Peek a boo word count

Let's suppose a previously unpublished writer wrote a fantasy novel that, contrary to the author's intent to keep the word count more within the realm of "haiku on steroids", wound up "growing fat on the blood of victims" (not unlike the Crapometer) and swelled to a girth more in keeping with a George R.R. Martin title.

Let's suppose also that even after careful revision, the tome remained a BFF (big fat fantasy), however one the author believed possessed a cohesive plot that would suffer from the loss of even a pound of wordage.

Which of the following would be more offensive to a prospective agent:

a) Clearly indicating the novel's length in the query, and causing him/her heart palpitations (to say nothing for risking the query not being read past the first paragraph); or

b) "Conveniently" forgetting to mention the word count, and hopefully dazzling him/her with the samples pages? The novel in question is standalone (as opposed to a trilogy or series), which is at least ONE point in its favor.

Cause like we wouldn't notice?
oh please.
The FIRST thing you look for is word count when the SFF letters come over the transom cause you just KNOW it's not a delicate little tome that fits snugly in your reticule for easy reading.

BFF isn't a deal breaker in SFF. Mention the word count. If you leave it off, I'm just gonna email you and ask.

And get ready to embrace the pruning shears. You'd be surprised how much F can come off a BFF book when Miss Snark starts trimming.


kitty said...

Are SFF books usually loooong books? I'm asking cuz I don't read the genre.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Miss Snark, for your reply. (I'm the person who posed the original question.)

Hearing about how well you can trim the F off a BFF makes me wonder how you'd do with a SWF. I think we can all use a diet plan with the holidays approaching. Especially one that involves gin.

Kitty: SFF titles DO tend to be larger than your average bear. Sometimes QUITE large -- 600 to 700 pages in hardcover.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

One stroll down the SF/F aisle at the bookstore will show that the paperback spines are fat enough to split on the first reading. I believe that most readers in this genre want plenty of words for their dollar. One publisher actually says on their website submissions instructions: Long books are not a problem.

Dhewco said...

They can be, but not usually first time books. There are a few out there, of course. There's always exception to the rules.

With Fantasy and some Sci-fi, there's a lot of worldbuilding in with the action.

My two cents,


Simon Haynes said...

Fantasy (the F part of SFF) tends to be long. SF (Science fiction) less so. In Australia fantasy books appear in trilogies. That's 150k of back story in the first tome, 160k of travelogue in book two and 40k of resolution in book three. Then there's a whopping great epilogue containing all the research the author couldn't cram into the text. (This trend started with LOTR and rolled rapidly downhill from there.)
Here in the land of OZ, which is awash with fantasy epics, they still shove the occasional SF book out the door. These tend to be shorter, but they bulk them up with larger fonts to make them look like value for money.

Simonbun said...

150K of backstory...160K travelogue...40K resolution...

I am SOOOOOOO glad I'd finished my coffee or my monitor would have been wearing it. What a wonderfully snarky breakdown of high fantasy--I love it!

Diana Pharaoh Francis said...

These days, fantasy editors are digging in hard at going above 125K. Has to do with price points/costs and such, and even established authors are seeing the nervousness of going larger. and trust me, speaking as one who's first editor used the phrase, "prune generously," it can be done.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I do so love that travelogue label. haha. my series reads lots like that!

perhaps I should try the aussie markets.

AnimeJune said...

On DAW Publishing's website, they actually say they STRONGLY prefer that the manuscripts you send are longer than 80 000 words.
SF and Fantasy do usually use more words - because they tend to require more description and explanations because they are dealing with things that are not of the norm.

Harry Connolly said...

From what I've been hearing, short is the new long*. Publishers are turning away from long books.

* quoted: Charlie Stross

Rick said...

Agree on the coffee-spitting potential of that epic-fantasy analysis!

But my advice to the original questioner is to get out the pruning shears. Been there done that - my book (a fantasy, though not an Epic Quest) went from 300,000 words to 135,000, and my agent is now shopping the post-Atkins Diet version around. I hated to do it, but the slimmed version is a better book.

Janna of Canada said...

Been there done that - my book (a fantasy, though not an Epic Quest) went from 300,000 words to 135,000...

Good lord, Rick! That's more than half what you originally wrote. Was it really THAT overwritten? What happened to the rest of it?

Rick said...

Was it really THAT overwritten?

I didn't think so, and nor did the (since-retired) founder of the agency, who originally took it on. But her round of submissions didn't move it, and her successor later sent me a market reality check, "135,000 words max," which I decided to cash. As said upthread, the BFF market isn't what it once was!

Lots of pretty stuff hit the cutting room floor, but the revised version is cleaner, leaner, and meaner - and while I had to cut a whole 16th century sea battle, it should never really have happened anyway, given the political situation! (Why invade when you're holding the heiress to the throne?)

Some of the cut material, happily including the battle, can be recast for the sequel. And maybe someday I can release the director's cut on DVD. :)