Pub Rants

Too Short

 66 Comments |  Share This:    

STATUS: Traveling yet again today. I know. Go figure. I’ll be happy when June comes and things can settle down at the office.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? No music at the moment

My agent friends and I just recently discussed an interesting trend on our chat loop—queries for novels with really short word counts (like 50,000 or 60,000 words) that aren’t category romance, cozy mysteries, or YA.

Queries for “full-length” novels.

In fact, according to one agent friend, she says that about half the queries she receives highlights this short word length.

We are all stymied by this.

Where are writers getting the info that this might be an appropriate length for a work? That it would be a marketable length? Standard word length is usually between 70,000 to 100,000 words for a novel. Fantasy can push up to 110,000 but for a debut, it’s going to be a tough go if the word count is higher.

Now I have been told that word parameters are more flexible in the mystery genre but because I don’t rep that, I couldn’t say.

However, all the agents agree that these queries usually receive a NO response because such a work just wouldn’t be marketable (outside of category romance, cozies, and YA).

66 Responses

  1. andrea said:

    Kristin, do you know what appropriate word count for a short story collection is? 50K-70K? More? Less? (I know you don’t rep them, I know they aren’t super marketable, etc., but some people do and it’s just really hard to find the info.)

  2. kis said:

    I think what’s led to this problem is book-buying trends at drug and grocery stores. The idea is the thinner the book, the more copies will fit on a rack–70 000 words means there’s room for seven books. 150 000 means just two or three.

    It’s like all those cat-breeders who are selectively breeding the persian’s nose right out of existence, just because a pushed-in face is desirable for the breed. Some people will always take what’s desirable and push it to the extreme. Authors translate this very minor consideration to mean the thinner the better. They don’t seem to realize there’s a limit to how thin a book can be, and still have people be willing to spend money on it.

    As for a limit of 110 000 words in the fantasy genre, how married are you to that? I mean, they don’t call it a Big Fat Fantasy (BFF) for nothing.

  3. MidnightMuse said:

    I’ve been (unsuccessfully thus far) trying to market my Sci-Fi novel of 160,390 words – and I started to wonder if that was TOO fat ?? Sure, maybe *I* could lose a few pounds, but . . .

  4. Brooke said:

    I wonder if it’s a result of National Novel Writing Month (November) gaining in popularity. NaNo novels are 50,000 words, and over the last few years, it’s exploded in popularity.

    Lots of people are using that as a springboard to their first draft… and unfortunately some of these folks don’t understand the revision process.

  5. kis said:

    midnight muse,

    first, I would round it down to 160 000 in the estimate. I mean, that 390 words is less than two MS pages, right?

    Then, I would go through it with a fine-toothed comb. You’d be amazed how many words you can shave off by cutting all superfluous examples of “and” and “but, and rearranging the odd sentence from passive to active voice.

    My MS was originally in the 190 000 word range. On my first go-around, I got a request for the full from a reputable agent who eventually passed. She loved my writing but recommended that I pare it down–even remove some sub-plots entirely. Over the next several months, I coldly did as she suggested.

    A line-by-line edit and about 45 000 words later, I think I have something that will work. Don’t know if Agent Kristin will request the full–it’s a little heavy for her, I think–but she did ask for a partial and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that my writing will dazzle her.

    As for word-count in general, SFF will always be higher, because you have to incorporate how your world or civilization works, and that takes up room on the page. It’s just a good thing Robert Jordan’s still out there. Next to him, anyone would look reticent.:)

  6. joanr16 said:

    Most readers have no idea of the word count of the novel they’ve just put down. I categorize Charles Dickens and Stephen King’s books as “honkin’ huge” (and Mr. King, bless him, could use a much sterner editor for all his novels), and something like Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead as a “novella” (and flawlessly tight). I was just lucky that my own women’s/literary manuscript came out at around 90K. In early drafts didn’t think I had enough ideas to make it past 60K, but I was wrong!

  7. Nonny said:

    Hmm. I’d been hearing around the blogosphere — I can’t remember where exactly, sorry — for awhile that “shorter” novels were coming back into style. To the point, according to a couple folks, that anything over 100k would be difficult to sell, if not impossible.

    (I really wish I could remember who said that … it was something like six months ago I read it, and all I remember was that it was an author or industry professional. I want to say someone in the SF/F field, but again, I don’t remember.)

