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thephrygian
01-31-2017, 10:40 PM
Hello. Though a lifelong writer (six nonfiction books, about as many short stories sold), I'm both new here at AW and relatively new at pitching my recently completely novel. Hoping some of you fine folk might be able to help me make sense of my situation.

I've written a very long novel (~170,000 words) that very few agents will consider in its current state. However, my genre (historical/literary thriller) has some notable exceptions so I figured I'd test the waters before voluntarily gutting what I feel is a justifiable length. But instead of shotgunning it out to a lot of agents I decided to limit this initial round and adapt accordingly.

After some exhaustive research, I queried two. The first was an ambitious young agent who professed some interest in subjects found in my book. The second was more seasoned and more of a dead ringer, someone who should theoretically represent my ideal reader. Serendipitous synchronicities between her personal history and my book made this even more true than indicated in her "want list" alone.

The first agent passed (she was focusing more on YA fiction), but the second requested the full within thirty minutes, adding that my query had made her day and my book was exactly what she was looking for.

Fast forward two months to when I get a quick email that lets me know she got sidetracked with other projects but that she plans to return to mine soon. She then used some flattering superlatives to characterize what she'd read so far, but also said it *might* be too long.

Fast forward another two excruciating months, marked by complete radio silence. At four months (from initial submission), I sent a short, polite email asking if my book was still under consideration. No response. That was eleven days ago.

What do you think I should do now? A) Wait a while longer, however much it kills me. B) Send another nudge email. C) Query additional agents, even though length may be the only problem with it and this cycle will likely repeat. D) Slash and burn until I'm closer to the traditionally accepted length, however much I'm convinced that will ruin the book.

Bountiful thanks in advance for reading this far and for any advice you can offer.

JJ Litke
01-31-2017, 10:44 PM
Did you get any beta readers to read it? What did they say about the length?

Cyia
01-31-2017, 10:50 PM
Real world events sometimes impact reading times.

thephrygian
01-31-2017, 10:55 PM
Did you get any beta readers to read it? What did they say about the length?

Yes (but only three) and none of them complained about length, per se. One even said it is a deceptively fast read for its size. Knowing it was *much* longer than typical, I did request and receive a little bit of feedback on where it could be cut, but unfortunately those sections won't remove nearly enough words for it to matter and those readers made it clear they were suggesting them only because I asked.

thephrygian
01-31-2017, 10:57 PM
Real world events sometimes impact reading times.

That is an excellent point, and likely relevant with this particular agent, but I don't see why she couldn't let me know that with another quick update.

Techs Walker
02-01-2017, 12:18 AM
What do you think should I do now? A) Wait a while longer, however much it kills me. B) Send another nudge email. C) Query additional agents, even though length may be the only problem with it and this cycle will likely repeat. D) Slash and burn until I'm closer to the traditionally accepted length, however much I'm convinced that will ruin the book.


Howdy,

CAVEAT - the following is not based on any personal experience, just a lot of reading:
A) NO B) No, you say it's only been 11 days since the last nudge. D) Definitely not. If your betas are OK with it, fine. Trim if and only if you close with an agent, and get a real good reason. I've read (and enjoyed) some real doorstops of historical fiction.

C) Yeah, this. Keep in mind that agent #2 might still decline the full MS, despite the warm words at the 2 month point. You could query additional agents about the same MS. Keep in mind that we don't KNOW how much of a problem that length is for historical fiction. You clearly mentioned it in your query (right?), yet agent #2 saw past that and asked for the full. So, based on a single data point, the length alone is not an instant reject for that genre. Thought - go down to the 'Historical Fiction' section, and ask the experienced good people there what might agents' reaction be to this length.

Hope this helps,

Techs

PS - i am green with envy at a request for full on your 2nd query.

thephrygian
02-01-2017, 12:39 AM
Thanks for the feedback, Techs, and the advice to ask in Historical. I'm of a mind to choose C at this point as well. Slight clarification: I deliberately did not include word count in my initial query. I know that's usually considered a faux pas, but I'd rather an agent think I forgot to include it than use it as an excuse to reject me out of hand. I did include a detailed address of the book's size with my full ms., citing debut books even longer that became very successful, but also expressing a willingness to cut, if need be.

