Author Topic: Worried About Word Count (Literary Fiction)  (Read 331 times)

Offline Prophecies

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Worried About Word Count (Literary Fiction)
« on: January 30, 2021, 06:16:08 PM »
Hello everyone.

My literary fiction novel spans 15 years+ and I can't imagine it being less than 190,000 words. I've never been published before. The novel is part historical fiction, part alternative history, part fantasy. Think David Mitchell meets Hilary Mantel meets Michel Houellebecq.

But on QueryTracker, I can't find a single literary fiction novel that's sold in my word count. So I'm a bit worried. I plan to query to UK agents (I'm Australian) and I run a book blog that's fastly growing (kind of have an author platform?) I have a target audience in mind, too. So many agents and writers sites warn about an excessive word count. But if I cull my book down or seperate it into parts, the story will be ruined.

Am I worrying too much about word count? It's really hurting my creative process.

Thanks for any answers, and enjoy the weekend.

Offline Viddiest

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Re: Worried About Word Count (Literary Fiction)
« Reply #1 on: January 30, 2021, 10:47:45 PM »
Hello! I am in Australia as well and also querying my Literary Fiction novel. Your book sounds incredible. I think in general, it is harder to convince agents/publishers/readers to take on a 1900000 word count book, in my experience. But there’s always exceptions. Look at the Luminaries by Eleanor Catton for instance. If you’re a debut writer, I recommend pruning it down as best as you can without it affecting the story.

It’s fantastic that you run a blog and have a platform. That’s sure to help. I empathise with you about the word count affecting your creative process. Ultimately though, I believe that the strength of your writing will be the most important factor.

Do you mind sharing your blog either here or via dm?

Also, why not US agents?

Offline Prophecies

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Re: Worried About Word Count (Literary Fiction)
« Reply #2 on: January 31, 2021, 12:19:10 AM »
Thanks everyone for your thoughts. Beta readers are a good idea.

About genre, my book is kind of a mix, not too different from David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks. It's going to be a hard sell, I think! The reason why it's literary is due to the focus on characterisation and theme.

My blog is (and I hope this doesn't break any rules regarding self-promo) is snowyfictions.com

Offline Prophecies

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Re: Worried About Word Count (Literary Fiction)
« Reply #3 on: January 31, 2021, 12:20:06 AM »
Also, I'm querying UK agents because of a possible move there. Haven't discounted US agents though.

Offline Tabris

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Re: Worried About Word Count (Literary Fiction)
« Reply #4 on: January 31, 2021, 09:18:43 AM »

Agents are primarily concerned with marketability, and many buyers are not going to want to take a chance on a book by a previously-unknown author that's $35 and represents at least twenty-five hours of reading time. That's how an agent immediatey frames the query when she sees that word count. Particularly with literary fiction, where tight and spare writing is the norm, your book is going to stand outside the lit-fic genre's expectations. (Although it doesn't sound like it's lit-fic. I'd just go with alternate history.)

A lot of books (NOT ALL) that clock in at over 150K suffer from having started in the wrong place and then overtelling the story. Many agents will look at your first five pages, and if those pages need any work at all, they're going to assume they'll need to do double the reading/editing work for the same amount of money. It's not an easy sell for them, especially with a work that straddles genres and might struggle to find its audience.

With that in mind, ask yourself:

Are you sure all the content you have needs to be there?

Are you sure the sentences themselves are clean and tight, each word doing what it needs to do? Do you have filler words? Are there filler sentences?

Do you need all the subplots currently in the work? If you have an A story and a B story, awesome, but do you also have a C and D story that are tangling up the skein?

If your book is perfect as it is (which it may be) then are you willing to indie publish it rather than cut apart the story the way it needs to be told?



Offline beckygilbert

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Re: Worried About Word Count (Literary Fiction)
« Reply #5 on: January 31, 2021, 11:52:57 AM »
I personally love epic-length reads, and the genres you listed for your book do tend to accept slightly longer word counts than usual. Unfortunately, though, I really do think it would be hard to get an agent for a 190K debut. I think lots of agents would probably take one look at the word count and not even read the sample pages--as others have said, this is due to a worry about debut marketability/cost as well as possible issues with overwriting (as Tabris says, this is not always the case, and plenty of wonderful novels are 190K or even more). The problem is that many agents will probably not want to take that risk.

