Count on this

Dear Miss Snark, I got a problem. I have a novel. It's my first. It has a beginning, a middle, and an ending. BUT it is only 45,000 words. I am making some effort to make it longer. So here's the question. Is there ever a MINIMUM number of words for a first time novelist before sending query letters and shopping for an agent???

As a public service to my colleagues I'm going to tell you to not even think about querying an agent quite yet. If this email is any indication of your writing, you need to worry less about the number of words, and more about the quality.

If you want to find out more about word count, there are a lot of posts on this in the Snarkives. I'd recommend however that you spend more time in the Crapometer section.


Ric said...

Rereading indicates the answer is correct, but very Snarky.

Feisty said...

Yanno, I wish writers would get off this darned work count obsession and get on to something meaningful like plot, character development, structure, or something that counts. Quality of story or writing, perhaps?

If all you can worry about is word count, you've missed the whole point of what this is about. It's scary to hear people obsess on this one item. It's almost as bad as the grammar and spelling police posts, because that's the other end of this pole.

Good God, just write a great book! And make sure it's not too good.

Anonymous said...

This man needs to read "Eat, Shoots and Leaves." That was Snarkilicious!

delilah said...

I'd be willing to bet if you had a story that was worth reading and if the beginning, middle and end did justice to that story, your word count would land right in the old ballpark (which I believe is 80-100 thousand words - please correct me if I'm wrong.)

No need to hit for the fences. Just write something that others will want to read.

Dave Kuzminski said...

I don't worry about the word count until the time comes to submit the manuscript. If it's short, then I limit submissions to online venues where shortness is desirable, though epic lengths can also be equally desirable. However, when it comes to download time, many readers will opt for a shorter work especially if they have dialup connections.

Conclusion? Write the best story you can. When it's finished, then check the markets for who wants what length and submit accordingly.

Anonymous said...

Gentle Inquirer:

Drop your notion of lengthening the story. Chop out 15% and market what's left as a novella. Your turn of phrase might sound sharp and wicked in a shorter work, whereas a longer one requires more standardized syntax and grammar.

Lapsed Editor

Carrie said...

Write well. The time you have spent worrying about such details is time away from writing.

Lisa Hunter said...

I hate this emphasis on enough-pages-to-justify-a-hardcover-price. Some of my favorite fiction pieces are novellas, and I sometimes wonder if they'd still get published in today's market. Bonjour Tristesse? Daisy Miller? Goodbye, Columbus? Franny and Zooey? All great, and all well under 80K.

HiltonRC said...

A study of the market will also tell you how long the book should be. Different genres have different preferred/required lengths. Just as you study writing, study the market. If you're writing for a market that prefers 100,000 words and you have 45,000 . . . you probably need to delve into the characters more, add plot elements, etc.

And the Snarky one's point is well-taken, although I'll paraphrase: The agent is a guardian of the Big Kahuna. She is not a grammar teacher or advisor for non-clients. Don't ask the agent the high school questions. If you want to learn how to Act, don't write to George Clooney. If you want to learn how to write novels . . . for Dog's sake, don't ask Miss Snark. Unless you like being bitten.

And BTW, there is a minimum number of words for a novel -- all the words that will make it a terrific story.

Joseph said...

Hard Case Crime is doing very well with novels of around 50,000 words and I see plenty of romances and YA books around the same length.

And frankly, this correspondent's prose style reads exactly like that of at least one big-time thriller writer whose success bemuses me.

Quick said...

"Dear Miss Snark, I got a problem."


Malia said...

I once had a teacher who wrapped you on the head with a pointer if you every wrote, spoke or even thought the word "got."

Needless to say, the lesson stuck.

Dwight The Troubled Teen said...

"...and market what's left as a novella."

Yes, yes. By all means, market that novella. Go ahead. Splurge. Send to both agents who represent novellas.

kis said...

aw, c'mon you guys. it's an email, not formal prose. many people write emails and comments the exact way they speak--myself included. just be happy he didn't open with: "Hey Miz Snark an' all youse guys, I gots me a problemo..."