Friday, April 10, 2009

It's Really Not Personal Redux

The following started out as a response to Scott’s comment on the post It's Really Not Personal, but it got too long so we’re making it a post. :)

Robert or Sharene (not sure who wrote the last reply),
Your list of authors doesn't count. You just said in a previous reply that established authors go by different rules. What about newbie authors? What is the average word count for them?
And, yes, I'm yanking your chain. LOL

I’m used to getting my chain yanked, Scott, that’s why I have two chains. LOL One is attached to a large iron cannonball that Sharene yanks on a regular basis, and the other is continually yanked by writers who can’t or don’t want to believe there are rules and/or guidelines we ALL must follow, including agents. If you would like to have some idea of how the rules are established, read below:

Established authors and their agents help set the rules, therefore they can break them. Yes, their word counts range around the 90,000 word average most of the time, but when an established author decides to write something shorter, longer, or out of their original genre (like Grisham’s A Painted House), they usually get away with it without too many scars.

Not so for new writers. New writers have NO power (reading audience=power) and therefore MUST follow ALL the rules. This also applies to new writer's agents. Word count ranges are derived from a variety of factors, but you have to consider a major aspect is what the reading public wants and how publishers respond to that need.

Genre also has an impact on novel length. This is why historical romances and speculative fiction can run longer—their audience like a longer read. Highly literary works can run shorter because it is so difficult to maintain the literary element for 90,000 words, although there are some authors who can do this. Cost is a major factor as well. The longer the book, the more it costs to print it, and therefore the higher the investment and risk to publisher. Aversion to risk turns many publishers away from untried writers and longer books from new writers add to that risk. Shorter books can get lost on the bookstore shelf, so uniformity is key in not hampering sales.

If you're curious as to what the an average word length is for commercial fiction novels, take your calculator to the bookstore, pick a group of newer books, at random, from major publishers (newer books because the established range changes over time) and use the formula supplied, i.e. total print pages x 250 (hardcover only) and then average that total (add together then divide by number of novels).

**Note: Smaller publishers have their own word count guidelines. Search for their individual guidelines prior to querying those publishers. If you want the word counts of the major publishers and don’t want to take our word for it, try the method above.

The bottom line for us is that we don’t set guidelines. We find an average word count range by researching recent sales. The average is what the average is and we represent clients whose works meet that average. It's that simple.


Scott Jensen said...

I fully agree, Robert. I was agreeing with my comment to your last blog post. I guess I need to be more blatant in my humor. I read the comments to your last blog post and then your last reply to the comments there and thought to myself, "Now some idiot will point out that the authors listed are famous authors and not newbies and thus not valid in this discussion." I then chuckled and thought I'd post such a moronic reply as a joke. I thought my last sentence in that comment and how I spaced it several lines below the rest of the comment made it clear that I was just joking around. I'll do better next time. :-)

Anonymous said...

I have a (hopefully quick) question: I have been using the word count feature of MS Word and thought my novel might be too long for submission. MS Word says the novel runs 136,000 words. However, using your 250 words per page formula (at Arial 12-point font), it only comes out to 77,500 words.

That's a huge discrepancy. Suddenly my longest novel (which MS Word counts at 229,000 words, comes out to 130,500. Is there some happy medium here? And would you even consider a novel of 77,500 words?


Anonymous said...

Okay, I'm embarrassed. Strike my last, about the 250 word per page method as opposed to MS Word. I just realized that my novels are stored in single space (the way I write them, but not for submission). Using your method, my story now comes out to 155,000 words.


Wylie Merrick Literary said...

Dear Anonymous,

Use the word count option that MS Word provides to get your word count for a raw manuscript. The 250 approximation talked about in this blog is only used if you don't have a word count. For instance, you're trying to figure out how many words there are in the published novel you're reading or one in a bookstore and all you have is a page count. Publishers try to stay as close as possible to the 250 word per page, so this can be used, but again only in published hard-cover or trade paperback books using a standard font size. This won't work with large print and most mass market books as they use a different size font. Hope this helps eliminate the confusion.

Wylie Merrick Literary said...

Anonymous #1,

Again, using MS Word is the correct way to determine word count in a raw manuscript. If the MS Word says your manuscript is 229,000 words in length, that's the word count to use.

Don't be confused by the 250 per page calculation posted here and elsewhere. This is to be used on standard PUBLISHED hardcover or trade paperback books only.

The 250 word check was only mentioned as a way to check other authors word counts at the library or in bookstores. THIS WAS NEVER MEANT TO BE USED AS ANOTHER WAY TO DETERMINE WORD COUNT ON A RAW MANUSCRIPT. ALWAYS USE YOUR WORD PROCESSOR FOR THAT PURPOSE

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the clarification. MS Word it is!

Anonymous said...

Hi -

In regards to a recent rejection letter I received from your company...
I fully understand and accept that rejection is a part of the publishing business. However I can't help but wonder that I received the rejection not three hours after I sent in the query. Do you normally do this? If so, what factors typically make you write off a manuscript so quickly? I'm not being bitter, merely inquiring.

Wylie Merrick Literary said...

There are so many factors that impact why and how soon a query is rejected that this question would be very difficult to answer without more information. For example, if I had a name I could possibly reread your query and have a more definitive answer for you.

Did you send a manuscript or a query? You said query in your comment.

I love that people post comments here, however, a question like this could be more easily answered by addressing this question directly to me via email at the same address you used to query me.