Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Word on Word Count - Blog - Caren Johnson Literary Agency

A Word on Word Count - Blog - Caren Johnson Literary Agency: "A Word on Word Count
Tuesday, July 14, 2009 at 4:39PM Caren Estesen Share Article 1 Comment

I've been noticing a trend with the recent queries coming to my inbox. The average length for manuscripts seems to hover around 115,000 words (I'm not including a few people who've said their word counts are 150,000 words or higher; at that point I'm just not going to consider the book unless the idea is really spectacular). Longer books have been a growing trend for a while now and while I'm a huge fan of books like Twilight, Harry Potter and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, not every story needs or should be told in 100,000+ word formats.

There are certain categories that feature longer books and an editor doesn't bat an eye if I say it's on the long side (anything over 110,000). These are typically women's fiction and commercial fiction. However, genre fiction (at least in romance and mystery) and YA doesn't do as well for me in longer formats if I can't justify the length. I think the reason for the eyebrow raise is healthy skepticism on the part of the editor as they wonder if the story is going to have a saggy middle or tons of beautifully descriptive passages that do nothing to move the novel forward. I've learned to do the same eyebrow raise when I'm taking on new authors. Is this something I'm going to have to spend six months (rather than six weeks) working with the author on to get that story tight and that arch just right? I find myself gravitating towards the shorter stuff, not because it's necessarily better, but because the author exercised some restraint and that's harder to do.

Now there are definitely longer books out there and I'm not suggesting that authors need to follow an arbitrary word count for their books. But the days of selling a great idea and having an editor work on it with you to shape it into a fabulous book are long gone. Agents don't have that kind of time either (at least I don't). So while you may have the urge to write long, you have to make sure that your book is as perfect as it can be. This may be easier to do with a standard sized book rather than a supersized one and that can be a factor in your road to publication.


  1. I really related to this post. I began writing big stories a few years ago because I didn't know what I was doing as a new writer. I just wrote.

    Now I'm trying to write shorter stories with better craft technique, but even though I've learned a lot, I still have trouble reigning in the part of me that wants to write "off the cuff". I don't even realize I'm doing it, until someone points things out. Nonetheless, the shorter story is easier to control and is probably the better format to learn how to write a well crafted story. At least for me. Thanks for posting this. BarbW, IL

  2. Honestly, 110,000 words- only equals to approximately 350 pages. This doesn't seem like a super long book. It actually sounds more like one in the middle. It can still be sized as one that a woman would put in her purse and carry with her to read on a bus or subway. I think that's a fine word count for any intelligent woman. Women want a book that won't end. They want the ability to continue the freeing journey ahead while connecting, being and even fantasizing that they are the woman inside the tale.

    Most women who read, if not all, would agree.