Words: How Many Is Enough

366px-Voynich_Manuscript_(115)One of the major questions facing an author is how many words are needed for a novel, at least from a publication side of things. Too many or too little and you won’t get considered. If your query says you have a 125,000-word picture book, you probably won’t even get responses. If you have a 1,000-word historical narrative it’s probably the same response. Silence.

I’m writing my second novel as I query the first and it’s the second in a series. Its becoming clearer to me this manuscript will be leaner and have a lot fewer words in it. My thought going into telling a story is not to worry about word count so much, but to make sure the story is told as it needs. So if its 30,000 words and it tells the story correctly then that’s how many words it needs to be. If it’s 150,000, that’s fine. The first novel I’m currently querying is MG Fiction at 60,000 words. I had an agent suggest maybe I shorten it to fit it into a more palatable word count. Problem is the story is already lean and quick. I decided to just make sure the story is told well and to have all I needed to tell the story I set out to tell. Nothing superfluous.

It may make it harder in the querying process, but at the end of the day, it’s your story. Not the editors, not the agents and not the publisher. The byline will have your name and no one else. So if you aren’t in the sweet spot, that’s fine. It’s your name and your story. Don’t forget that. Don’t make concessions that will change the heart of your tale. You will have to live with that compromise forever and it will mean more to you than any of the other parties involved in publishing.

That being said, don’t be so blind as to realize that agents, editors, and publishers will have ideas that will improve your manuscript as well. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t follow their advice. They have fresh eyes and years of experience. So maybe your subplot about a chimpanzee that is struggling to choose sides in a primate civil war in Uruguay in a book about blind lemurs working in rival restaurants in Boise, Idaho might be unnecessary, even though you felt at the time was an imperative inclusion. You may want to listen to them. Most agents and editors want YOUR story and will want to preserve whatever it was that drew them into it. That’s why they are so selective about their clients and projects. They need to feel the same passion you do for your book. They will want you happy and having the best book possible as well.  That extra 40,000 words about the chimps maybe could be saved for another time and you’ll settle in at a lesser word count with a much better novel to show for it.

But I could be wrong. 


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