Lauram6123
02-01-2017, 12:58 AM
Have you looked the agent up on QueryTracker? You might be able to glean if this is her typical behavior when dealing with full requests. You might also find that other people are also waiting, which may or may not be comforting.

mayqueen
02-01-2017, 01:15 AM
I also write historical fiction which could be classified as mysteries and thrillers. My hunch is that yes, your word count is way too long. The maximum you want is a lot closer to 120k at most, in my understanding and reading of the genre. However, I know someone who just sold a debut at 135k (I think). So 120k isn't the extreme upper end absolute that's it, but you're going to have much, much, much better luck with a more commercially sellable length. (I've been advised to keep it at close to 90k as possible, myself.)

As to whether or not to leave the word count out of the query, it seems like this worked for one agent. My hunch is that you're going to get some agents who reject you out of hand for this, as it's a crucial piece of information.

All that being said, the historical market right now is extremely tough. Extremely. I'm on my fourth or fifth manuscript that I've queried. However, if your subject matter and setting are hot right now, you're in a much better place. It seems like you've already struck one agent's interest, which is promising.

My best advice is to not pull all your eggs in this one agent basket. Whether you choose to revise or send out more queries, I'd encourage you to not wait on this one agent. You might get a no. You might also never hear back. That's happening to me, from an agent who was initially very enthusiastic.

TL;DR: C and D.

thephrygian
02-01-2017, 01:22 AM
I have, Laura, but thanks for the suggestion. This agent doesn't accept much fiction, I don't think (she specializes in narrative nonfiction, but seems to do well with the fiction she does represent), so there isn't a lot of data on her beyond the query stage. Unfortunately, my wait time falls outside every record for a full ms response, positive or negative. :Shrug: Of the 20 full or partial ms requests on record, however, 19 did eventually receive a response. So I'd like to believe she won't just leave me hanging.

thephrygian
02-01-2017, 01:27 AM
You might also never hear back. That's happening to me, from an agent who was initially very enthusiastic.

I'm very sorry to hear that, for your sake and my own. I find such callousness to be pretty inexcusable and think agents should be called out for it.

p.s. thanks for the other advice. I was hoping to get a result from my "litmus test" before proceeding but maybe I already have.

mayqueen
02-01-2017, 01:37 AM
It's unfortunate, but it does happen. It's happened to me on more than one occasion, actually.

I'd also like to point out that there are two different metrics you're testing out (or that are being tested out when querying). The first is the entry-level, is this concept marketable and is the writing promising? This happens at the query level. You tend to get more information the longer you query, for reasons I can explain but also are in the ask the agent archives. :) However, you're unlikely to get any information on the manuscript itself. Does it hold up? Is it engaging? Is it too long? Etc etc. That comes from the full request stage. And unfortunately at both of these stages, you're very likely to encounter agents who won't respond and agents who will only respond with form letters. (I used to get a lot more feedback on full rejections than I've been getting lately.)

Having said all that, you've got some information on the first stage from your litmus test: the concept has piqued one agent's attention. It might pique others'. I don't think there's anything else to gain at this point by waiting. The agent may offer. She may pass. She may recommend an R&R. She may never respond. In the event that she does offer, wonderful! That's great! If you're sure you'd accept her and no one else, then you can wait if you'd like. However, if she offers but there are other agents you might think you want to work with, you'll lose the chance to get a counter-offer.

Carrie in PA
02-01-2017, 02:46 AM
You might also never hear back. That's happening to me, from an agent who was initially very enthusiastic.


I'm very sorry to hear that, for your sake and my own. I find such callousness to be pretty inexcusable and think agents should be called out for it.

Yep, it happens, and it's super frustrating, and, dare I say, rude. I had an agent respond to my query. She wanted a partial and a synopsis (no problem, I had those ready). She also wanted a proposal (with specific bullet points to address) and a marketing plan (again, with specific points to address), back cover copy and something else that I can't think of offhand. That's fine, I put it all together and sent it to her. She emailed that she had gotten it and was excited to see what I'd put together. Then... *poof* she vanished. Radio silence. She was still tweeting and blogging, so I knew she hadn't been abducted by aliens, after 4 months I sent a very brief, very polite nudge, and got no response to that either.

The whole "no response = no" is annoying but totally understandable for an unsolicited query. But I think once you've made actual contact and requested something from an author, it should be common courtesy to send a "Never mind, go pound sand" email.

/end rant


I don't think there's anything else to gain at this point by waiting. The agent may offer. She may pass. She may recommend an R&R. She may never respond. In the event that she does offer, wonderful! That's great! If you're sure you'd accept her and no one else, then you can wait if you'd like. However, if she offers but there are other agents you might think you want to work with, you'll lose the chance to get a counter-offer.

I'd agree with this. Keep querying!

thephrygian
02-02-2017, 01:02 AM
Thanks, Carrie. Sorry to hear you've been a victim of the silent treatment as well but appreciate the feedback.