    Given your post, I’m going to assume that this isn’t actually the case. 🙂

  8. December Quinn said:

    Andrea, short story wordcount varies. My published shorts are about 8k each, and most I’ve seen run in the 7-12 area, but everybody is different. The best thing to do is to try and get an average by doing a loose count of the words in the publication. Just multiply words per line x number of lines. It should give you a ballpark, at least.

    Misnigh moon, also take out “that”. Like, “the way that he moved” can become “the way he moved”. Or “She had no idea that te wizrd was evil” becomes “she had no idea the wizard was evil.” Look for “was” too. I take out every “that” and “was I ossible can, and with a ms that big I bet you can shave quite a few. Just a suggestion.

    Kristin, I have no idea why word count is so short, but I’m inclined to agree with joanr16. People just have no idea what the word count is supposed to be. There seem to be more markets opening up to shorter works, too. I believe Harlequin just dropped its minumums by about 20k. (I could be wrong, but I could swear I read that recently.)

  9. Anonymous said:

    There is at least one publisher in Writer’s Market, maybe it is Avalon or Avon? Anyway, they suggest they want 40,000-70,000 word manuscripts, maybe that is part of the reason for the trend?

  10. Anonymous said:

    kis – thank you for the advice. I wrote with the aid of an editor – but your suggestions ring true and I shall go over my manuscript with a magnifying glass and fat red pen (!) Thank you.

    Luckily the completed sequels all stand around the 80 – 90k mark.

    And equally fortunate – Agents tend to forget your name completely after stuffing that SASE with the rejection!

  11. lorraine said:

    Wow. For fantasy? 110,000 words?

    I was so shocked by this I had to go pull my favorite fantasies off the shelf. All were first books published within the last five years, and all were pretty heavily marketed to women.

    They ranged from 200,000 up to 315,000.

    Even The Time Traveler’s Wife came in at around 165,000.

    And the thing is, I can’t imagine these wonderful stories being told in any fewer words.

    This is a little discouraging. I wonder if it’s a fairly recent publishing trend.

  12. kathie said:

    My agent had me revise my book with shortening as a goal. It came in around 60 K. But it started out about 82. I def. did what she asked me to…

  13. Andrea said:

    Oh, thanks Quinn, but I don’t have a problem with individual stories, just in trying to figure out how long a book-length manuscript of short stories is supposed to be. All I know is “shorter than novels” and that the indie press contests for short story collections will take a manuscript of 150-300 pages without a font specified. But a word count range would be SO much more helpful.

  14. Ally Carter said:

    I can’t speak for publishing trends–that’s Kristin’s domain. But I can say that, in my opinion, most books are improved by tightening.

    I cut 70 manuscript pages out of my YA. It was HARD work, and I didn’t do it because the book needed to be shorter–I did it because the book needed to be better. (Kathie, that may be why your agent recommended cuts–tightening.)

    I imagine what Kristin, and the industry, is concerned about with new writers and very short books is that they’ve written short (as opposed to tight) stories. If a book is too short people will feel it isn’t worth their money.

    It’s about balance. My books will tend to be on the shorter side because I’ve seen the benefit of writing tight and having a story that moves at an exciting pace. However, the reader needs to get his/her money’s worth and that can’t been done if you haven’t fully rounded out characters or set the scenes or allowed tension to build–any of the things that make for great reading. And this takes time. If your story is moving and people have reason to care about your characters, they’ll be happy to stick with you for 80,000 words or more.

    So there are two things about word count I’ve come to believe:

    1. don’t write a long book because you didn’t edit.

    And 2. don’t write a short book because you don’t have enough story for a novel.

    Finally, it’s the oldest novel length cliche in the world, but it’s true: your story needs to be the length it needs to be. If you’ve told it beautifully and fully and it comes in at 45,000 words, that’s okay. It just isn’t a mainstream novel–i.e. something your average person will pay $16 for.

  15. kis said:

    It can be painful to edit–especially if you’re losing characters or scenes you’ve become attached to and you love, that just aren’t necessary to move the story forward. Even some of the smaller changes I made–voice and sentence structure–can be difficult. When you tighten your prose, it loses something, but it can gain something, too. In some cases, I cut whole pages of info-dump and found better ways to work it in elsewhere.

