1. Gidget

    Gidget Member

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    MG vs YA and word count

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Gidget, Jun 15, 2017.

    I've been dancing around a topic whenever I work on my query letter -- my audience.

    I know that's a really bad sign. But, it's the truth.

    Although I had a young adult audience in mind when I started my novel, I've now learned that a twelve-year old protagonist (almost thirteen) is too young for the YA audience. I'd be happy to target the MG market (in a not-dumbed-down fashion), but the length of the manuscript is 98,000 words.

    Aging my character is not really an option and sufficiently lowering the word count (it started out at 158,000 words), I can't conceive as being possible either.

    Does an unknown writer have a snowball's chance of attracting an agent or publisher for a YA novel that has a younger-than-usual protagonist (there are many adult interactions with the MC and their backstories are pertinent to him) or getting representation for a REALLY long MG novel?
     
  2. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    Short answer, yes. But it really is a snowball's chance in hell.

    I'm convinced every manuscript can be cut, even by the 30k words you probably need. Rather than trust on your manuscript being the one in a million that defies all the odds, why not go another round with experienced betas and see if cutting it further IS possible?

    Alternatively, write something new of an acceptable length and leave this manuscript for later, when you're not a new author and have some leverage with publishers.

    Also... MG really isn't "dumbed down" YA, but I'm sure you know that and were just being flippant!
     
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  3. Gidget

    Gidget Member

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    THANK YOU FOR POINTING THAT OUT! Bad choice of words, especially since I find myself (an adult) reading and ENJOYING a lot of MG books.

    I wasn't intentionally being flippant as much as using the words of someone "in the profession" who critiqued my manuscript for a contest, congratulating me on not "dumbing down" or "speaking down" to the younger audience.

    Thanks for your reply.
     
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  4. ToDandy

    ToDandy Senior Member

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    Your novel is going to be as long as it needs to be. If that length is too long for a new author, then Tenderiser's suggestion is a good one. Perhaps shelve it for another project until you're in a better position in your career to nab an agent or publisher for it.

    98,000 words is uncommon for middle grade, but not unheard of. Most land within the pretty massive range of 45,000 to 85,000. Fantasy and science fiction middle grade have a history of getting away with longer word counts same as they do for YA and adult. Maybe try to see if you can shave another 10,000 off. It'll probably be hard, but 88,000 would put you in range of a publishable number, especially if your genre is fantasy or science fiction.

    Here are some common middle grade books and their word counts for reference

    Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone- 78,000
    The Lightning Thief- 87,000
    Midnight for Charlie Bone- 65,000
    Artemis Fowl- 59,000
    The Invention of Hugo Cabret- 165,000
    Holes- 48,000
    Charlets Web- 43,000

    So it's all across the board. But in general, aim for 85,000 or lower when pitching a middle grade novel.
     
  5. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    85,000 is far too high for middle grade. There are exceptions, some of which you've cited, but they are exceptions. 60k is the upper limit for safety.
     
  6. minstrel

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    But who makes these rules? Who is the Minister of Novel Lengths? I'm not looking for a generic answer like "Publishers, of course." I want names! Specifically, who are the people (names, positions, addresses, social security numbers, next of kin, etc.) who make the decisions? Whose children do we kidnap and ransom if we think the rules are arbitrary and unjust? What criteria are they using to control our work, anyway?

    Who, specifically, assumes the authority to decide that 86,000 words is too many for the delicate, feeble brains of children? And is anybody else around here kind of offended that someone else is making that decision on behalf of their children?
     
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  7. ToDandy

    ToDandy Senior Member

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    There is a difference for upper middle grade. There are plenty of longer novels targeted towards that age group within that word count range. Three of which I listed above, and I could find you many many more examples. Admittedly, most would be fantasy and science fiction, because for whatever reason (no matter what age group you're writing) publishers and agents seem more forgiving of longer word counts for those two genres.


