- By: Jessica Faust | Date: May 10 2011
My query was just recently rejected by Ms. Faust, and part of her rejection mentioned my word count being too high (230,000 words). I mentioned in the query that the work is divided into four parts, and I debated with myself to promote the first part (51,000 words, which is the shortest) or the whole work.
My question is, do agents prefer to see a small number of words over the larger picture of the entire set? I’m afraid to add more to the first part, since that may make it seem watered down or padded somehow, but I also don’t want to lower my chances of getting a request for a partial or a synopsis.
This email is a little confusing, and I think what’s confusing is “parts.” Are you saying your book is divided into four parts like chapters? Or are you calling each book a part and this is really a four-book series?
In all honesty, some of this is going to depend on your genre, but typically 230,000 words is too high and 51,000 words is a little too low, for a novel. It’s the rare author who is allowed the opportunity to write and publish (traditionally, that is) a serial novel. Stephen King has done it, but not many others. What this means is that the novel was published in different parts, with readers required to buy each part as they were reading. A debut novelist, however, doesn’t have that kind of audience, so it’s better just to write a book.
Agents prefer to know the word count of the book you are pitching them. If this is planned as one published novel, then you would need to use the entire word count. Parts in a book are a great way to break up the book for readers, but they are unlikely to be published as individual books.
It's common for a writer who's written something of that length to think s/he has a story that can be divided into several novels. Usually what s/he has is one story with a lot of extra words.
I think the writer needs to do some trimming.
I could be wrong, but I'm thinking the author is doing what fiction authors like John Irving do. In other words, there's a table of contents, and the book is divided into "parts," and each "part" has a series of chapters. Each chapter has a title. It's usually done with long novels that cover the entire lives of the characters. Part One: Childhood. Part Two: The Early Years. Part Three: Growing Older.
"I think the writer needs to do some trimming.
I can think of several debut secondary world fantasies that are over 200k: Kushiel's Dart, In the Name of the Wind, Garden's of the Moon, The Prince of Nothing, The Blade Itself, Perdido Street Station. If that's the genre the author is working in, the length might work.
230,000 seems really long. I wonder if these parts aren't (or perhaps shouldn't be) books.
Just so the writer understands, part of the reason agents are leery of huge books is because publishers are.
And the reason why publishers are is because it costs more to publish a book that big; the pages require stitches in addition to glue.
That reduces the profit margin for the book, which makes it a bigger a gamble. If you're an unknown writer, you're already a gamble; they don't want even longer odds on your book perhaps turning a profit.
M. Caliban –
I agree that secondary-world fantasies can have a higher word count range, but 200K is still way at the top end.
Perdido Street Station was not Mieville's debut novel. His debut, King Rat, was a more standard length.
Kushiel's Dart was published in 2001. Publishing has changed a lot since then.
Also, maybe those books had to be 200K, but I think it's more likely that Anon 10:07 has it right. The OP might benefit from finding a critique group/partner or a reader familiar with the genre, who can offer some feedback on whether the book feels too long.
I know everyone abides by the rule of thumb (and in large part the rule of thumb is right) but it always narks me when, without any other reference than a single number with a 'K' at the end, someone's novel is pigeon-holed as being overweight.
Yes, yes I know this is how publishers will react, and thereby agents, and thereby chances for debut publication are severely diminished. BUT (and it is a big but) that's a comment on the salebility of the book, not the quality of it.
(and yes I am biased, naturally, as my first ever first draft was 287K which in the first edit went to 206K)
To quote Brandon Sanderson (badly): I wanted to write 250 thousand word books. I didn't want to write 80 or 90 thousand word books. So I just got better until they couldn't NOT publish me."
I think Elantris (202K) was his 7th or 8th book.
All I'm saying is there's another way
Like several others have mentioned, it's not unheard of for fantasy authors to publish debut novels over 200k words, but in any other genre, it just doesn't happen (unless you're Stephen King or J.K. Rowling or Stephenie Meyer and can do whatever you want). If this author isn't writing fantasy or SF, though, he or she needs to trim the book down a lot. Like in half. Or maybe try to make it into a series, but that requires making sure the first book can stand on its own, since that's what the agent is going to focus on selling, and there's no guarantee for books #2 or 3.
And if this author is thinking it could be a four-book series, then I hope he/she's writing MG or maybe YA, because 50k-60k is too short for most other genres. Maybe the book is fantastic, but most people in the industry aren't going to want to gamble.
I just thought I would leave a bit of encouragement for the writer. It is possible to trim over HALF of the words in our book and discover a waaaay better story in the process. At one point, I had a 220,000 word fantasy novel myself. But I took a knife to it, and over the course of several edits (with the help of a crit partner) I got it down to the 100,000 word length it is today. This version of the novel is so much more cohesive. Maybe you don't have 120,000 words of fat to trim, but give it a shot! You can always save the original as a different file.
I wonder if you can go the "serial novel" route in a self-published ebook format selling each Part for $.99 . . . Methinks the author would need an online following before getting much traction, but perhaps this is a solution?