    Some authors are guilty of infuriating redundancy, especially between books in a series, where they think they have to constantly remind the reader what went on two books ago. Come on, a brief allusion will do, and if I need more, I’ll go back and read it again. No need to repeat the entire episode in some boring, distant narrative. I could name a bunch of names, but, you know, that wouldn’t be polite. Maybe if this was snarky’s blog…

  16. Anonymous said:

    I found word count advice in several writing/editing books and they agreed that a first-time novel should run on the shorter side. So, I wrote a 60,000-word novel. That seemed like an okay length to me, because the submission guidelines for the smaller publishers in my niche market asked for 55,000 to 75,000 words.

    I also came across several discussions (in print and online magazines) about the modern person’s reading habits: shorter chapters as well as shorter books are apparently what the modern reader is looking for. A fast-paced subway read. Not a beach tome you read for hours at a time.

    I was taken completely by surprise when an agent told me that anything under 85,000 words is an automatic rejection.

  17. Anonymous said:

    I’m betting it’s that NaNoWriMo as someone else also stated. I chatted with MANY folks on the boards there who seem seriously confused about the business of writing generally and specifically about the fact that 50K ain’t a book. 🙂 [And as someone pointed out, the whole revision thing. Many of them said, ‘Revision? Huh?’]

    National Novel Writing Month. Someone needs to slap someone and rename that to National WIP Writing Month. 😉


  18. Jana DeLeon said:

    I don’t think the confusion is coming from NaNoWriMo. If you’ve read No Plot No Problem, by Chris Baty, the genius behind NaNoWriMo, he says right out that 50k is not long enough for most novel sales. But since the point of NaNoWriMo is a process dump in 30 days time, the assumption is that a lot would be left out and once edited (assuming you had enough plot to begin with), the book would reach an acceptable length for its market.

    The shorter book guidelines are coming from some of the publishers themselves and that’s what all the buzz is. Harlequin/S has taken some of their lines down by 5-10k. Also, publishers are asking single title romance/chicklit writers to keep it under 100k. Your established people can obviously get away with more, but as a newbie, you ought to stick to the unwritten word.

    Some mysteries tend to run on the shorter side, but the ones I read that do are part of a series and maybe that’s why they go ahead with the shorter length. After all, the reader has more books coming with the same characters to keep them interested. The characters established in the first book don’t complete their ARC there. It goes on for as long as the series can sustain its wind.

    This is all about cost – production cost and shipping cost and then has something to do with how many books you can place on the shelf, especially if it’s an outward facing display.

    All genres will have different suggestions for word count. I’m sure fantasy/SF will be a bit longer due to the world-building, etc. Your best bet in any case is to get the information directly from the publisher or an agent knowledgable in that genre.

  19. Vernieda said:

    As for a limit of 110 000 words in the fantasy genre, how married are you to that? I mean, they don’t call it a Big Fat Fantasy (BFF) for nothing.

    When we say BFF, what subgenre of fantasy are we talking about? Epic fantasy, right? At least that’s the subgenre I put GRRM, Robert Jordan, etc in and to me, they’re the epitome of BFF. But last I heard, epic fantasy wasn’t being acquired as heavily by publishers, for the reason that any new books by new writers would have to compete with Martin and Jordan, who dominate the market.

    I know someone who has as fantasy novel coming out next year. IIRC, the original manuscript weighed in at 120K. One of the requested revisions was to cut 20K, possibly 30K.

  20. Janny said:

    I think it’s interesting that the distinction is made that except for romances, cozies, etc….this extremely low word count is pretty much unacceptable. Interesting, because many of us who write romance wish it were for US, too. Many of us find it extremely frustrating that the trend in romance publishing has progressed steadily in the direction of “the shorter, the better.”

    Harlequin Romances and Silhouette Romances used to benignly welcome books that pushed the 65K word count; now they’re talking 50-55K, and if you hit 60K you’re probably being told to cut. Some of their other lines run longer, but “longer” in this case still means 70-80K, still beneath what’s generally a minimum word count for a mainstream novel.

    Avalon used to stand out like a sore thumb in that they wanted things 40K to 45K, and not much over that, for their romance books. Now, the latest lines from Harlequin and Silhouette are running 65K or LESS, and the insiders tell us, once again, that the editors want ’em quick, quick, quick.

    I don’t hold much stock in NaNoWriMo being to blame–although clueless writers who participate in it are! (I can’t even imagine people who consider themselves novelists approaching the word “revision” with “huh?”) One of the primary factors I’ve kept hearing from editors and agents for why they want things short isn’t shelf space, it’s attention span. There’s a perception out there that we’re selling to a bunch of sixth graders with an attention span of about as long as it takes to click a remote, and if we don’t give ’em something that moves, moves, moves, all the time, they’re not going to read at all.

