Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Word Counts – What are they good for…

I found this post on The Swivet from last year and thought some of the quotes were interesting.

There was a time about ten or so years ago when bigger word counts were the norm and not the exception. Like everything, the book industry goes through trends. But these days, editors of adult fiction - even editors of epic fantasy - squirm a little when presented with a manuscript that runs over 110k words. The fact is that those bookstore buyers responsible for populating bookstore shelves - the gatekeepers - are prone to buying fewer copies of longer books. Books with a higher page count cost more to physically produce, resulting in a higher per-book manufacturing cost, meaning even more copies will need to be sold to make the estimated P&L work. Publishers want to make money; bookstores want to make money. Do the math.

Later she goes on to say…

mainstream fiction = Depending upon the kind of fiction, this can vary: chick lit runs anywhere from 80k word to 100k words; literary fiction can run as high as 120k but lately there's been a trend toward more spare and elegant shorter literary novels; thrillers also run in somewhere around the 90k to 100k mark; historical fiction can run as high as 140k words or more (and again, these are just rough guides - there are always exceptions). And anything under 50k is usually considered a novella, which isn't something agents or editors ever want to see unless the editor has commissioned a short story collection. (Agent Kristin Nelson has a good post about writers querying about manuscripts that are too short.)

science fiction and fantasy = Here's where most writers seem to have problems: most editors I've spoken to recently at major SF/F houses want books that fall into the higher end of the adult fiction you see above; a few of them told me that 100k words is the ideal manuscript size for good space opera or fantasy; for a truly spectacular epic fantasy, they'll consider 120k /130k. Regardless of the size, they'll but expect to be able to get the author to pare it down even further before publication. (Editors will often make exceptions for sequels, by the way. Notice that the page count in both J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series and George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series gets progressively higher.) But even authors who have been published for years and should know better will routinely turn in manuscripts that exceed the editor's requested length by 30k to 50k words, which inevitably means more work for that author because editors don't back down - if a contract calls for a book that is 100k words and you turn in one that is 130k, expect to go back and find a way to shave 30k words off that puppy before your manuscript is accepted. (And remember that part of the payout schedule of an author's advance often dangles on that one important word: acceptance.) If an agent or editor finds a truly outstanding book that runs in the 200k range (yes, it happens!), it may end up getting cut into two books to make life easier for everyone.

If you want to read more here is the link The Swivet


Marianne said...

So, basically relooking at everything I've done for word count is probably a good idea if I intend to try to do anything with it. But if I just want it for me, let the words flow? :)

JP Garner said...

Write you story and then go back through and trim and cut, thats what most of the editors and agents say anyway.

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