Monday, February 8, 2016

Agency Lessons: Word counts

Agency Lessons is a weekly post that gives authors and readers an inside look into the mind of a literary agent and a peek behind the curtain of how books are made.



Today's post answers a question from my mail bag. Don't forget that if you have a question you'd like me to answer about agenting, marketing, or authoring, you can leave it in the comments section or fill out this nifty anonymous form. 

Now for today's question:
What word count range do you personally think is OK for a YA fantasy?

There have been countless posts written about how long books should be and not all of them give the same advice. It can be daunting for a new writer to figure out how how many words should end up on the finished page.

Unfortunately, there isn't an easy answer to this one. Just like reader preferences in genres and topics tend to change over the years, their preferences in word counts also tend to change. For example, in YA, word counts have been creeping upwards over the past several years to the point that many books being published today are comparable to the word counts of adult books. 

Here are a few articles that give actual word counts, but make sure you note the dates of any articles you read and keep in mind that nothing in publishing ever stays the same.

Writer's Digest definitive post

LitReactor: Ask the Agent

Janet Reid: Agent extraordinaire

I have a few pieces of advice for deciding if your novel is too short, too long, or just right.

First, is your story complete? Do you have a fully developed world, with fleshed out characters and a plot that provides readers with plenty of highs, lows and unexpected twists? If not, your story isn't long enough.

Second, is your story bloated? Is it filled with excessive description, purple prose or scenes that don't drive your plot or character development? If so, your story is too long.

Last, what genre is your story? Now, go to the web and find a list of at least twenty debut books in your genre that came out in the last year. Look up their word counts online. If you can't find their word count, look for their page count (you can always find this on Amazon). Then multiply the page count by 250 to get a very rough word count.

Now, compare all these and find a happy medium between them. You should aim for your book to fall in a happy resting place between all these debuts. Not too short, not too long, just right.

There is no clear line in the sand that says your book must be more than X and less than Y. And there are always outliers that defy even conventional wisdom. The reality is that your book should be just long enough to tell an amazing story and not one word longer.

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