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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Monday, January 4, 2010


How Long Should A Novel Be?

A lot of agents have been complaining about queries with inappropriate word counts recently. If you're getting a lot of form rejections, this may be why.

Today Fineprint agent Colleen Lindsay has posted an update of contemporary word count rules on her great blog, THE SWIVET http://theswivet.blogspot.com/2008/03/on-word-counts-and-novel-length.html. She’s concerned that many writers’ sites have been giving out wrong or outdated information. Word count guidelines have been trending down in the last decade. She says most editors won’t look at a debut ms. longer than 110K, even if it’s epic fantasy—which wasn’t true ten years ago.

Like everything else, it’s all about the economy: fat books cost more to produce, and publishers make more on two short books than one long one.

Word counts are generally agreed to be the count provided by MS Word’s “Word Count” tool. Some extremely old fashioned agents prefer that you use the formula of 250 words per page (double spaced, 12 pt. font) and calculate it yourself, which seems a silly waste of time to me, but always check agent websites for guidelines.

Here is a summary of Colleen’s new word count guidelines by genre. She points out there are always exceptions, especially for sequels and established literary stars. But for debut authors, following these rules will much improve your chances of publication.

MG fiction = 25k to 40k

YA fiction = 50k to 80k

urban fantasy / paranormal romance = 80k to 100k

mysteries and crime fiction = cozies: 60k to 70k; others: 80k to 100k.

women’s fiction and chick lit=80k to 100k

literary fiction=65k to 120k, trending away from the higher numbers. “Spare and elegant” is the mark of literary chic these days.

thrillers=90k to 100k;

historical fiction=80k to 140k and up (you can still wax verbitudinous in this genre, apparently.)

science fiction and fantasy=100k-110k (definitely down from the epic tomes of yore.)

She doesn’t mention romance, so I’d say check websites. Word counts for specific romance lines (usually 60k -75k) will be posted with publisher guidelines.


Around 80k seems to be the magic number for most adult fiction. So it may be time to put on your editor hat and get ruthless.

But what if wordiness is not your problem and your ms. comes in under 50k words? Unless it’s MG or YA, you’ve got a novella, not a novel, and it’s going to be really hard to place. Low word count is one of the main reasons for a form rejection, says agent Kristin Nelson, who has a good post on the subject at Pub Rants. So work on fleshing out characters if it’s literary, weave in another subplot if it’s a thriller, or kill off a few more characters if it’s crime fiction.

And if that 50k worder is a NaNoWriMo effort, it probably needs more work, anyway. Don’t query until it’s ready. Really ready. That usually means letting it sit for 6 weeks, then reading the whole thing out loud before you send off that query.



Anonymous Susan Tuttle, author Tangled Webs said...

Seems to me if traditional publishers would jump on the POD bandwagon for production, they'd not only save a few thousand trees, they could also stop dictating to the muse and clipping writers' wings 'cause their costs would drop dramatically.

As a reader, I do not like "short" books, because they don't give me enough time with the characters - the story is started and over in a flash. Not satisfying. Give me Elizabeth George and her 800 - 1,000 page tomes any day. When a story is well-written, readers don't notice the length, they simply live in the writer's world with grateful hearts.

Too bad the "powers that be" over-rely on email and texting; they're losing the ability to enter and dwell for days in alternate realities. Thank God that with with POD publishers, small press publishers who still recognize good literature whatever the length, and e-book technology, we don't have to become the "cookie cutter" writers the "experts" proclaim we must.

This is not to say that if I ever do write one within the word-length guidelines I won't send it to as many agents and traditional publishers I can find. I'll take any opportunity to get out there! LOL

January 4, 2010 at 1:36 PM  
Blogger Genie of the Shell said...

Just curious--Susan, what's POD? I'm ignorant of that acronym.

Anne, THANK YOU for another bit of clear, very useful advice!

January 4, 2010 at 2:21 PM  
Blogger annerallen said...

POD is short for Print On Demand. It's the technolgy used by self-publishing outfits and many small presses as well. It allows the publisher to print one book at a time--as ordered--"on demand"--in a kind of high-tech Xerox machine--and not have the expense of printing, warehousing and shipping unsold books-which then are often returned at more expense.

But the technology has not taken off with mainstream publishers as many had hoped. Most paper books are still published the inefficient old fashioned way.

The new technology that now has the public's interest is the e-book, now that Kindles and their cousins are the hot new item. E-books are "on demand" too, and no paper, shipping or returns are involved.

So POD technology has been sidelined for the moment. But I don't think anybody knows exactly what road publishing will take from here.

January 4, 2010 at 4:04 PM  
Blogger Churadogs said...

Word count reminds me of that scene in Amadeus with the Emperor sniffing at Mozart, "Too many notes!" Interesting posting. POD sure sounds promising. Trick is how you'd "advertise" such a book, i.e. no piles of books in a bookstore for people to thumb through. Just a name and photo on Amazon? Or do you pay to print a certain number of books to put about then hope for POD orders?

January 5, 2010 at 5:26 AM  

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