Yet another "word count" thread

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noisebloom

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This seems to get asked quite a bit, and after researching this topic time and time again, I still don't feel like I have a good grasp on what is acceptable vs. unacceptable.

I'm writing an upmarket/literary sci-fi novel, i.e. the prose is somewhat poetic and at times experimental, but it lives within the sci-fi realm. I expect I'll reach final draft in the next six months, and I estimate the final word count would be ~60k.

There's unfortunately a lot of variance in people's opinions about if an adult novel like this would sell in modern times with a word count like this. 60k seems rather long for a novella (and the scope of the story is much bigger than a typical novella), but a lot of people have relayed to me that anything sci-fi nowadays should be breaking 90k words, which I simply don't see happening with this one. I would classify it as a "short novel".

Now, I understand that a 30k novel probably won't sell nowadays because it would have to be priced pretty low, but would the same apply for a 60k upmarket sci-fi? I'm interested to hear some experiences you all have had with agents and publishers regarding this, because I find a lot of people online speak in absolutes when it comes to word counts, and some of the maxims I'm reading seem to contradict themselves, making this all the more confusing for me. I certainly don't want to waste an agent's time by pitching something that simply is outside the scope of the traditional publishing industry, but I do think the novel will be "complete" and "feel right" at 60k.

Thoughts? Experiences? I welcome all feedback, as there does seem to be quite a bit of subjectivity about the word boundaries for different genres (and I'm not sure if literary/upmarket throws a wrinkle in things, as well).
 

dickson

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There’s something called a chapbook that runs 30 k words or so. I think they’re more of a British thing, but Gene Wolfe published several early in his career. I also seem to recall they’re mostly self-published. So perhaps this reply isn’t as helpful as I thought it might be. Maybe I should stop.
 

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This seems to get asked quite a bit, and after researching this topic time and time again, I still don't feel like I have a good grasp on what is acceptable vs. unacceptable.

I'm writing an upmarket/literary sci-fi novel, i.e. the prose is somewhat poetic and at times experimental, but it lives within the sci-fi realm. I expect I'll reach final draft in the next six months, and I estimate the final word count would be ~60k.

There's unfortunately a lot of variance in people's opinions about if an adult novel like this would sell in modern times with a word count like this. 60k seems rather long for a novella (and the scope of the story is much bigger than a typical novella), but a lot of people have relayed to me that anything sci-fi nowadays should be breaking 90k words, which I simply don't see happening with this one. I would classify it as a "short novel".

Now, I understand that a 30k novel probably won't sell nowadays because it would have to be priced pretty low, but would the same apply for a 60k upmarket sci-fi? I'm interested to hear some experiences you all have had with agents and publishers regarding this, because I find a lot of people online speak in absolutes when it comes to word counts, and some of the maxims I'm reading seem to contradict themselves, making this all the more confusing for me. I certainly don't want to waste an agent's time by pitching something that simply is outside the scope of the traditional publishing industry, but I do think the novel will be "complete" and "feel right" at 60k.

Thoughts? Experiences? I welcome all feedback, as there does seem to be quite a bit of subjectivity about the word boundaries for different genres (and I'm not sure if literary/upmarket throws a wrinkle in things, as well).
Maybe wait until you have actually written the book and have a real word count before worrying how to market it?
 
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noisebloom

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Maybe wait until you have actually written the book and have a real word count before worrying how to market it?

As a chronic strategizer, my brain is wired to worry about this stuff, unfortunately, and it seems like people in the other writing circles I've been a part of are very "word count cognizant" from the get-go, which is most likely where I got the habit.

But I do see your point, maybe I should start diverting the time I spend researching and trying to understand the publication side to the writing side.
 
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As a chronic strategizer, my brain is wired to worry about this stuff, unfortunately, and it seems like people in the other writing circles I've been a part of are very "word count cognizant" from the get-go, which is most likely where I got the habit.
Makes sense. I'm a control freak, so I can sympathise.

I guess the bit I was hung up on was "I expect I'll reach final draft in the next six months, and I estimate the final word count would be ~60k." How accurately can you (you in the specific sense, not 'a person' generically) predict final word count? Since I don't know much (well, anything!) about your background: Is this your first book? Your fifth? Your twentieth? Are yo a plotter or a panster? Are you halfway through the first rough draft of this book, or halfway through revision number four in which you are doing the final polish and checking for typos?
 

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@noisebloom
AFAI remember, 60K is a novel.
anyway, the 'secret' is this (the bit in bold)

Dear Agent On Most High
Salutations and most humble thanks for diverting your valuable time to my small, insignificant contribution to the canon known as 'literary sci-fi.'

While I do indeed feel a great shame impinging upon Your Wonderfulness time, and of course, I fully recognize my unworthiness, yet I nonetheless submit to Your Fabulousness this tawdry and tragic attempt at greatness, which I have pathetically entitled My Great Novel, a deeply flawed and ugly work at best, with a word count of 60,000, for Your Graciousness to dismiss, (or indeed, May the Heavens embrace you to their Bosom) possibly skim over.

ete, etc

Let The Great Ones decide whether its a novel, a sheep, a letter, or a treatise. Just mention the word count, and you're fine.
 
