 110,000 words.

    The important thing is that your novel be good... no, not good, great... no, not great, incredible. If your novel is incredible, captivating, well-written, interesting, exciting, with enduring characters and a haunting resonance, if you grab the reader by the heart and soul and yank them in without hesitation, the odds are you'll do much better than the other person, whose novel does none of those things, but manages to fit under 110,000 words.

    And if your novel is all of those things, and one publisher turns away because its word count was above their arbitrary requirement, that publisher is going to be very sorry when another publisher picks up your book which is destined to be a best-seller.

    My opinion.

    I also can't imagine breaking a novel into two, unless there are actually two stories. I think the novel should be as long as the story, and the story should determine the size of the novel, unless it's a serial, like Stephen King's "Dark Tower the Gunslinger."

    Sure, one should be concise, and I absolutely believe in brevity. Brevity, in fact, is absolutely critical. If one's writing is unnecessarily wordy, one's writing can't be incredible, powerful, resonant. But I don't think a story should be gutted, or cut in two, to reach a number goal. I consider the story of paramount importance.

    As a reader, I'd be sorely disappointed if I bought a novel and read half a story.

    And as a reader, I find Reader's Digest Condensed Books and the Abridged Version to be painful reads... seeing a book that's been cut up is like seeing a person who's missing an arm, it's sad... and to demand that a book already concise, a book that's tightly packed with action or suspense (or romance or whatever the book is supposed to be packed with) be cut further... all I can say is, by all means, cut the fat, but don't cut the muscles and bones and cripple your book, and don't try to sell two half-books!

    Again, my opinion.
     
  18. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    The choice of word count is not arbitrary. It's about how big the book will be and how much it will cost. No matter how good the editors think a book is, publishers are not always willing to trust that enough readers will give a new author a chance if the book is too expensive or too long. It's also fairly arrogant to behave as if your work is so much better than all the other submissions they get that are within that length that publishers will ignore the risk factor.

    If you have a book that long, have a little optomism. Send it out, because it can happen, but it's rare. That's why I say, instead of butchering the work (if that's what shaving it down will do) put more effort into one that you know will be at its best within the length, and keep the extra-long one for next time.
     
  19. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    I don't think it's arrogant to let the story determine how long the story is. It might be arrogant to fluff up a story, like a proud peacock, writing lengthy, ten-page descriptions of a doorknob before your character opens it, because you think your style is so wonderful that you think everyone wants to read ten pages about the doorknob.

    But we shouldn't cripple our stories, either. And from the perspective of a writer, other submissions have nothing to do with it, in my opinion.

    Someone else's vampire novel might be wonderful at 100,000 words. A third person's crime suspense, at 300,000 words, might be better than my 200,000 word book about a fuzzy cat, and all three might be next year's bestsellers, and all three authors might be the most humble creatures that ever walked the earth. One cannot gauge humility or pride on the number of words in one's manuscript, nor should one make an accusation of arrogance based on the number of words in one's manuscript.

    I honestly don't think there's any arrogance involved, nor any feeling of superiority over other submissions. A writer should believe that his novel is worth publishing. That doesn't imply the writer things other people's novels aren't worth publishing.

    And, while I admit, I'm still working on my novel and haven't gotten there yet, I can't imagine any published or aspiring writer having ill feelings toward the other submissions. Belief in oneself and one's work does not equal belittling of others, nor even arrogance.

    Really, I don't think the writer determines the length of the novel at all. If I'm Mark Twain, the real people who determine the length of Huckleberry Finn are Huck, Tom, the rest of the cast, and of course, the mighty river. Stephen King didn't determine the length of Carrie. Carrie herself did, along with her mother and some trouble-making kids at the school. Stephen King might be able to reduce the word count if he wasn't concise enough, but eventually, Carrie's going to burst out of her grave and say, "I can't be reduced any more!" and he'll have to stop.

