Hello gentle reader,
It’s Thursday! Let’s talk about writing, shall we?
As you may know, I am currently revising my WIP The Last Queen, and I have been struggling with a high word count. I wrote the first draft of this YA Epic Fantasy novel without really thinking of its length (I just wrote the story I wanted), and now I have to cut down some words if I don’t want to make agents cringe when they read my query letter.
This week I have also helped the lovely Mara Valderran with her own query letter. She is currently querying her Epic Fantasy novel HEIRS OF WAR with a word count at 137k. And here is what she says about her word count: “My word count is really high for a new author. You know this, I know this, and I’ve done my damndest to cut it (I shaved 12k off in the past two weeks! Yay!). Is it a roadblock for me? Sure. But it’s one I am painfully aware of.”
So it seems that I’m far from being the only Epic Fantasy writer struggling with a high word count.
As writers, our first reaction is often to say: but there are lots of Fantasy novels out there with huge word counts and they still sell! And some are even first novels! (see Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, at about 240k words)
Yes, people do buy books with high word counts. I’m one of those readers who are not afraid to read a super long book. However, these books are either AMAZING like The Historian, or they are, well, too long. G.R.R. Martin can publish A Storm of Swords at 424k words because he is an established and bestselling author, but I still think this novel was way too long and should have been edited down. The same goes for The Passage by Justin Cronin: 300k words and half the book could have been cut out without hurting the story.
So if you write Fantasy and you’re trying to get agented or published, nothing stops you from querying a 150k + words manuscript.
YA Epic Fantasy author Sarah J. Maas did just that with her 240k-word novel Throne of Glass back in 2008 (read the story here). And guess what? She got rejected. She did eventually get an agent with her manuscript at 145k words. And guess what? She got rejected by editors. Throne of Glass was finally published in August 2012, with a final word count of… a little over 100K words.
The moral of this story? Listen to the advice of professionals. Whatever the genre of your novel, research the word count expected by agents and editors. And follow their guidelines, even if it costs you. Editing your Masterpiece is part of the writing process. So is getting rid of unnessary plot points and extra words. Do it. It might save you time, and the pain of being rejected.
Freelance editor Cassandra Marshall gives these guidelines for Fantasy books word counts:
YA fantasy: 70-90k words
Adult Fantasy – 80,000-120,000 words (most averaging 100k-115k but editors would prefer to see them below 100k)
YA epic/high/traditional/historical fantasy = 90k to 120k
Finally, if you’re curious about the word count of popular Epic Fantasy novels, you can check them out here.
So what do you think? Are you struggling with a high word count? Do you think agents and editors should be more flexible debut authors and their word counts? As a reader, do you enjoy reading long books? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section!