Old Hack
02-02-2017, 02:00 AM
I'm very sorry to hear that, for your sake and my own. I find such callousness to be pretty inexcusable and think agents should be called out for it.

p.s. thanks for the other advice. I was hoping to get a result from my "litmus test" before proceeding but maybe I already have.

It's not callous for agents to not respond to queries etc. They don't represent writers who query them: they have no obligations to those writers. And if you start calling anyone out for not responding, you'll risk getting a reputation for unreasonable behaviour. Don't do it.

It's fine if you want to test the whole query process for your own amusement: but people have been querying for decades and we kind of know how it all works now, so I'm not sure what you're trying to prove with this experiment of yours. Yes, some agents prefer books of specific lengths; but yes, some agents are prepared to go out on a limb for books which are extraordinary, which is how some books which are much longer than usual get published.

What I notice in your posts here is that they're unnecessarily long-winded. You could easily pare your first post in this thread down by quite a bit without losing any meaning or nuance--and you'd gain a lot of clarity if you did so. It might well be that your book is over-long because of your style, and not because it needs to be long. Before you submit it anywhere else you'd be wise to get a few critiques, to see if people warm to your writing.

Undercover
02-02-2017, 02:17 AM
170K words is a monster read. You're checking back with her every 2 months it sounds like and that could be cause for concern and the agent might turn away because of this. Normally it's standard to wait 3 months for the first nudge. You are giving her this giant read and not really giving her time to read it. She has other things that she's doing too, you have to take that into consideration.

I would definitely NOT nudge again. The agent might get really turned off then and never respond. Also you only queried two agents? That is nothing at all really. I would definitely query more. And NO, don't be deceptive about the word count just to get a request. Agents will consider that bad form too, especially if they're asking for it in their guidelines (which most, if not all do.)

thephrygian
02-02-2017, 05:00 AM
It's not callous for agents to not respond to queries etc. They don't represent writers who query them: they have no obligations to those writers. And if you start calling anyone out for not responding, you'll risk getting a reputation for unreasonable behaviour. Don't do it.

It's fine if you want to test the whole query process for your own amusement... <snip>

I'd heard this place was heavy on snark and condescension, so I guess I should feel lucky I lasted this long without experiencing it. For the record, I wasn't talking about queries, but full manuscript requests seasoned with liberal praise and an interim email that indicated she loved what she'd read so far. In my opinion, terminating communication after that with no additional explanation would be unnecessarily cruel. Obviously your mileage varies.

Not sure where you got the idea that any of this is for my amusement. I was testing interest in a long book that covers multiple timelines and a lot of geography. Nevertheless, I thank you for sharing your opinion.

[Edit: The following was initially amended to a later post, but I figured I'd add it here as well so anyone reading this thread doesn't get the wrong idea about me.]
Apologies to Old Hack for not paying more proper respect to my forum elders. Believe it or not, my desire to push the limits on size is not born from arrogance, ignorance or naivete, but rather a firm belief that my material warrants it. Being overly defensive, however, was a very poor way to project that.

thephrygian
02-02-2017, 05:12 AM
170K words is a monster read. You're checking back with her every 2 months...

To clarify: I received an email from her at two months that apologized for making me wait that long, expressed admiration for what she'd read so far, and promised to contact me soon. I nudged at four months (two months after that).

In any case, you are are probably right that I'm being too impatient given the book's size. Thanks for the advice.

AW Admin
02-02-2017, 07:25 AM
I'd heard this place was heavy on snark and condescension, so I guess I should feel lucky I lasted this long without experiencing it. For the record, I wasn't talking about queries, but full manuscript requests seasoned with liberal praise and an interim email that indicated she loved what she'd read so far. In my opinion, terminating communication after that with no additional explanation would be unnecessarily cruel. Obviously your mileage varies..

Bless your heart.

mccardey
02-02-2017, 07:33 AM
I'd heard this place was heavy on snark and condescension, so I guess I should feel lucky that someone with Old Hack's experience gave me some feedback.

Fixed it for ya :)

JJ Litke
02-02-2017, 08:11 AM
thephrygian, there's a New Members area that would help you learn to navigate the forum (because there's a whole lot here).

Quickbread
02-02-2017, 10:57 AM
Hi thephrygian, congrats on your early full request. I concur with the suggestions to keep querying. It's more common than you might think for an initially enthusiastic agent to not respond or to take an extremely long time to do so. I wish it was different, but that's just the nature of publishing.