    I'm sure the other submissions are wonderful, and I'm as humble as Mom's apple pie. But if one vampire demands a novella and another fuzzy cat demands an epic, it's the vampire's doing and the fuzzy cat's doing.

    I don't think the writer should or could stab the vampire in the heart before the story takes place, or chop the fuzzy cat's tail off before he gets where he has to go, in order to fit a certain number of words. And if the author does that, I think he's going to be sending in a crippled manuscript.

    I understand the money people have to worry about the money part. But I really think that part has more to do with marketing than book length. Sure, a longer book is a bigger investment. But it's no fault (or arrogance) of the author. The story determines the story's length.

    I think if an author tries to force a story to be something that it's not, he's only hurting the story. Trying to fit a round peg into a square hole.

    Again, my opinion.

    Respectfully,
    Charlie
     
  20. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    Perhaps we're jumping the gun here by worrying about the total word count. Nobody "submits" an entire manuscript to a publisher or agent up front. The process usually starts with the first three chapters, and that, only after the agent or publisher responds favorably to your initial query letter.

    I suggest that the story length is far less important than the quality of story telling, especially in those initial three chapters. In fact, if an agent or publishing company really likes the way your tale begins, they have editors who will work with you to cut the story down to their desired size. Editors do that all the time, much to the chagrin of authors. The publishers also have the right to retain the full text if they like it. But, nothing happens until they've read those critical first three chapters. And, if those first three chapters are compelling, it becomes the literary agent's job to "sell" it to the publishers. That agent may advise you to shorten it or he/she might decide that it is marketable in its full form. Take the agent's advice.
     
  21. Imposter
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    Charlie.....I believe you raise quite a few very valid points. But I can also see Rei's point...and others....it's all so dizzying.

    Here's the thing, when I sat down to write my novel I had no expectations of ever having it published. I just wanted to see if I could do it. Lol and behold, I did. And after passing it around to numerous friends and family (I know...I know.....grain of salt), each one said that it was as good if not better than a lot of what the genre had on the shelves right now. So I started down the path of looking to have it published. Thats when the 100K word guideline came up. As I posted previously, that meant cutting 25% of the book. And I am not an overly descriptive writer, in fact I feel that's one of my faults is that I don't paint a good enough picture sometimes. But unless my book is the next best thing since sliced bread, its chances of being published is slim.

    I understand publishers have to use some sort of formula to protect their investments, and maybe thats why much of what's published now seems so formulaic? Maybe that's why self-publishing is becoming so popular because authors are tired of having the gate keepers determine what will sell or not.

    I agree with Charlie, the story should determine its own length. It is somebody elses job to decide if the writing is marketable at that length and I'd prefer to not be eliminated from contention before it ever gets to the starting gate.

    But we live in the here and now, so I'll trim my first book as much as I'm comfortable doing and submit it at that length, and in the meantime I'll continue to work on the second book and hope that it comes in closer to 100K.
     
  22. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    Very sensible post, and I can tell, one from experience that I personally lack.

    Confessing that I have zero experience in this matter and do not yet have an agent, according to Dean Koontz book about writing, the name of which I don't recall (it's rare, but I found it at the library and read it!) the advice to "Take the agent's advice," is true, but only to a point. You should certainly take some (and may be most) of their advice, but you don't necessarily have to take all of their advice. Work with your agent. If you feel that you absolutely cannot change a particular part of your book, explain to your agent why. Be willing to take your agents advice, but don't assume that you must always do everything your agent says.
     
  23. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Where did I say anything about letting the story determining the length being arrogant? What is arrogant is assuming that your book is so great that even though people haven't heard of you, publishers will be willing to ignore all the risk factors of publishing an expensive book by an unknown.
     
  24. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    Agents are not the author's adversary. Promoting the book to publishers is a "joint venture" with both parties being "paid" only if the publisher accepts the story. The lit agent has the experience and influence with the publisher. Success will be more likely if the agent and author collaborate.
     
  25. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Very true, Salty, and with any collaboration, if you turn down an idea, you should be able to defend your reason.
     

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