Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Fantasy Word Count

I have just finished a 145,000 word fantasy novel, but read in your post that fantasy should hover around 80,000. As this is my first novel should I be considering making it my first and second novels?

I guess the question would be, if a first time author queried you with this massive length story, would it be an automatic rejection?


I think I once stated that 80,000 words was really the magic number. You can never go wrong with a book at that length. That being said, different genres have different limits, and fantasy is a genre that falls in the higher range of those limits. 145,000 words is still a little high, but since fantasy can run to about 125,000 or so, it's not as high as for, say, cozy mystery, which tends to top out around 90,000.

145,000 words would not be an automatic reject for me. That being said, if I did reject it I might tell you that it’s a little long. I don’t think you should make this books one and two, I think you should simply cut 20,000+ words. Easier said than done, I know, but I bet your book would be tighter and stronger once you did.

Jessica

14 comments:

Sue Harrison said...

Great advice! My editor (I was then with William Morrow.) advised me to cut my 4th novel's word count by 10,000 words. I had not faced that situation with my previous novels and was overwhelmed by the prospect. She showed me how to cut words without cutting substance - the "ly" words, the double explanations of the same situation, the unneeded 'poetry', unnecessary author voice. The 10,000 words peeled off like magic (well, not quite) and I was amazed at the improvement in my novel.

Hillsy said...

Errrrr.......

OK I'm not an expert, like Jessica, but I think perhaps there ought to be a further distinction in genre, if not in location as well.

Basically, if it was YA or Urban fantasy, I'd have no problem with the description "A little long". Sword and Sorcery Style Fantasy, 150K is probably the lower end of par.....epic....well, 250K is probably average.

NB: I've taken all this from buying and reading pretty much exclusively fantasy (not YA or Urban) and sci-fi over the last 10-15 years, not trying to sell MS's to publishers. In my book collection (150+ mebbe) I'd be amazed if I've got more than 5 sub 150K fantasy novels.

Also I'm English - and I've heard that the UK market caters for a fantasy standard word count much higher than the US (unfounded fact - read it on a blog), so much so that publishers/agents request revisions to ADD content.

All that aside, Any advice to revise is good advice........just learn when to stop revising as well.

Hillsy said...

Oh and while I remember....a paraphrasing of Brandon Sanderson via his podcast "writing excuses".

"I wasn't being published writing 300K word fantasy epics. But I didn't want to write shorter books. Instead, I just kept writing better and better 300K epics until they did sign me."

He took 9 novels to get published. Take from that what you will.

Kirk K said...

It's funny you bring this up, Jessica. I've been targeting my first drafts at about 80,000 words. I think Hillsy is correct about the epic stuff regularly exceeding that mark. For me, it's a good place to start. If my characters have more to say, I'll either ignore the 80k and venture on, or I can add to it when revising.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Seconding Hillsy. It is probably important to distinguish the fantasy subgenre here. In epic fantasy, even fairly new authors put out very long books (ex: Patrick Rothfuss with THE NAME OF THE WIND a few years ago) and it's somewhat expected for that type of story. Fantasy on the more paranormal, urban, or young adult side tend to be a lot shorter.

Of course, the book might benefit from trimming anyway. I can't say without having read it. But I suppose it's possible that the book already is fairly tight and pruned, and the story is just a long one.

lexcade said...

oh thank God.

what about science fiction, though? i have one i'm working on cutting down, and right now it's at 113,000 words. trying to get it to at least 110,000. if for some reason i can't (as i have a few things to add as well as delete) will that be an auto-reject or is there similar leeway?

jjdebenedictis said...

Sword and Sorcery Style Fantasy, 150K is probably the lower end of par.....epic....well, 250K is probably average.

Oh, wow, this is most emphatically not true in North America. 150,000 words would be considered a lumbering behemoth of a book, not the low end of the scale.

