(Originally posted on Blogger 7/8/2013)
While I’ve been dwindling with ideas for my Steampunk posts, I thought about a new post series.
I’ve been very busy the last month with the extraordinary opportunity to serve as an Agency Intern for the Corvisiero Literary Agency. Right now this means primarily looking over queries and filing them. But I see so many common mistakes and thought I would share those sorts of things so you guys in the trenches (and trust me as a querying author, I’m right there in the trenches with you) can make your query stand out.
Today’s topic is Word Count.
There are dozens upon hundreds of websites that post appropriate word counts for every genre. I suggest, no I highly recommend, you do this research to find out what is acceptable word count. You’d be surprised how many queries I see where the count is too high or even too low for specific genres.
The reason you should know your targeted word count is because for instance, hypothetically, if you are querying a 150k YA contemporary, well that’s probably too long. This tells the agent, or in my case the Intern, right off the bat that there might be a problem. It could be overwritten pages or unnecessary scenes. It means your MS may have the first draft problem called Walk the Dog, an amateur author syndrome where you have written every action down, getting the character from point A to point B to point C and D. Ultimately it boils down to querying too soon before you’ve revised your manuscript.
It can mean, that while you have lovely descriptive details, you may have two or three sentences describing everything when just two or three words fit better. It means that instead of setting the scene, you’ve spent an entire page or two describing everything in so much detail that it isn’t believable that the character would waste all this valuable time and space on the page to reflect on the description when they should be gearing up for action or reacting to something or someone.
It can also mean that, unfortunately, you may ramble, scenes may drag and the overall pace is slow. The key to remember is that every word, every scene, every chapter must serve a specific plot centric purpose. Most of all, it must hook the reader to keep them turning pages.
On the other hand, I come across queries with too low a word count. A suspense thriller clocking 40,000 words…I’m shaking my head. Low word count indicates to me, Intern, that the story isn’t as developed as it should be. It could mean that maybe it’s all action without those slower scenes of reflection a character will have before diving head first into their next reactive action or goal. It can mean that subplots weren’t introduced or fully intertwined or nicely wrapped up. It can mean that maybe not all the characters, especially the villain, has been fleshed out to the best potential. Or you haven’t given your hero or main character enough room to grow emotionally, because as readers we want to see a character grow through their experiences.
Also find a lot of queries where the word-count is completely omitted. To be honest, nine times out of ten I just think you haven’t done your homework in how to write a good query, but that one percent I think “Are you hiding something? Is your wordcount so ridiculously high or low that you don’t mention it?” If that’s the case see above and start revising before you hit send.