Why You Really Want to Know Your Story’s Word Count Range


We’re now officially onto Writing Rule #8, the last Writing Rule you’ll be getting in February, actually.

But let’s not waste time focusing on the enormity of the occasion. Let’s jump right into the meat of this novel message…

(For you real serious folks out there, that’s me being funny.)

If you want to be published through a traditional or small-time publishing company (i.e., not self-published), you have to pay strict attention to your genre’s word-count guidelines.

If they call for 90,000 words and you submit 101,010, you’ll go right to the reject pile. Publishers are pressed for time and won’t consider anything less than their exact specifications.

I know I said something very similar yesterday, and I don’t want to belabor the point. But this actually really is an important rule to remember.

To help you understand exactly how it can make or break your not-self-published career, try putting yourself into a literary agent or small-time publishing company’s shoes.

Imagine this…

It’s another day at Insert Your Name Here Publishing Company, based out of Lancaster, PA, dwindling home of the Amish. You’ve just walked in the door, and that really cute coworker of yours flashes you a knee-weakening smile, so you allow yourself to get caught up in a five-minute chat, knowing full well you can’t afford it.

Disentangling yourself from the conversation with a laughing sigh – “Well, duty calls.” – you make your way into your office, sit down at your desk, take a deep breath… and open up your email.

Only 75 new messages this morning! Apparently, staring into your co-worker’s mesmerizing hazel eyes for five minutes – okay, five minutes and 13 seconds – was acceptable after all.

You click on the first message from a Lillian Platypus, whose name (if it’s real) would make for a great marketing tool on a children’s book.

Alas though, she’s trying to write the next Fifty Shades of Grey. And Insert Your Name Here Publishing Company specifically says it doesn’t accept that genre.

As a result, Lillian Platypus goes right into the online trash can. Forget an “I’m sorry you’re too dumb to properly read our submission guidelines section on the website” response. Ain’t nobody got time for dat.

It’s onto email #2 then, this one from John Engle. Skimming through his query letter, you wager that he did, in fact, read the submission guidelines. However, his presentation just doesn’t interest you. Which is why you pass on that one too.

Next up is Jordan Green. A Man? Woman? You have no clue, but this person's query letter is riveting!

Short, sweet and to the point, it still manages to give you goosebumps. Not quite as much as your cute co-worker, of course, but you still might have a winner here.

Your eyes gloss over the short bio: all good, even if Jordan doesn’t have any real writing history to consider. You’ve worked with first-time authors before. You know how to make do.

But then you see it. It’s right there at the bottom of the page, just above, “Thank you so much for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you!”

The word count. And it’s not good.

Jordan Green has written a mystery novel that’s only 69,438 words.

You let out a loud, long breath of disappointment. One part of you considers writing back a memo informing him or her that he or she needs to add at least another 10,000 words, if not 20,000, before you can consider the otherwise intriguing manuscript.

But that will take up at least two minutes, with the high possibility that Jordan will write back with questions or comments or promises, thereby taking up even more of your time.

Besides, you still have 72 emails to get through, not to mention 11 return calls to make – so far – and two contracted manuscript changes to read through.

So Jordan Green, like Lillian Platypus and John Engle, goes into the trash bin. And you move onto the next probably reject.

You only wish some editorial firm would have warned Jordan about novel word count before.

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