I would especially encourage you to query agents who specialize in selling what you're writing. It can be (but isn't always) problematic to have an agent who focuses on another area while dabbling in yours, especially when it's between nonfiction and fiction. Some personal connection to your material may get you in the door with an agent. But you have to ask whether it will open the right publishing doors. An agent whose bread and butter is nonfiction may not be as connected to editors who buy your type of fiction and they may also not have as keen an editorial eye for your work as an agent who works with your fiction genre every day. It really does make a difference.

My point is not to steer you away from the requesting agent but to open up your mind to new possibilities. The query stage is a time to think broadly about potential synergies and matches rather than narrowing down to a select few.

It's also the time to ask yourself hard questions about your manuscript. If you already know 170K is too long in the industry, then challenge whether yours is one of those few exceptional works. Map or outline all your scenes to make sure you need every single one. Map your characters to make sure you need every single one. And if every scene and character is not uniquely contributing to your overarching storyline, then it's weighing your story down. Some people only discover this after they've queried all their dream agents, and you don't get to requery. That's why it's smarter to make sure you're querying a 100% ready manuscript.

mayqueen
02-02-2017, 06:01 PM
Quickbread's advice is great. Remember that querying is about finding the right agent, not just an agent. :)

JJ Litke
02-02-2017, 08:20 PM
It's also the time to ask yourself hard questions about your manuscript. If you already know 170K is too long in the industry, then challenge whether yours is one of those few exceptional works. Map or outline all your scenes to make sure you need every single one. Map your characters to make sure you need every single one. And if every scene and character is not uniquely contributing to your overarching storyline, then it's weighing your story down. Some people only discover this after they've queried all their dream agents, and you don't get to requery. That's why it's smarter to make sure you're querying a 100% ready manuscript.

The answer to the above bolded is no. Debut writers don't get that kind of leeway.

The advice to map everything out is great.

mayqueen
02-02-2017, 10:57 PM
The answer to the above bolded is no. Debut writers don't get that kind of leeway.

I hate to disagree, but some do. Some. But only in exceptionally rare cases. If a debut novelist had a track record of well-placed short stories, for example, and/or an MFA, fellowship, or residency (or all of the above) from prestigious places, then maybe. But 99.9%* of the time, a debut novelist will not get this kind of leeway.

OP, you might head down to the Share Your Work section of AW and work your way up to the required fifty posts by engaging in some critiques. Then post the first few pages or so in the Historical section, to see if there are any obvious style issues. You can also find a wealth of information about querying in Query Letter Hell, also in SYW.

*not intended as a factual statement

Old Hack
02-02-2017, 11:11 PM
I hate to disagree, but some do. Some. But only in exceptionally rare cases. If a debut novelist had a track record of well-placed short stories, for example, and/or an MFA, fellowship, or residency (or all of the above) from prestigious places, then maybe. But 99.9%* of the time, a debut novelist will not get this kind of leeway.

I'm not sure those things will get a new writer the leeway required to ignore the accepted word-counts. Amazing writing? That'll do it.


OP, you might head down to the Share Your Work section of AW and work your way up to the required fifty posts by engaging in some critiques. Then post the first few pages or so in the Historical section, to see if there are any obvious style issues. You can also find a wealth of information about querying in Query Letter Hell, also in SYW.

*not intended as a factual statement

SYW is a great idea.

JJ Litke
02-02-2017, 11:28 PM
I hate to disagree, but some do. Some. But only in exceptionally rare cases. If a debut novelist had a track record of well-placed short stories, for example, and/or an MFA, fellowship, or residency (or all of the above) from prestigious places, then maybe. But 99.9%* of the time, a debut novelist will not get this kind of leeway.

The only "exceptions" I can think of weren't debut writers, though. People love to trot out GRRM as an example, but that ignores his already well established, award-winning career. Maybe an exception exists, but I can't think of any.

Going to SYW, on the other hand, I am in complete agreement with. :)

Old Hack
02-02-2017, 11:33 PM
Johnathan Strange and Mr Norrell was from a debut writer when it was published, and it was stonkingly long. Mind you, that was over a decade ago.

mayqueen
02-02-2017, 11:39 PM
The only "exceptions" I can think of weren't debut writers, though. People love to trot out GRRM as an example, but that ignores his already well established, award-winning career. Maybe an exception exists, but I can't think of any.

I just keep thinking of litfic examples, and litfic is a world onto itself. :) In historical fiction, I can't think of a single recent example of a debut novelist going over 140k. I know I had this misconception when I started, but I think a lot of first-time historical novelists use the golden age of historical fiction as a guide. I highly doubt Sharon Key Penman would get THE SUNNE IN SPLENDOUR published today.

