Word Count Worries

A tweet popped up on my feed the other day, from author Chloe Neill, in answer to a reader’s question: how many words in an urban fantasy novel? Her response was about 90,000.


Each book of the Shadowdemon trilogy clocks in at about 60,000 words. I’ve heard the average genre novel (with some exceptions, notably category romance) runs between 80,000 to 100,000 words. With literary fiction, it seems like there is no word count requirement.

It’s a confusing place to navigate, this world of publishing. As an alternative to hunting for an agent, I’ve been reviewing submission requirements for a number of boutique publishers. Most have minimum word count requirements (usually between 10,000 and 12,000) for any kind of publication, whether it be digital or print. Some (Entangled, Sourcebooks) have minimums and maximums for their different imprints. Samhain Publishing has a 50,000 word minimum if you want to see your book in print (versus digital only). DAW, an imprint of Penguin, flat out says in their submissions guidelines most novels come in at 80,000 words at least.

So what happens when your submission falls short of the word count stated in the guidelines?

I have this scene playing in my head, of an editor clicking through queries or pitches, skimming until they get to the word count: “Nah, too short.” *Shucks in wastebasket* And according to this blog post, that probably happens a lot to first time writers. Fan-fuckin’-tastic.

This is kind of like that thing people do when they’re job hunting. They review the job requirements and necessary qualifications, and then those of us amongst the fray that fail to meet every single bullet point pass it up. Someone smarter than us swoops in and writes the world’s most compelling cover letter that causes the hiring manager to say, well, I can at least listen to what they’ve got to say.

(Note to self: learn how to write the world’s most compelling cover letter.)

So are publishers sending me subliminal messages? If my manuscript falls short of their preferred word count, is it not going to sell? Having a minimum for print publications makes sense. Printing books is expensive. You’ve got to give them a reason to want to convert your digital book to print (see: Jennifer Probst).

On the other end of the spectrum is the wordiest of wordies – those people who wrote too much. Cary Graham, aka The Hack Novelist, in his original completed draft of Remnant was at 160,000 words. He did manage to trim off about 30,000 words, but still. That’s one epic tome. I think you should only get to release epic books if you’re dead. But what if your count comes in at 110,000, and the publisher recommends 100,000 or less? Do you trim some more?

But let’s go back to me. Because this is, after all, my blog, and being self-centered is part of the deal. Do I go ahead and query the publishers, even if my manuscript falls short of their guidelines? Do I bow my head in defeat and put it away, never to be seen again? I mean, it is kind of defeating, knowing that by mainstream standards I’d have a hard time getting the thing published. And then there’s the whole “What’s the point in putting it out there if you’re not going to bother to read it” line of thinking that goes with that above mentioned blog post.

My mother would tell me to go for it anyway. No prodding needed, Mom. That’s exactly what I’ll be doing.

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