Hi Miss Snark:
Can you tell me the importance of novel length for an unpublished author? Are there sort of standard minimums and maximums? If so, can you tell me how certain writers (David Foster Wallace seems to come to mind here) get their first novels published with over 400 pages. I'm a nit-wit, so if you could explain in detail, I'd be oh-so-appreciative.
David Foster Wallace's first novel was published 20 years ago in 1987. It had 155,000 words in in it. Here's how I know that.
In 1987 FedEx would send someone to your door to pick up a document, take it to their office and miraculously FAX it anwhere in the country for about $20. It was a very very big deal.
If someone offered you that deal today, you'd laugh and point out the world has marched forward for good or ill, and what was a good deal then, isn't the same today.
Today there are a lot fewer places publishing literary fiction, and a lot fewer editors willing to take on big ass novels. I don't say this critically cause it's mostly a reflection of what people are actually buying.
Here's what you need to think about every time you whine "but X was able to". Go read my back post this week on going through the slush pile. 20 queries/5 surviving to be read in more detail. I don't think I mention word count in any of the instant rejections but I probably would have if it was over 200,000 or under 65,000.
Even if you don't tell me the word count, you have to write a compelling query letter about a book I think I'd like to read. That's the first and highest hurdle.
If in fact you make it over that hurdle, and then I discover you've got a big fat book, you've simply set the bar for the next hurdle that much higher. You have to be so good that I can't live without that book cause selling 200,000 words these days is harder than selling 100,000.
Maybe this will help:
Percentage of books on my list that are more than 125,000 words: 0
Chances you are the next David Foster Wallace: <0
Chances you are publishable if you understand agents are persuaded first by commerce then by art: >0