    …To which we’re all supposed to say, “Horrors!” But to which the wiser of us say, “Those people wouldn’t read anyway.” 🙂

    If I took a poll of most writers I know in terms of what they’re doing to their WIPs or even contracted books, the overwhelming majority of them would be cutting. Yes, sometimes a book needs cutting–tightening being a better word. But not ALL the time; unfortunately, in at least a couple of market segments, we don’t much have a choice.

    As for the agent who opined that anything under 85K is an “automatic rejection”? Hey, would that it were so, at least in some cases. Most of us are in the opposite situation: trying to wedge a romantic relationship, a legitimate plot, sometimes a subplot (for pity’s sake), secondary characters, and rich emotional development into around 250 pages…

    …and then getting odd little rejection notes back saying our books “lack depth.” (Like they could be anything but shallow trying to cram all that stuff in such a small box?)

    So maybe someone should let the genre publishers know what monster they’ve helped create…and maybe some sanity will return to this word count thing…or at least some flexibility, in truly allowing a story to be told in whatever word length that story needs.

    It is to be fervently hoped. 🙂


  21. Anonymous said:

    I was at a writers’ conference recently where one of the authors leading a workshop spoke to this issue. She said it was in her contract with her very big NY publisher that her word count stand at 70,000. There was very little wiggle room. The publisher gave her some leeway with her second novel: 72,000.

    But Ally is correct, write the very best story you can without consideration for word count. Just remember two recent National Book Award winners: The Hours by Michael Cunningham and Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier. I doubt either writer concerned himself very much with the picayune details of market.

  22. Agent Jennifer said:

    Lorraine…. I really want to know which fantasy you have that’s 315,000 words. (If it’s Strange and Norrell, I think that was a very singular book and I sure wouldn’t use it as a benchmark.)

    On this word count thing with fantasy, in general I’d say that most of my clients are coming in between 100K to 150K (though there are exceptions). Anything pushing that limit is more difficult, particularly for a debut author.

    In mystery, I’m finding that word count varies. Sweeter cozy-style novels tend to be around 60-75K. But the more suspense/thriller types are still 100K (or more).

    Outside of category romance (Harlequin, that is), my authors are still writing at the 90-100K range.

    There are always going to be exceptions. But I have shared Kristin’s experience of late in getting a large number of very short novels (even as low as 40,000 words) for genres in which that doesn’t seem to be a saleable length except on rare occasions.

  23. Bernita said:

    What’s the fuss?
    A lean writer can expand an ms. A verbose one can cut the fat.
    Short does not mean shallow, neither does long mean flabby.

  24. Patrick McNamara said:

    I think the tendancy about writing short novels comes from inexperience. When one is starting out, it’s hard to write a long story, partially because it takes creativity, time, patience and the physical training needed to spend long periods of time writing.

    Some of it comes from when 20 or 30 years ago when shorter novels such as 50,000 were more acceptable. If you pick up an old pulp novel it tends to be short. But the general length for novels has been growing. And romance in particular tends to be one of the longer genres, with counts often around 100,000.

    My own writing tends towards the short side, but with the exception of YA or children’s, I don’t consider a novel finished until I have at least 300 pages (formatted at 250 words/page). Getting beyond that is usually a chore, but if an agent or publisher wanted it longer I would add to it.

  25. alau said:

    What hasn’t been brought up here is the effect of e-books. Many e-book publishers rountinely publish short stories and novellas.

    Now I know this is a relatively smaller market compared to print publishers but remember, it’s e-publishers like Elloras Cave that made the NYC printhouses sit up and take notice of the erotic romance genre.

  26. lorraine said:

    Agent Jennifer,

    The 315,000 word book was Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey. (900 pages at 350 ‘words’ per page). The second book, Kushiel’s Chosen, came in around 255,000 words.

    The 200,000 word one was Juliet Mareillier’s first book in the Sevenwaters Trilogy, Daughter of the Forest.

    And I wasn’t trying to be argumentative, I was more stumped. Like I said, these are some of my favorite fantasies and while they could have been edited down 10-15% perhaps, they still needed the majority of those words to tell the epic scope of the story.