    It's stupid, but I assume it comes down to market research and what sells better to that age. Thicker books may look more intimidating to younger readers (not that I've ever seen actual evidence of this). Who knows why they decided this. Usually, I just write my stories and however long it needs to be is how long it is going to be.
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2017
  8. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    There is a difference, but 85k is not a safe length for upper MG in any genre.

    There are exceptions, but they're exceptions.

    Have a Google and look at reliable sources if you don't want to take my word for it. :)

    Writer's Digest - up to 55k for upper MG

    Ask the Agent - 50k, a little longer if it's "really special"
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2017
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  9. minstrel

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Higher mountains are more intimidating to mountaineers, too, but it also motivates them. When I was a kid, I loved taking on long books (science fiction books, at the time - I was a total sci-fi nerd and proud of it when I was a preteen).
     
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  10. ToDandy

    ToDandy Senior Member

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    Great links, but again I'll cite genre differences. Sure your links are claiming 50k for middle grade but they are also saying 70K to 11oK for adult when it's well known that fantasy regularly doubles that on a normal day, even for debut novels. In fact, I can't remember the last fantasy novel I read in the adult genre under 100k. I also read a lot of middle grade fantasy (since I write a bunch of it) and I'd say about half of my recent reads break the 70k mark. That's why it's equally important to know both the age and the genre you're pitching and which conventions each adheres to.
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2017
  11. minstrel

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Question: If length is so important to the reader (there's that mythical Reader again, darn it!) then why don't publishers print the length right on the cover of the book? "Warning to young readers: This book is 78,463 words long, and is therefore beyond your ability to comprehend." This could be used as a promotional device! Print in bold letters, "Hey, kids! This book is only 41,012 words long! You'll love how short it is!"

    I am only half joking.

    You could apply the same standards to other arts, such as sculpture. "This sculpture is only three feet tall, and is approved for all viewers." "Attention: This is the statue of David, by Michelangelo. Viewers are strongly cautioned, not because the subject is a naked male, but because the statue is seventeen feet tall and therefore requires a serious effort to look at." "WARNING: This is the Statue of Liberty! Children and most adults are forbidden from looking at it because it is 151 feet tall. If you feel you MUST view this statue, insert a dollar into the Stat-U-Scope and look through the eyepiece. The Stat-U-Scope will make the Statue of Liberty appear to be only four feet tall, and therefore safe for all viewers."

    We cannot allow our children's minds to be expanded. They might, you know, learn, or even (gasp!) become interested in something!

    :eek:o_O
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2017
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  12. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    I can see you're not going to change your views in light of evidence (in fact, you clearly didn't even click the links I provided since I just found out one of them doesn't work...), but for other people reading this thread I'm going to say it anyway:

    85k is not a safe length for MG in any genre. Keep it under 60k for upper MG, and a lot less than that for MG that isn't SFF. MG books over 60k are exceptions. Any reliable source will confirm this.

    Debut adult novels do not regularly exceed 140k in length. They are exceptions. Any reliable source will confirm this.

    As I said to the OP, it IS possible to have your book published if it's outside standard lengths, but you ARE counting on your book to be an exception in an industry where the odds are already stacked way against you.
     
  13. Brindy

    Brindy Senior Member

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    My view is that a story takes as many words as it needs to tell a complete story well... BUT, if you are writing with a view to getting published the more it complies with industry 'norms' the more chance you are giving yourself of being picked up. There is not really a right and a wrong on word count, but there is a standard that the publishers generally look for and if your manuscript fits within that it must surely help.

    In printed format, a long novel can look imposing and put people off, others love the idea of a long read so that they can really engage with the characters. Have you had anyone read your work to give you feedback on how it works for them, what their view was on the length?
     
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  14. Gidget

    Gidget Member

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    I had people read the original length but, other than for my two sons, they were adults. I was thinking for the YA audience at that point. Now, it's back out there at 98,000 words and, yesterday, my sister-in-law told me that I kept her up until midnight because she kept saying, "One more chapter." That was a huge compliment. But, again, she would be a better example of the YA audience.