The first novel I wrote was pretty long. Bright-eyed and naive, I leapt into the query trenches and was smacked in the face with reality. ;) Like you, I don't really think the novel would work in installments, and although it could probably be trimmed, I think it would lose some of its efficacy if reduced too much and wouldn't necessarily be the story I want to tell. I fairly quickly came to the conclusion that, if I wanted to have any chance at all of traditionally publishing that story in a form close to what I'd like it to be, it couldn't be a debut. I'd have to establish myself with other, shorter works first, and then hopefully give the longer one a shot.

In your case, especially if you haven't finished your draft yet, I wouldn't let worries about word count and publication get in the way of writing the story you want to tell and how you want to tell it. If you finish the story and run it by some beta readers, hopefully you'll be able to see in the editing process if any parts of your story are overly long. Whatever is best for the story is the most important thing, really, so if reducing the word count is the right thing to do for the story, then go for it. If you find that your novel is simply a long novel and shouldn't be reduced just for the sake of word count, I think you have three choices:

1) try querying anyway, because it might be a long shot, but the worst thing that could happen is that you'll just get a lot of rejections.
2) look into self-publishing options.
3) for traditional publishing, see what you think about writing another novel with a more limited scope, and try getting an agent for that one to establish yourself and get your foot in the door that way.

Believe me, I'm frustrated about the word count "rules," too, but I guess part of this process is learning how the business side of things works and figuring out how to operate within the system. There are so many long books that are published every year, but very, very few of them are debuts--the bad news about this is that you might not initially be able to get your long book traditionally published, but the good news is that there's every reason to be hopeful that it could be traditionally published in the future. :) (Naturally, I'm emphasizing "traditionally" a lot, because self-publishing is a very viable option these days that I know a lot of authors are really satisfied with.)

(Wow, this turned out to be super long!! Sorry about that! Just know that you're not alone in dealing with this issue, and one way or another, it will work out. :) )

Offline Prophecies

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Re: Worried About Word Count (Literary Fiction)
« Reply #6 on: February 01, 2021, 03:28:32 AM »
Thanks everyone. The appeal of 'literary fiction' is that a) I can imagine writing future books in this genre b) you can get away with more in literary fiction, such as genre-blending (David Mitchell), dark and even offensive ideas (Michel Houellebecq) and tragedy (Kazuo Ishiguro, Hilary Mantel). I wish things were different in publishing, but oh well  :badday:

I'll explain my novel (if you've seen me on other writers forums, you are probably sick of this!) a bit more.

My MC (22 yr old) lives in Munich, during the early years of the 21st century. He notices magical events occuring: people disappearing, prophetic visions, a random burst of snow in summer, etc. While this is happening, he is down on his luck and seeks the approval of others. Flaws such as his desire for recognition, status and authority haunt him, as he tries to salvage what remains of his relationships. Later, he time-travels (not his choice) to the late years of Weimar Germany, where he watches his country slide into Nazism. But he can't stop history, and thus, the Third Reich emerges. To assimilate, MC considers doing flat out evil, shameful actions. He eventually does, and his desire for 'recognition, status and authority' are twisted into acts of horror. In early 1945, the MC is transported into 2010s Germany, where it's more dystopian than ever. Wrought with shame of what he's done, and who he is, he wrestles with his previous choices, and what his future will be.

This is a novel I feel very passionately about. But it's annoying to market. I often say it has the 'grit of Houellebecq, the historical worldbuilding of Mantel and the genre-blending style of Umberto Eco and David Mitchell' but I know, deep down, my book is an odd one. I might take beckygilbert's suggestion of writing another book. On the plus side, that experience will help me edit this one, too!

It's hard to accept 'don't query this novel as a debut.' I love what I'm writing so much, even if I must improve my craft. The good news is that I've had other novel ideas recently, maybe I should focus on one of them. I should make it somewhat similar to my 'baby' book.

Thanks everyone.