    And just for the record, I couldn’t make it through Strange and Norrell, so I don’t go gaga over ALL long books. 😉

  27. Bruno said:


    In response to your word count question it does seem like they’re going shorter these days. Ms. Nelson gave my first maunscript a miss after my partial but total wordcount came in at 134,000 (a Tad Williams too long? Ok I’ll stop.) Still, I’ve got partials out with three more agencies so here’s hoping. Add as for Agent Jennifer’s response I could see that as the norm for established authors (as she mentions) but newbies are going to have a heck of a time. Now, for longer manuscripts there is the option of breaking it into sequels but again there is the hurdle of “does an agent want a new author with a new series up front or someone with a stand alone project?” My guess is they probably prefer the latter just in case sales tank. A sometimes timid yet ultimately pragmatic species, agents.

    One last observation, In my experience epic fantasy definitely takes more space. My second book (an urban fantasy) is halfway done and I’m on track for about 80,000 words for completion. They’re also a lot easier to write as you’re already working in an existing world, laws of physics, geography, history etc. It took me nine months to write my first book. I started this one in March and should have polished draft done by August, and that’s with a day job and being a single parent to a preschooler. Mind you, I seem to have grown less aquainted with the inside of my eyelids of late…



  28. Tami said:

    I wouldn’t blame NaNoWrimo either. I actually participated in NaNoWrimo 2005 and I think in general a lot of people understood that it was a starting ground to building a novel. When I finished the month, I had a little over 50,000 words and wasn’t even half done with it. It’s a mystery and once finished and edited (i’m still working on it) I believe it will come in around the 85k-95 word mark.

    It does seem like more books that have been released recently have been shorter, even for established writers. Patricia Cornwell’s new book At Risk that came out this week is VERY short, due to it being stories she originally wrote for the NY Times Magazine (I believe.) They are selling it for $21 cover I believe, but I just bought it was $13 so at least they are taking length into consideration.

    Dean Koontz’s last Odd Thomas book (Forever Odd) seemed shorter than his last also. I don’t remember how long the book actually was, but it seems to be a trend all over.

    As a reader, I do feel ripped off when I’m paying $25-30 a hardback or $8 a paperback and it’s half the size as it used to be.

  29. December Quinn said:

    Duh, sorry Andrea. I read your question too quickly.

    My guess would be around 70-100, only because the short story collections I’ve seen have had about 9 stories at about 8-12k each. Those are the shorts from EC, though, and I have one other one where all stories are by one author and it’s about 75 or 80 (estimate.)

  30. kim reid said:

    If anyone’s trying to get a feel for word counts of published books, Amazon has a word count feature on any of the Search Inside books (Text Stats). One of the books Lorraine mentioned, Kushiels’ Dart is 276,706. But that’s still scary long.

  31. Cindy Procter-King said:


    Harlequin dropped its word count, but they also switched from page count (250 words per page based on 25 lines per page) to the actual computer count, so in reality the word count is basically not that different, it just adds up differently because of the way it’s counted.

    Ie. a novel that’s 60K according to computer word count would be at least 65K page count, more if you have a lot of white space.

    I have a single title that’s 90-95K (can’t remember) according to computer count, but over 110K according to page count.

  32. Vernieda said:


    Kushiel’s Dart was first published in 2001 so that means it was probably bought in 1999/2000, right? That’s a pretty fair amount of time for the market to change for a new author.

    Also remember that Carey’s two novels after the first Kushiel trilogy (Banewreaker and Godslayer) were originally written as one novel, but the publisher split it in half because they wanted shorter fantasy novels. And it was around that time I first started hearing about the 100-150K target length for fantasy novels.

    Like Jennifer Jackson said, there will always be exceptions but when I look at all the debut fantasy novels being published this year by first time authors, most of them appear to fall within that 100-150K bracket.

  33. Book Reader said:

    Do you think it’s maybe because so many e-pubs publish that length book, and the authors are now seeking to move into print? Just a thought.

  34. joanr16 said:

    So I’m reading Oliver Twist for the very first time at the age of mumble-mumble, and in Chapter 49 I come to the scene where Mr. Brownlow, friend to Oliver, explains the boy’s parentage to Oliver’s wicked half-brother, purely for the benefit of the reader.

    We all know the Absolute Rule writ large in stone: “SHOW, DON’T TELL.” And here Dickens ties together his crazy, convoluted plot with a a great big alehouse “tell.” (Not the poker player’s kind; the bad writer’s kind.) And yet, Dickens got away with it, time and again. Became one the great novelists of the English language. There wasn’t an Absolute Rule he didn’t break.