    I haven't been able to attract any readers in my target age group. Other than for graphic novels, my nieces and nephews don't read or are too young. I guess I'll have to try to "bully" the graphic novel kids (only kidding!). I don't know any experienced beta readers. But... now that I think of it... the wife of a guy at work is a MG teacher. I haven't mixed my work life and writing life, but it might soon be time for that to happen.

    As when I was told that publishers wouldn't even consider looking at a debut author's YA Fantasy over 100,000 and I faced the challenge and reduced the word count from 158k to 98k, I'm feeling a challenge to try for an acceptable MG count.

    As I lay in bed last night, I was toying with moving a significant event to the sequel. Although the scene still would have taken place in the timeframe of the first story, it might be able to be weaved into the second as a reflection. In fact, I already transferred snippets of the scene's dialogue as an echo in the sequel.

    As much as I'd like my novel to be the exception in the market, rising to the top of an agent's slush pile is hard enough without having an extra 30,000-40,000 words weighing it down if I can do anything to help it. If I can't, I'll try pitching it at the fewest words possible and PRAY to be the exception. If that doesn't work, I've got an adult dark fantasy simmering on the back burner. I'll turn the heat up on that one.

    Thanks for all the great feedback. I appreciate the passion of those who believe that longer can be better. Unfortunately, there's so much in today's media that vies for a reader's attention. I understand publishers being cautious when it comes to considering anything outside the parameters of proven market statistics.

    Again, a huge thank you to everyone!
     
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  15. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    I think you have a very sensible attitude, which is one of the most important factors in getting your manuscript represented and sold. Best of luck!
     
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  16. Gidget

    Gidget Member

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    Your input has helped significantly. Thank you!
     
  17. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    Random silliness aside:

    This sounds like you have a problem with MG and YA in general, not just in regards to length. I mean, there's no reason a short book can't be educational, deep, and mind-expanding, right? Most of the deepest adult books I've read are pretty short.

    So it sounds like you're equating MG and YA with the old "dumbed down" nonsense.

    Lots of kids read adult books instead of YA/MG. Lots of kids read adult books as well as YA/MG. Lots of kids build their reading enthusiasm by reading only YA/MG, and then go on to read adult books when they're older. I'm tempted to set off on a histrionic adventure to match yours, but I think I'll just leave it at: This seems fine to me. I don't see anything to get excited about.
     
  18. minstrel

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    My apologies if I sounded like that. I didn't mean to. Of course, MG/YA books can be deep and educational, as can short books. I didn't mean to imply they couldn't.

    What I did mean was that I disapprove of shutting kids out of certain books for an arbitrary reason, in this case, length. It sounds to me like some high-handed jerks (there's a better, less offensive word for what I mean, but it's past 4:30 am and I can't think of it right now) at publishing houses are predetermining for kids what they should be reading. I think kids ought to have the right to read anything they care to without adults standing in the way, filtering out books for any reason. Keeping books out of kids hands because they're long is no better than any other form of censorship.
     
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  19. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I agree, but I don't think anyone's keeping kids from reading other books, are they? Or if they are, it would be parents/librarians/teachers/whomever rather than publishers? Yes, MG/YA books are marketed toward certain age brackets, but if kids want to read something that isn't marketed directly to them, they can.
     
  20. Gidget

    Gidget Member

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    I think that Minstrel is saying that the censorship is the result of publishers not being open to MG books of longer lengths... therefore, requiring writers to scale-down a story and never submitting the longer version.

    It's really a catch-22 in my opinion. Publishers don't want MG novels over a certain word count because the market doesn't currently support them, but there's little chance that the market will call for longer books if so few, if any, ever come available for MG readers to choose.

    All that being noted, the publishers are the ones who have the control in this matter, like it or not.
     
  21. NoGoodNobu

    NoGoodNobu Contributor Contributor

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    Now I slightly disagree with this.