Thomas Vail
02-02-2017, 11:49 PM
People love to trot out GRRM as an example, but that ignores his already well established, award-winning career. Especially considering that it started in 1970.


Maybe an exception exists, but I can't think of any.


This would be a time when the phrase, 'the exception that proves the rule' would be useful.

polishmuse
02-03-2017, 12:00 AM
SYW is a great idea, to piggyback off of all of this.

RE: the initial question: if you're set on your word count and nothing will shove you in the direction of possibly splitting your book into two shorter books or editing further, then query additional agents. Unless asked for an exclusive (which are usually limited by six weeks or two months at most), it's better to have your work in multiple hands. If an agent makes an offer, then you'll have a reason to re-nudge agent 1 who requested. Otherwise, I wouldn't nudge again.

Techs Walker
02-03-2017, 12:16 AM
Howdy,

CAVEAT - the following is not based on any personal experience, just a lot of reading:
A) NO B) No, you say it's only been 11 days since the last nudge. D) Definitely not. If your betas are OK with it, fine. Trim if and only if you close with an agent, and get a real good reason. I've read (and enjoyed) some real doorstops of historical fiction.


Supplementing my earlier reply, the 'doorsteps' that i have read were NOT from debut authors. Since my first comment, you've had input from mayqueen saying that it is beyond typical commercial length, and it IS her genre. And we've now learned that you did not include word count in your first query, but at least got the agent interested enough for that encouraging 2-month email. I wonder if you had included the word count in the original query, would the agent have stopped reading at that point, and dropped you. (So maybe you got lucky and bypassed that);)

Given that there is a % chance that your word count is an auto-drop, maybe a reduction is needed. It would be a shame if that cut into 'story', but you've got a comment from Old Hack saying that your posts were long-winded. That's probably something to work on, no matter what your word count is.

Techs

thephrygian
02-03-2017, 04:10 AM
Thanks, all, for the substantive feedback. Much appreciated. The closest analog I can think of for my book--in structure, style, and genre-straddling--is Kostova's The Historian, a debut that clocked in at over 240k. I don't have her pedigree, though, so I know it will be an uphill slog if I leave it as is. On the one hand, I was very fortunate to locate an agent with strong personal interest in my material and an apparent appreciation for my style. On the other, I may have gambled away my best chance by delivering her a book she can't sell, or ultimately doesn't work for her. Either way, I will likely trim as much as I can before the next round of querying.

[Edit] Apologies to Old Hack for not paying more proper respect to my forum elders. Believe it or not, my desire to push the limits on size is not born from arrogance, ignorance or naivete, but rather a firm belief that my material warrants it. Being overly defensive, however, was a very poor way to project that.

Old Hack
02-03-2017, 11:14 AM
Thanks, all, for the substantive feedback. Much appreciated. The closest analog I can think of for my book--in structure, style, and genre-straddling--is Kostova's The Historian, a debut that clocked in at over 240k. I don't have her pedigree, however, so I know it will be an uphill slog if I leave it as is. On the one hand, I was very fortunate to locate an agent with strong personal interest in my material and an apparent appreciation for my style. On the other, I may have gambled away my best chance by delivering her a book she can't sell, or ultimately doesn't work for her. Either way, I will likely trim as much as I can before the next round of querying.

You might be the next Kostova. Or you might have written an over-long, over-written novel. And worrying about what's gone wrong with this agent isn't going to help you now. I think you're on the right path. Pruning that novel back is almost certainly going to help improve it. But why don't you put some of it up in Share Your Work and see what everyone thinks needs doing? It might be that you need to cut back an overly wordy style; or it might be that you need to cut out full scenes; or it might be perfect as it is. You don't know for sure. You'll need fifty posts before you can start your own thread there, so go and give a lot of critiques while you're getting your post-count up. It's a really good way to improve your own work.


[Edit] Apologies to Old Hack for not paying more proper respect to my forum elders. Believe it or not, my desire to push the limits on size is not born from arrogance, ignorance or naivete, but rather a firm belief that my material warrants it. Being overly defensive, however, was a very poor way to project that.

Thank you. But don't worry about it. We all have our moments, me more than most. Good luck with your writing.

thephrygian
02-17-2017, 10:02 PM
Quick update (fwiw): After a second nudge, the agent replied to say that she was still reading and really enjoying the manuscript, but reasserted her concerns re: length. So no offer to represent... yet, but no outright rejection either. A hard road ahead of me, but at least some indication that it might lead somewhere.