    Just a guess, but the unabridged ms of Oliver Twist must’ve weighed in at around 200,000 words. A veritable vomitorium of storytelling.

    How I wonder what editors would make of Dickens if he were writing today! “Chuck, I wantcha to cut every third word, then go back and do it again.”

  35. kis said:

    My project is actually a projected 350 000 words total, and just today I spent three hours rearranging the chapters I have already written according to character rather than chronology. Believe it or not, even at this stage of the game, it seems like it might work. It brings my WC down to about 130 000 for the first book, maintains the suspense at the break, and allows for a meatier second and third. Now, if I can just get an agent to commit to three books?

  36. a writer said:

    Nobody is saying it’s impossible, they are just saying that it’s one more thing that will make your book unmarketable. My book was unfinished when my agent and I started marketing it, and I was projecting it at 60k. I was told 70k would open us up to more markets, which it did. the finished project is 75k.

    Harlequin did NOT reduce their word count. They merely changed how it was calculated. I can’t believe this misconception is still being touted. Their contracted authors who were already abiding by what would properly fit in the required pages of a finished book were told not to change their length at all.

    Another friend of mine who wrote a BFSF novel had it published as too separate books, because the publisher, a very big SFF publisher, said they couldn’t make hte price point work as one book — it would be a prohibitively expensive book for the way they were positioning him. Kushiel’s dart was indeed a “big” book, but it was also going to debut in a “big” way. Most debut authors don’t have that luxury.

    And most authors are not Laurell K Hamilton or Mitch Albom either. Let’s get some realism in here.

    Do YOU want to pay 6.99 or in trade, 16 dollars for a 50k book? A bookseller and/or publisher is going to have to get a lot of buzz going for me to think that’s a good idea. Most debut books are not going to be released in a way where people will pay that. Nor are they going to be released in a way that will make readers commit to paying the exorbitant price for a 1000 page book. They’ll think, well, that’s a lot to commit to from an author who I don’t know and who the publisher isn’t saying is going to be huge.

  37. Beth said:


    I’m with you. Most fantasies on my shelf are quite a bit heftier than 110,000. George RR Martin writes up in the 300-400K range. Kate Elliott’s are almost that big. And I wouldn’t shave a word from their novels.

    Or not many words, at any rate. Certainly not hundreds of thousands of words.

    What are writers of BFFs to do?

  38. kis said:

    Certainly, there is going to be tremendous competition from GRRM and Robert Jordan. But the mere fact that they have done so well should be hint to publishers that epic fantasy is far from dead.

  39. sec said:


    (Pulling hair out) I read in an agent Q and A (think it was in Writers Marketplace) that short was not only fine, but the current trend in publishing. The questioner asked if his 55,000 word novel was too short and was reassured that he was just fine. Which makes me crazy because I then worked away at my novel, which I could see was coming in around 60,000, and didn’t bother to add because of this advice. Dammit! I can’t search the agent archives in Writers Marketplace because I no longer have a subscription- if anyone else does, can you see if you can find that? Meanwhile, instead of querying agents, I’ll be hunting for about 20,000 words. I smell a total overhual.


  40. kis said:


    Oh, dear, please leave your hair where it is! Write the book you need to write, and don’t worry so much about the numbers. Only add words if it adds to the story! I’ve seen agents who were very clear about word count, who then requested a partial from me even though my way-too-big WC was right there in the opening paragraph of my query. Agents are often willing to see if the writing is good before they write you off, no pun intended. After they’ve had a closer look, they might suggest you add, or they might not.

    If you had ideas for scenes you never pursued, go ahead and add them. But don’t add filler for the sake of word count. It will only interfere with your voice.

    Write an awesome query. If you can really wow them in a one-page business letter, they’ll probably be willing to take a closer look at your book.

  41. Lisa Hunter said:

    OK, let’s raise the issue no one is mentioning. Why is debut fiction published in expensive hardback instead of affordable paperback format? Word count clearly matters when you’re forking over $25 for a book, but I think people are much more flexible about paperback books. Maybe that would help new writers build an audience too.

    But clearly there’s something wrong with my analysis, or the publishing industry would be doing this.

  42. Allison Brennan said:

    FWIW . . . My debut novel (a romantic suspense) was 105K (MS Word count); my second 98K and my third 107K.