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noisebloom

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Makes sense. I'm a control freak, so I can sympathise.

I guess the bit I was hung up on was "I expect I'll reach final draft in the next six months, and I estimate the final word count would be ~60k." How accurately can you (you in the specific sense, not 'a person' generically) predict final word count? Since I don't know much (well, anything!) about your background: Is this your first book? Your fifth? Your twentieth? Are yo a plotter or a panster? Are you halfway through the first rough draft of this book, or halfway through revision number four in which you are doing the final polish and checking for typos?

This is my third novel that I've made it past first draft with, so if I were get this get this into a state I would deem "complete" and not further criticize it into my "box of shame", it would really be my first completed novel. I'm probably what all the cool kids nowadays call a "plantser." I've completed what you might call a third draft, but I lacked a solid CP with this one until recently, so it's undergoing some hefty structural work with a newer CP who coincidentally (and possibly atypically) believes that sci-fi is best on the short end of the novel spectrum in terms of word count.

That all being said, I am now toying with the idea of adding an additional POV which will completely obliterate any sort of voodoo word count estimate I may have had, and truth to be told, when I read my original post now, I have the feeling my "estimate" on word count came from that voice in my head that has been saying "you are not good enough and will thereby meet no such metric that anyone human would ever set." The bigger problem may be getting my self-doubt under control so I can be a bit more objective about the questions I ask and the answers I seek...
 

noisebloom

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@noisebloom
AFAI remember, 60K is a novel.
anyway, the 'secret' is this (the bit in bold)

Dear Agent On Most High
Salutations and most humble thanks for diverting your valuable time to my small, insignificant contribution to the canon known as 'literary sci-fi.'

While I do indeed feel a great shame impinging upon Your Wonderfulness time, and of course, I fully recognize my unworthiness, yet I nonetheless submit to Your Fabulousness this tawdry and tragic attempt at greatness, which I have pathetically entitled My Great Novel, a deeply flawed and ugly work at best, with a word count of 60,000, for Your Graciousness to dismiss, (or indeed, May the Heavens embrace you to their Bosom) possibly skim over.

ete, etc

Let The Great Ones decide whether its a novel, a sheep, a letter, or a treatise. Just mention the word count, and you're fine.

Yes - I think I'm in agreement now that the best course of action is simply letting the course of events steer me where they will... there's probably some inverse correlation between agonizing about wordcount and the quality of writing. :ROFLMAO:
 
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LStein

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This seems to get asked quite a bit, and after researching this topic time and time again, I still don't feel like I have a good grasp on what is acceptable vs. unacceptable.

I'm writing an upmarket/literary sci-fi novel, i.e. the prose is somewhat poetic and at times experimental, but it lives within the sci-fi realm. I expect I'll reach final draft in the next six months, and I estimate the final word count would be ~60k.

There's unfortunately a lot of variance in people's opinions about if an adult novel like this would sell in modern times with a word count like this. 60k seems rather long for a novella (and the scope of the story is much bigger than a typical novella), but a lot of people have relayed to me that anything sci-fi nowadays should be breaking 90k words, which I simply don't see happening with this one. I would classify it as a "short novel".

Now, I understand that a 30k novel probably won't sell nowadays because it would have to be priced pretty low, but would the same apply for a 60k upmarket sci-fi? I'm interested to hear some experiences you all have had with agents and publishers regarding this, because I find a lot of people online speak in absolutes when it comes to word counts, and some of the maxims I'm reading seem to contradict themselves, making this all the more confusing for me. I certainly don't want to waste an agent's time by pitching something that simply is outside the scope of the traditional publishing industry, but I do think the novel will be "complete" and "feel right" at 60k.

Thoughts? Experiences? I welcome all feedback, as there does seem to be quite a bit of subjectivity about the word boundaries for different genres (and I'm not sure if literary/upmarket throws a wrinkle in things, as well).
When I finished the first draft of my novel, it was about 65k, too short for my genre. I worried about this, needlessly, because it turns out I'm an underwriter. In revising the ms multiple times, the word count gradually increased. Today it sits at a respectable 87k.

Finish the book. Revise. It probably won't still be 60k.
 

Brigid Barry

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Lit Agent Kelly did a great series of Tweets about the industry standard for word counts. Not sure if that's searchable, I had it saved somewhere but I'm no longer on Twitter to find it.

A lot of word count standards has to do with publication costs and reader expectations.

There is a difference in expectations between ages, MG, YA, Adult.

There's a difference in expectations between genres. My understanding is that generally speaking an adult novel should be 70k or so.

Sci Fi and Fantasy are expected to be on the longer side (90-100k for adult) because of world building.

If your word count is too low an agent will probably slam the form reject button, assuming that the world building wasn't there. If it's over 110k it will probably be a form reject for being too expensive to publish.