We’ve all heard the news about how the economic down-turn has been affecting the publishing industry.  Blogs and newsletters tell of editorial layoffs, imprint closings and fewer marketing dollars to spend.  The good news is that authors have not been deterred by this forecast.  Queries to Browne & Miller are on the rise, which is fantastic as we are always on the lookout for new voices, but I have noticed a trend: a lot of these queries are for really long manuscripts! I know that it’s hard to think of length restrictions when Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight books just seem to get thicker, but as in so many other areas, Twilight is an exception to the rule. And when you’re just getting started, it’s good to know the rules.  So I wanted to take this opportunity to talk a little bit about manuscript length and what we at B&M look for when we look at word count. 

 

As with most things in publishing – like making/predicting a bestseller- there is no easy answer for how long a book has to be, but one thing’s for sure, most agents, B&M included, start to get antsy when a manuscript hits 100,000 words. Let me explain:

The basic rule of thumb is that a book page contains approximately 250 words (of course this can vary too due to font size, which can be adjusted to squeeze more words onto a page or enlarged to make something easier to read) so a 100,000 word manuscript would be approximately 400 bound, finished book pages.  Agents and editors start to raise eyebrows at 400 pages because, quite simply, it takes more materials and more time to produce a longer book. A longer book means more time spent editing and copyediting. It also means more paper, more glue and more printing time, all of which drive up the price of the finished product and publishers have to keep prices competitive.  That’s not to say that we won’t consider longer manuscripts, but at 100,000+ words you have to convince me that every word on the page is necessary.

 

So what is standard length for mainstream adult and Young Adult fiction? Keeping in mind that there are no easy answers, here are some things to consider:

1. Most category genres have their own guidelines regarding length. For example, if you’re planning on penning an adult category romance – those are the mass market paperbacks that sell for $4.99 – then you’re aiming for 55-60,000 words and aiming to hit genre required plot points/characteristics.  If you’re interested in category writing, then my advice would be to read as much as you can in the genre and check to see if publishers post guidelines on their websites (check out Harlequin’s guidelines at www.eharlequin.com).

2. Stand-alone, mainstream adult fiction (think Sandra Dallas and Ann Patchett) run anywhere from 75-90,000 words.

3. YA books also come with their own exceptions, a lot of which depends on reader age. It might seem logical to think that because a book is geared toward younger readers that it should be shorter, but that isn’t necessarily the case. All Unquiet Things, which will be a 14 yrs and over title, clocks in at about 85,000 words as do books like Paper Towns by John Green and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  Series titles from Gossip Girl to The A List tend to run on the shorter side, around 65,000 words, and there have been some powerful literary novels (How I Live Now anyone?) that have counted in at 208 pages (approx 60,000 words).

 

Confused yet?  Notice that none of the books above are anywhere near 100,000 words.    But you don’t have to take my word for it.  Stephanie Meyer will be the first to admit that Twilight is on the long side. When discussing how Twilight got published, she says the following on her website My big break came in the form of an assistant at Writers House named Genevieve. I didn’t find out until much later just how lucky I was; it turns out that Gen didn’t know that 130,000 words is a whole heck of a lot of words. If she’d known that 130K words would equal 500 pages, she probably wouldn’t have asked to see it.”   

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