    As a child who was given mature novels to read as a young child (Shakespeare when I was six, Hunchback of Notre Dame when 10, etc.) I'm actually planning on holding back on which novels & films my future children engage with until older than I was.

    It's not necessarily the content, but how a story engages that content. If you think Phoebus shacking up with Esmeralda then standing in stoic silence without so much as pitying glance as she pleads for his help while she & her mother (she only just met/reunited with) are dragged off then burned at the stake didn't have ramifications on my child psyche, you'd be very much mistaken. I was considered a very morbid child and dark images haunted my head all the time.

    While I was raised in a (Protestant) Christian home, I was introduced slowly to the depravity of the human condition fairly early—but it was more gradual and at levels of engagement children can understand & handle. We learnt about murder with Cain & Abel but were not afforded grizzly details. We were taught about the swindling, the deception, and the rivalries of the patriarchs & their wives. Then later we might hear about Noah's getting drunk off his butt and his sons mocking his nackedness. But the adultery of David, the incest of Lot's daughters with their father, & incestous rape of Tamar by Ammon came much later when we had the maturity to deal with it.

    While I did have a higher intelligence & reading comprehension than a lot of my peers (when I was young, that's not true now), those topics and how they are dealt with were definitely beyond my maturity. Unfortunately, novels are written at an adult level where the author isn't trying to introduce these concepts or actions, but are trying to have the reader intellectually engage with them in various ways.

    Now I think different children are mature enough to deal with different topics uniquely at their own ages, but I won't let my child read Lolita when they're 11.

    When it comes to book length, that's laughable. I was always hungering after longer stories, and often I felt like the pacing was off on some of the average length books, like they rushed to fit everything necesary in. I'd've much preferred having an Anna Karenina length novel than those measly couple hundred pages.

    Though Pride & Prejudice length was my favourite: not too long, not too short. It also was an adult novel that did not deal with topics outside my maturity level.

    I don't hold to censorship, but I do believe there are more appropriate times & places & methods than others.

    My children's first introduction of sex shouldn't be the rape scene of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

    There's a proper time & place for everything, and while I will be having these conversations and encouraging them to engage with provoking works, it will be a gradual introduction based on individual maturity.
     
  22. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Everything in blue below is an evidence-free personal theory:

    I've always assumed that length restrictions were heavily about the added cost of a longer book--more editing, more proofreading, more typesetting, more paper, for more words. (ebooks eliminate "more paper" but the rest is there.)

    And that therefore it's not a matter of "A 100K book will POISON YOUR CHILDREN!!!" or "A 200K book will KILL ALL THE ADULTS!" but instead, "We don't know if we'll make any money on your first book, so we're only going to commit to the least expensive project."

    So, the idea that the market won't accept a 100K children's book isn't the point, whether it's true or false. The fact that the market WILL accept a 60K, and therefore cheaper to produce, children's book, is the point.


    That's my theory. I have no clue whether I'm right.
     
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  23. xanadu

    xanadu Contributor Contributor

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    This was always my understanding as well.
     
  24. Gidget

    Gidget Member

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    I have sensed this also and try to keep it at the forefront of my mind when chopping word-count.

    A friend of mine once shared a story with me (I don't recall if she told me where she had heard it). A sculptor was sculpting a statue of an elephant and an admirer asked him how he was able to sculpt an elephant from a simple block of marble. The sculptor replied that he merely removed anything that wasn't the elephant. This, my friend said, was the secret to writing. Remove everything that isn't the story.

    Now, it's fine to have a not-too-hefty-elephant, but a too skinny elephant is a sickly one. Also, there is only so much that can be removed from an elephant's trunk or ears before it no longer looks like an elephant at all. In today's publishing climate, the MG and YA writer is tasked with creating the skinniest, most impressive elephant that he/she can sculpt.
     
  25. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    But that's really not what "censorship" means.

    And I think there are enough "experimental" longer books out there (often written by more experienced/successful writers who've earned the right to have a chance taken) that publishers would probably notice if the market shifted.
     

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