    I’ve heard about these shorter word counts and don’t know where it started, except that I’ve noticed that some chick lit books tend to be on the short side.

  43. kis said:

    I’m not sure why they do it either, lisa. Maybe it has something to do with the way the industry deals with returns. Personally, I think all debut books should have a small run of hard-cover for libraries, and a large, simultaneous run of paperbacks for consumers.

    If someone really wants the book in hard-cover, they can wait for reprints. Don’t know why they would, though. How the heck do you read a hard-cover in the tub?

  44. Marney said:

    I read books to enjoy stories.

    To the people who feel ripped off if a huge book is not purchased:

    Most classics are not hefty.

    Are books like fast food nowadays–full of fat and grease?

    Some short novels are inspirational, deep, and are able to remain with the reader intimately throughout life.

    In today’s world, perhaps one is not a REAL reader or writer if one is not reading or writing a book the size of Godzilla.

    And, YES, I do read large books as well.

    However, I only feel ripped off when an author doesn’t deliver.

    So much for the modern intelligentsia…WORD COUNT….WORD COUNT…Would you like a BIG MAC and a VENTI LATTE to go with that?

  45. Anonymous said:

    My YA Fantasy is at 65k right now. Lately, I’ve been completely stressed out. It’s my first novel and I’m only in my early teens, so I’m wondering, will a publisher or agent be more likely to take me seriously if i expand it or follow the trend of short novels. Before I read the comments about the new trend of shorter word lengths, I was planning on having my story come to 75k or so. Should I make it longer, shorter, or keep to my goal?

  46. Carradee said:

    Ulgh. Don’t tell me this! [covers eyes]

    The word count amounts I’ve seen listed around is 80-120k average for fantasy, with a rare 60k. But just a rough multiplication to guesstimate the word counts of some of my favorite books has just come up a whole lot longer than I realized, with 80k minimums. Drat.

    I’m unfortunately one of those naturally concise writers. My first draft of my story came in at 20k words, so I’m having to do major expansion. I almost envy those of you who write large and have to cut. Now, I’m just hoping I can reach 60k with this draft. If I do, I think my next draft will add another 10k.

    [sighs] I really hate mapmaking, though…

    But thank you for that input, Kristin!

  47. Carradee said:

    Beg pardon for the double comment, but I just realized what likely gives writers the idea that 50k is a full-length novel.


  48. hermia said:

    I don’t think NaNoWriMo is to blame- I’m doing it right now (well, I should be, but I’m actually just procrastinating *grin*), and I know perfectly well that 50k isn’t the ideal word count for a novel-length. I think my YA fantasy will probably end up quite a lot longer than that, as I’m nearly at 50k now but I’ve barely started. I get the feeling that I’m going to have to edit a lot once I’ve finished my first draft, as I think it will probably just look like I’m wordpadding, which I’m not, I’m really not!
    So I don’t think NaNoWriMo should be getting insulted, as it gave be the kick that I needed to actually start writing my novel that had been growing in my head for ages, rather than just pondering over it and saying to myself, “oh, yeah, I’m gonna write this story one day.”

  49. Anonymous said:

    Yes but suppose you have written a good, well-shaped, compelling, literary/women’s novel in sharply pared prose, you send it out and agents and publishers praise it, but they say it’s too short at 65,000 words? And to add much is to slow the necessarily tense pacing?

  50. Anonymous said:

    As a writer, I am beginning to choose shorter novels for my reading. Many others I’ve spoken with are trending the same direction.

    Rick Jones

  51. Anonymous said:

    wow, i completed my novel (just now actually!) at just 7 words shy of 80,000. I clicked this link browsing for publishing advise to find that all my extensive effort to extend my novel’s length may have been in vain? I was aiming to hit around 90-100K with revisions…

    I haven’t even revised/extended yet, but to see that shorter novels are ‘in style’ and longer novels are rejected is quite a harsh blow especially after finally reaching my potential to write at long length…

    Wow. Am i good at 80K or is that too much? -_-


  52. Angel L. Landrey said:

    Now I am concerned. My first novel (not yet published) started life as 173K words and after several iterations (5 of them) it is now 223K words.
    Maybe I should find a way to shorten drastically or break the book down into multiple books.
    I intended the story as a trilogy anyway when I laid out the ideas.

