Tuesday, May 31, 2011

But My Book Is So Unique...

I frequently get a submission that reads something like this:

Dear Mr. Eagan,

I have read over your guidelines and see that you have a requirement of 75,000 words for a single title book. I fully understand that, but my book is so unique that I believe you will want to sign it immediately. My book is a 25,000 word...

Ah, the old, "my book is so unique" line. Seeing this always makes the rejection letter go so much easier. In simple terms, when I see something like this, it becomes very clear to me that the author doesn't understand that word count in a story does indeed matter.

When a publisher sets a word count range for a book, there are several reasons for doing so. In some cases, it is really a marketing issue. They know exactly how many books will fit on a shelf. While this is important, it really isn't the prime reason. These publishers know their markets and know that "size does matter." If someone is looking for a quick read, the size of the book does play a big role. A huge book on the shelf does not scream to the reader, "trust me, I may be 200,000 - 300,000 words but I am a fast read."

For myself, the word count is also a way to find stories with real depth - something that is crucial in those single title books. It takes a time (and obviously additional words) to tell that story and really bring the characters to the surface. When that word count starts dropping, what we often see is a story relying too heavily on dialogue and often skimming over the surface of the story.

The deal is this. Word count, genre, topics. All of the rules set by editors and agents are there for a reason. You simply cannot just say your story is so amazing that we will throw the rules away. In fact, the odds are, we won't even look at it.

Just something to think about on this short week. I hope you all had a great and productive Memorial Day weekend.



  1. I truly don't understand why people think, in this extremely competitive industry, that it's a good idea to break the stated rules. Time enough for that when you're on your fifth or sixth best-seller :)

  2. Since 25k is more like a novella, the writer probably did not understand that, and may not even know how to search for agents who represent novellas and short stories. The internet is a brilliant tool for those who want to put effort in. Thanks for sharing the rules so we can stay a half-step ahead of the slush pile :)