1. U.G. Ridley
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    U.G. Ridley I'm a wizard, Hagrid Supporter

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    Traditional Will high word-counts ruin your chance of getting published first time?

    Discussion in 'Publishing' started by U.G. Ridley, Jul 25, 2016.

    I'm currently writing a book that is in the horror/drama genres. It's extremely character-driven rather than plot-driven, and it also just generally has a lot of layers that I feel like I need to explore in order for the story to turn out well. Therefore, I'm starting to see that the book is probably going to end up pushing far beyond the 60-80k mark that publishers apparently love so much. I've heard that if it's your first time trying to get published, going beyond this is a big no-no, and that you should only go beyond the 80k mark if you're already an established name in the writing world.

    How much truth is there to this notion? Is it really almost unheard of to get published if your first book goes beyond 80k?
     
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  2. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    I have heard an agent say that they can't sell books with word counts above 120k. Check your genre and see what the agents are looking for. If an upper limit word count is given, you should stick to it. Its hard enough to get represented without breaking word count. Cutting your story down in size also is a good exercise, especially if its your first book.

    Best of luck and keep writing.
     
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  3. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd say 80K is toward the low end of the sweet spot for most genres, and horror tends to be pretty long. I'd aim for 80-100 and not panic if I was anywhere under 110.
     
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  4. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Finish it first. I'm sure you can cut it back if needed.
     
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  5. Alex R. Encomienda
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    Alex R. Encomienda Active Member

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    This is what I've been wondering too. I'd say (and I'm not even sure) but only teen books get the 60,000 to 80,000 count. It depends on the story but it is almost impossible to complete a complex plot based novel and fully flesh it out and give it its full potential in under 100,000 words. Especially for what I'm doing, a fantasy.

    Honestly, my ideas could keep going on and on while my novel grows to a juggernaut 300,000 word count but I'm drawing the line at my last idea.

    Damn Cassandra Gemini giving me endless thoughts and shit.
     
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  6. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree about YA often being shorter, and there are categories of Romance that generally have a lower word count.
     
  7. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    A high word count (out of the norm for a genre) can make the hurdles higher to finding an agent and a publisher, especially with a first time author. But the quality of the work is important too.

    Like was suggested, finish the work and then revise, if needed, but write with an eye toward keeping it within the zone of 'acceptable length'. But you won't know where you stand until you have that first draft finished. Many authors' revision efforts tend to cut words from a first draft.
     
  8. Nightstar99
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    Nightstar99 Contributing Member

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    Apparently it just costs more to print a long book so they aren't as keen to publish them. Publishing is a business and if they could print a single page of A5 and sell a million copies for $21.99, they would do.

    That said presumably if they think they will sell a million copies of a 200,000 worder, they will probably print it to do so.
     
  9. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not just printing, but editing as well. That's why even e-first publishers may hesitate with a longer book. And for print books there are extra shipping costs, storage costs, etc.
     
  10. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    In general, 80-120K should be the target range for first time authors. That being said, mine is 240K (800 pages), but is also a highly unusual historical fiction story. As I say in my query, "an epic journey of seventeen thousand miles across three continents in the first century." (No takers yet, just sent them out this week).

    I did see an article that there were 5 contracts awarded to first time authors last year that exceeded $1M, and all of the lengths ranged from 400 to 1000 pages (120K-350K words). There has to be something sellable here, though, something not done before, and written very, very well. Mine I think has not been done before (Romans in China), my readers all say it can't be put down once started. But again, it's what the agents are looking for, something sellable, not what I want to sell.

    Robert Jordan "Wheels of Time" writes in that range, but he is established. And "Hunt for Red October" was in that range for Tom Clancy's first book. It can be done, but choose the subject and genre well.

    It also takes a long time for a long book. Mine was 20 years in the making.
     
  11. FireWater
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    FireWater Active Member

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    I've looked up the word counts for numerous books in the YA fantasy/sci-fi/dystopia genre (since that's what I write), and those tend to be around 95K-110K, so I'm aiming for 90-100 for my WIP.

    With horror it really can depend, but I've seen some thick horror novels. I think it depends on the type of horror -- ones with supernatural element tend to be a little bit longer than the serial killer/"realistic" ones, probably because of the worldbuilding involved.
     
  12. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    And got a response from an agent in 24 hrs for my overweight 240K historical fiction tome, requesting the entire manuscript! So it can be done!
     
  13. FireWater
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    FireWater Active Member

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    Awesome!
    Was the agent able to land a publishing deal? Or was this too recent to know yet?
     
  14. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    Way to0 recent. She promised a reply in about two months (appropriate for the length) and cautioned me the she rejects quite a few of those she accepts. Nevertheless it is a start in what she also said was a very long process. She also cautioned against sharing my query progress on face book. I have, and she was checking out my site. She said that a long list of rejects or unanswered submissions is a reason for agents to reject out of hand, unread. Fortunately, I am not a week into the process, and intend to pull that page.

    As for length, subject of the OP, I think acceptable length depends on subject matter. If it is a story that has been done to death, target for 100K. In my case, to my knowledge, no one has done a fictional story on what contact between Rome and China might have been like, so I seem to be getting some slack. The next step is if they like the style and way I crafted the story, so I am keeping fingers crossed and continuing to send queries.
     
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  15. terobi
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    terobi Contributing Member

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    Depends on genre, but you should be reasonably safe going up to 120k or so with horror, sci-fi, fantasy, historical, etc.

    Though, I wouldn't worry about it for the moment. If you're just on a first draft, you'll almost certainly be able to edit out a good 10% or so once you get to the redrafting stage.

    The main reason those kind of ranges tend to be what publishers are looking for is that it hits the costs vs profit sweet spot. A novel has certain overheads which are the same regardless of length; cover design, marketing, etc. and a firt time author's book that is very short probably can't be sold at a high enough price point to make those costs back. Similarly, a whopping great tome of a book brings with it so many more expenses in editing, printing, binding, shipping, etc. costs that a first-time author is unlikely to shift enough copies to justify the expense.

    It's not just that the range is what "they apparently love so much", it's that they're already gambling on you in the first place. If your book is too long or too short, they're just not going to get enough back for it to be worth it.

    Of course, none of this matters if you're already wildly successful. J. K. Rowling could hand in a ten page pamphlet to her publisher tomorrow and they'd hard bind it and ship it straight out, while I'm pretty sure Brandon Sanderson and George R. R. Martin point and laugh at maximum word counts at this point.
     
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  16. Nightstar99
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    Nightstar99 Contributing Member

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    Wow, well done Lew.

    So just to clarify, would you keep sending your manuscript out until / unless an agent makes a commitment, or are you meant to take it off the market now?
     
  17. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am continuing to send queries, one per day goal, until someone wants me on contract. And the agent was very helpful as I said in the query that I was a neophyte. She advised me not to keep a day by day record of my queries on my author's facebook site (I had started to do so and I guess she checked) as if the process goes on too long, or if I indicate success, it may affect the willingness of other agents to respond... I took that post down!
     
  18. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    Thanks Lew, good point! I'd never have thought but it makes sense :)

    Congratulations on your request, I wish you luck!
     
  19. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Reputable agents don't ask for exclusives (maybe there are some exceptions but in general...) and will expect you to keep querying while they read.
     
  20. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, she just requested that I let her know if I accepted a contract with another agent before her deadline, also SOP I believe
     
  21. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hey, @Lew, do you have a link to this article?
     
  22. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wish I had saved the link, but I didn't... trying to locate it.
     
  23. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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  24. U.G. Ridley
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    U.G. Ridley I'm a wizard, Hagrid Supporter

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  25. Sack-a-Doo!
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