It costs more money to bind a book that large, so there's a financial disincentive to publish a new author's door-stopper debut. Established authors can guarantee a return on the extra investment, but an unknown can't. Thus, a new author writing epic fantasy should aim for 100,000 - 120,000 words, because there is a good reason for publishers to say no to a book that big.

As for the Brandon Sanderson story--that's 2.7 million words he wrote without getting published.

Good for him, staying the course, but it's an experience that would break most writers' souls.

Hillsy said...

@JJdebenedictis

Hence why I think there ought to be a location spoiler - I've read that if you've written a 100K Sword & Sorcery stlye that isn't YA in the UK, you have to really consider adding another character as 120-140K is the absolute minimum!

I thought that when I read the Sanderson story, but I think it comes down to writing what you like - numbers then become largely irrelevant. If you write 9 unpublished novels at 90K a pop, you are under the axiom that "the first million words you write are practise". If a 300K novel takes very little toll on someone, then 2.7 million words is actually easier to write than 9 books of 90K for someone who finds 90K a strain. Context is King.

Which brings me back to Genre & Subgenre. As important as word count I'd say is knowing the genres and also full breadth of markets available for them.

100K-120K I'd say is pretty non-epic, so rather than limiting word count, write the 200K+ and find out agents who have good ties with, e.g., Gollancz (every debut from them seems to be a hulking tome).

I mean you could, in theory, write a 150K fantasy, struggle to sell it, but realise that by adding 50K-70K words and increasing the scope, actually freeing your ideas instead of restricting them, you land slap bang in the target zone for a whole new market.

Good revision/tight writing and word count guidelines are 2 totally different beasts. There's a market for a huge range of different genres, each with their own subgenres and exceptions. There is no market for bad revision and loose writing.

If you ask me (I know no-one is but this is the internet) Wordcount guidelines are often about selling THIS book. Truth is, you are going to write several books before you sell, might as well write what you enjoy until one is good enough, you've got a million words practise after all.

Sheila Cull said...

Jessica, not only do I adore reading your blogs, I love the consistency with which you post. Very nice.

Anonymous said...

Unbelievable that I am saying this (I never thought I would) but cutting the word count of your own book definitely sharpens it.

I finished my first book, began looking at agents and their blogs, and started finding heaps of them saying that publishers don't like to give first-time authors a glance for anything over 100,000 words. I was horrified--my original book was 147,000 words!! Well, I decided before I ever attempted submission to an agent, to try and cut it to at least 100,000. It is finally at 97,000 words, and I fell in love with it more than my original!! It absolutely increased its appeal by cutting those 50,000 words.

I had to combine scenes, remove repetitive explanations, and edit for useless adverbs. It was difficult, long, and heartbreaking at the time, but I am so greatful I did it--my book has never been better than it is at this point!

clindsay said...

Jessica -

You may find this helpful. I sat down with some fiction editors and some YA editors and got some general rule-of-thumb word counts for fiction in general. I posted over here and left the post up when I left agenting because a lot of writers seem to find it very helpful.

Cheers!

Colleen

Anne Lyle said...

Angry Robot are currently specifying 100-140k for fantasy - anything shorter will probably not fly with them! SF hovers* around the 100k mark, but I would agree with the other posters that 80k is way too short for the UK SF&F adult market.

* probably using anti-gravity :)

fetterslopez said...

guess I'm right where I need to be then as I have a fantasy YA that is around 132,000 originally 146,000 but I tightened it up. I am hoping to submit it to Angry Robot in March with their open submissions. This gives new author's like myself, hope for publication.

The Invisible Writer said...

If you have a conflict at the middle of your book with high enough stakes to be considered a climax, perhaps splitting this into 2 books is a good idea.

Then again, if you have multiple climaxes in any novel you may need to reconsider whether you truly have any. If the stakes are basically never getting raised beyond a moderate hump, how is any reader supposed to stay faithful?

Sorry. That almost sounded dirty.