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Monday, January 11, 2010

Size Matters

I’ve been getting a lot of queries lately from potential clients about their middle-grade and young adult books seeking editorial advice because they keep getting fast rejections. In other words, they are pretty sure the agent or editor isn’t taking the time to actually read their entire novel. They may be right. One thing all of these authors share is that their manuscripts are over 100,000 words.

Now, there are many reasons why an agent (or publisher) may turn down a manuscript, and given the sheer number of submissions they have to reject a large percentage. A good way for a manuscript to be turned down fast is by being much longer (or – rarely -- much shorter) than is standard for the age group.

But the Harry Potter books are middle-grade and they weigh more than my cat! you protest. True – but take a look at the very first Harry Potter. It was around 300 pages. When J.K. Rowling was still an unknown author, her first book was much more in line with traditional middle-grade publishing specs.

But my story needs every single one of those 158,000 words! you argue. Maybe. But you may be loading up your book with more plot, more extraneous detail, or more characters than the story demands – or your reader wants.

These are VERY rough guidelines, but in general books aimed at middle-grade readers run between 25,000 and 60,000 words. That’s a wide range because complexity and ideal audience age for any story varies. YA books run from 45,000- 75,000 words for the same reason.  Yes, there are exceptions and maybe your book is it, but why risk putting yourself out of the running for reasons of length alone? Your first goal is to be read. Remember, agents are people too (I swear! I’ve met some!). If you had twenty manuscripts arriving every day, which of the ten vampire queries are you going to respond to favorably? The one that falls within traditional page lengths or the one that is 158,000 words?

Do yourself a favor and do the hard work of trimming. Usually your story will benefit, by being more focused, less repetitive, and better paced. Give yourself the best possible shot at being read. As frustrating as this may seem to you, size really does matter.
Carla Jablonski

1 comment:

  1. Great comment, Carla! And the same advice applies to adult books--at least in nonfiction, which is the field I know. Fewer words, well chosen, produce much greater impact and give you a much better chance to capturing and holding the interest of readers.