There is so much advice floating around out there about how important it is to follow the expected and established word counts in the industry. For example, many agents, editors, and publishers will not consider works that fall outside of expected word count ranges, and it may even be a reason to reject the work.
The reason is pretty simple: these word counts have been established based on audience and genre, and falling outside these ranges can be indicators of serious deficiencies in the novel (or that it may not be a novel at all, but rather a shorter story) or a lack of knowledge of the industry by the author.
And honestly, with such an overcrowded market, some agents will look for any reason to reject manuscripts, just because they have so many submissions (at least that’s what I’ve heard… please, feel free to hop in the comments and correct me if I’m wrong!).
So it becomes necessary for those of us seeking traditional publication in any form to pay attention to our word counts. And that can identify your writing tendencies.
Underwriting is when a writer will finish a first draft with a lower word count than they need. So, for example, Sea of Broken Glass was only 74k words at the end of the first draft. For reference, a typical young adult fantasy (the genre for SoBG) is expected to be between 80 and 100k words. Once again, anything outside of that range, and traditional publishers or agents may reject it for not conforming to industry standards.
But when I finished at 74k, SoBG was missing a lot of scenes and details that were needed to pull the story together. And when I rewrote it (draft 2), I ended up adding over 20k words. Right now, while it’s with betas, it’s a little over 96k words long, by far the longest thing I’ve ever written.
It just didn’t start that way.
And then there’s the opposite problem, overwriting. In overwriting, a writer will write WAY more words than needed for a book. So let’s take an example from a friend of mine. She had a YA fantasy that clocked in at near 200k words… twice as much as most agents and publishers will allow. So when she went back to editing, instead of bulking it out, she had to find ways to cut her word count by a lot.
Every writer has their own style when it comes to drafting and editing, and even specific books by the same writer can be different from a writer’s “normal.” But in general, the more works a writer writes, the closer they may get to their target word counts after draft one and the more they will recognize where they tend to fall on the scale.
So that’s me! Underwriters unite!
In the next couple of weeks, we will discuss a few ways to resolve either of these issues, first for the underwriters, then for the overwriters. Hopefully with a few tips and tricks up your sleeve, you can figure out how to drag your novel closer to its target word count.
Until then, let’s talk in the comments! Where do you fall on this spectrum? Do you follow traditional word counts for your works?
Of the Clouds releases next Saturday, so Friday’s post will be moved to Saturday, and this blog post series will continue after that! Hooray!!!