  53. TJ Murray said:

    I find it interesting that novel lengths have increased over the last decades as attention spans have decreased. I imagine that with the advent of the quick boredom aleviation found through the internet, the publishing industry would notice that people don’t have the time or patience for longer novels. Maybe the recent decreases in word counts reflects publishing houses recognizing the shifting habits of readers.

  54. L. Keith Wheeler said:

    WOW! It is interesting as TJ Murray commented. I read very long books and I find that they have so much description in them that I have to skip a page or two here and there to get back to the story. When I wrote my book it was somewhat short but kept getting longer. As I let folks read it and comment they wanted more information around the characters, the places, more description. So my first novel ended up being right at 200K words and 624 pages.

  55. wellywood woman said:

    I’ve found that I’m happy to read shorter works than I used to, and that some of this is because of going click click click on the web, where I often don’t finish a long article. I think reading habits have changed, and many of us GRAZE now. And, as a screenwriter, I’m writing a novella of around 20,000 words, about the same as a feature length screenplay, to compare the differences. I think it’s as good a read (though very different from) as my screenplays, and could be very good value for a publisher because it’s cheap to produce. But I don’t know a thing really.

  56. Alice Edwards said:

    NaNoWrimo inital goal is to get you writing period.

    The 50,000 words is not set in stone. It is a way to get writing. You can go way over and some do. You can go way under and some do that too.

    For people who use it to get something started are aware that Dec, is the next step when you aim for an additional words to that 50,000.

    NaNo’s purpose is simply to get words on paper. It is a beginning place not an end in itself unless you are trying the whole write a book/story out for the first time. It’s meant as a self challenge.

    Any word count you have at the end of the month is more words than you had at the beginning of November.

    Many best sellers including few Oprah picks started as NaNo dry runs from professional writers.

    So, while there may be people who have grabbed the wrong end of the fuzzy lollipop stick in terms of NaNo’s 50,000 gaol, [ except for kids books, some erotica or anthologies etc], and believe it the correct length for a book I hate to say it but editors will clear that up in a hurry.

    I do think that shorter books may in fact begin being promoted as a way to reduce costs to publishers because as we know the industry has a distinct wobble going and until the dust settles every thing about it is changing in different ways so fast the mind boggles

  57. Rhonda9080 said:

    I’m coming in really late on this discussion, but word count has become obsession for me.
    As an avid reader, my blessing (and curse) is reading too fast. I can inhale an 80k on the toilet. I’ve read great books with short word counts, but frankly, I’m started to feel miffed with $$$ conscious publishers who are ripping me off for my hard-earned book budget.
    I mean – $28.99 yesterday in Books–Million for a hardcover with less than 200 pages! BIG font! Bought five genre-type books in romance, suspense and fantasy. All but one are going to used book store unread.
    I tried! I really did! But first chapters full of all dialog, unfamiliar setting and situation, left me feeling like I was an eavesdropper on a bus! I mean, why should I care?
    No – sorry for the rant – but its all about making a buck. The writing art will suffer, etc.
    Anyone realize Tolstoy couldn’t have gotten his fab 555k first novel published in today’s market?
    If you read reader’s forums, Amazon, etc, you’ll see I’m not the only one in rebellion. Some of us like those long, *boring* paras of detail.

  58. Anonymous said:

    I just wrote a 45K novel. An agent is currently reading it and I’m waiting for her response. A problem I have with this formulaic dictate on word count is that stories don’t have to be that long to be marketable. Someone recently told me that I have a knack at conveying a lot of information via small details. Personally, when I write truthfully–without pomp or pretense–my stories trend to be compelling and satisfying, yet short. I recently bought Lord of the Flies from Target and it was the book’s compact, slim size that initially caught my attention. Compared to all the other bloated books, it definitely stood out in a positive way. My preference lies in quick reads with short, snappy prose.

  59. The Poet said:

    I’m currently working on my second novel, the first I intend to publish. I believe it falls into the Mystery genre, but to be honest, I’m not completely positive if it would be considered mystery or mainstream fiction. Regardless, I’m facing the same question that all new writers seem to be struggling with and that is what should my final word count be. I am currently at about 51,000 words and what I figure to be about two thirds of the way through my story. I expect the manuscript to be complete at right around 80,000 words. I thought this was going to be perfect but decided to do more research and am beginning to think not so much. I am not afraid of editing or refining my story, and intend to do a lot of this before beginning to query agents, but is my novel going to be too short for either of these genres?