Pub Rants

#NLAquerytip #6

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Fact: If you have to defend that your novel is over 200,000 words in your query letter, then you are not pitching your story from a place of strength. And agents are more likely to pass.

Here’s why:

Even though a writer might insist that the length is necessary for the story, rarely is this true. In fact the hefty manuscript getting picked up and sold for a debut author is so rare and unusual, industry folks make note and remember the titles (i.e. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell).

In probably 99% of the cases, a super long manuscript usually signals that a beginning debut writer has not mastered pacing. Or, that the writer has not learned self-editing. This is even more true when we talk about the fantasy genre. Lots of fantasy authors will cite George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones in the query letterA great example certainly, but that wasn’t George’s debut project. Most established and successful fantasy writers begin with a normal length debut (around 100,000 words with some room on either side of that).

And yes, you can certainly cite the extraordinary instance of Patrick Rothfuss and The Name of the Wind. But he’s an exception, not the norm.

So my advice? If you have a long manuscript and you truly believe it is the “one in a thousand” and is the appropriate length, I wouldn’t cite your word count in the query and instead focus on writing the most incredible pitch you can.

After all, if an agent/editor begins reading and is blown away by the mastery, we won’t care a fig about word count. We’ll believe. But you have to get a request for the pages first.

4 Responses

  1. Jaligard said:

    While I’m told they’re both excellent, I’ve never been able to read THRONES or WIND because the beginnings are so tedious. If I were the magical editor in the sky, I’d trim both those exceptions down.

  2. Elissa said:

    Thank you Kristin!

    I know agents don’t believe it when a writer says, “Really, it has to be this long.” My manuscript has been through some tremendous workshops as well as critiqued by a number of terrific authors and one excellent editor. The feedback I get is that it totally works and they can’t see a way to either split it or make it significantly shorter without making it a completely different story. It is under 200k, but no where near 100k.

    I wish I wrote as well as either Martin or Rothfuss, but I don’t think I’m in a position to make such a claim. Another awesome writer I’d love to emulate is Brandon Sanderson, whose debut (Elantris) was around 200k as well. Still, I’m going to take your advice and leave the word count off my query. I’d much rather have it rejected because the pitch wasn’t enticing than get an auto-reject because of word count.

  3. Lucy said:

    Kristin, thanks for bringing this up and also offering writers an option. I think most of us believe we’d get a reject if we didn’t include word count. Yet I’d hate to see an exceptional project passed for that reason.

    Btw, this whole series of query posts has been excellent (and timely). I’m running through line edits right now.

  4. Claire M. Caterer said:

    Excellent point. When I finished my first novel, it ran 127,000 words. I was sure that every word was necessary. But when I submitted queries, I got no response. After a round dozen no-replies, I considered shortening the book. Once i got it down to 90,000 words, I got several nibbles. When I landed my agent, he told me outright, “If you’d queried me with a 127,000-word book, I’d never have looked at it.” The book was picked up by Simon & Schuster and published in 2013.