Wednesday, October 21, 2009

More on the Word Count Myth

So I hinted a few posts ago that word count isn't nearly as big a deal as a lot of writers would like to believe. I thought I'd elaborate on that, so you know that [this time] I'm not talking out of my ass.

BREAK is 272 pages. This would make you believe that it's a reasonably average sized novel, yeah? 272 pages, that sounds about normal for a YA book. It's not huge--huge is like over 400, right? And small is like 150 or under, yeah? So BREAK probably hits what a lot of people site as the YA word count sweet spot--60,000 to 80,000 words.

Yeah, no.

BREAK is roughly 42,000 words. It was about 44,000 when I handed it over to my editor. She cut that extra 2K because the story didn't need them.

Dozens of writers saw my query letter and told me that my book would never get me representation, let alone an editor, if I didn't beef up the word count. I was in Nathan's "Agent For a Day" contest, and a ton of the people who rejected me said they did so because the word count was too low.

And I got a ton of rejections for agents. And I got my fair share of rejections from editors, too.

Not a single. One. Mentioned the word count.

My next book, INVINCIBLE SUMMER? About 42K. God knows if my editor will chop any of that off. I'm sure any writer would tell you an editor would have to be insane to make a 42K book shorter.

But the only think that matters with words is this: does the story need them?

Here is your ideal word count: Exactly how many the story needs and not a single one more.

Don't freak out. Write a good book and no one will give a shit.


Emilia Plater said...

It's ridiculous to think that a book should get rejected because the author didn't tack on a chapter here or there. And like you say, they aren't rejected for that. Love the post!

Karla Calalang said...

I did have the notion that YA books should be 60-70K so I always tried to shoot for those word counts. Thanks for this post! Now I know it doesn't need to be. :)

Gary Couzens said...

I've read several YA novels, including some debut ones, which are under 40k. Two I can think of which are both around 36k are Nick Gifford's Piggies (horror - which I did think was a little too short) and Jenny Valentine's Finding Violet Park (contemporary comedy/drama - absolutely the right length - US title is Me, The Missing and The Dead). The former did quite well I understand, and film rights were optioned. The latter won the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize.

I'm 12k into a Work in Progress and I'm wondering if I have enough to fill even 35-40k. But I know what the next seven scenes will be, and I know two big scenes that need to be worked up to and from, and I also have the final scene in my head. So hopefully I'll be okay, though maybe I need one or two more plot complications in the second half - and after a conversation with a fellow writer last night I think I might have them too.

But yes, I'd rather have a perfect miniature than something padded out unnecessarily. One reason I read a lot of YA these days is that I find too many adult novels overlong. It's good to have something that I can read in a few days, instead of the best part of two weeks.

hannah moskowitz said...

I think people really underestimate the effect of time spent on a person's enjoyment of a book. If I'm devoting days and days, that book better be REALLY good.

Sydney said...

I'm so glad you wrote this! My MS is only 42k and the WC thing always troubled me :)

chris said...

The voice of reason. Thank you from pulling us back from the Harry-Potter brink of overlong insanity.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I'm happy to read this. I've been stressing because the YA novel I'm working on is only 31,000 words! While I'm still thinking that it may be too slight and may need an additional element or two, there is no way it will ever be 60,000 or even close. I will concentrate on making it the best it can be at the length that is right for it. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Also wanted to say, congratulations on publishing Break. It looks interesting; I'm going to check it out!