I Will Walk 500 Miles.

I am a stubborn person. However, in this circumstance I am going to go with the euphemisms that I am committed, dedicated, persevering.

Hello, my name is Janet and my novel is 150k words long.

(Hello, Janet) < — Thought I’d put that in there to reassure myself that someone is responding.

If this number does not mean much to you, let me put in pages – it’s probably up to a 500 page book. And when I put it that way, even I always balk a little bit, because while I might be stupid about my perseverance, I am not ignorant. I mention this because over the course of the past several months, I have had many interactions with others about the problematic nature of this length.

Here are the principal problems involved:

  • A 500 page book is expensive for publishers to print.
  • A debut novelist is high risk for that expense.
  • As an agent receiving a query letter for a novel of high word count, he/she is already taking that into consideration and recognizing it might be very hard to sell. Agents only make money if their authors do.
  • As an unknown, an agent seeing that word count may guess that there could be many problems in the novel – a lagging pace, too many plotlines, too much of just about anything.
  • Many (or even most) agents may pass on my query based on my word count alone.

There are other sub-problems, but they are all basically related to the primary ones I’ve listed above.

So my point, so far, is that I am pretty educated about the whole thing.

So here is how I would like future word count conversations to go:

My book is 150k.

Wow, that’s going to be tough to sell, huh?


Ok. Good luck!


Are you aware of the difficulties with that high of a word count?



Here’s how they normally go:

ME: My book is 150k.

UNPUBLISHED PERSON LIKE ME: Wow, that’s long for a debut novel. I’ve read about how they really shouldn’t be more than 100k. Are you sure you can’t trim it?

(These are fellow writers, folks. TRIM 50k words. Really? You’re novel is 90k, that would be more than half of your novel.)

ME: Yes, I understand the challenge before me.

(This is the short version. How I have actually responded is with the full thing of how I have read all of the research, understand why it will be hard, have already worked extensively in my editing, etc.)

UNPUBLISHED PERSON LIKE ME: Long novels like yours are hard to sell.

ME: Yes, I know.

UNPUBLISHED PERSON LIKE ME: Standard length I’ve seen is 90k-110.

ME: Yes, I know.

UNPUBLISHED PERSON LIKE ME: You might want to do more editing; maybe you can get it down to 110k?

(Frankly, I actually stopped participating in the discussion after the additional question that basically repeats what I already gave in my answer, and if that person isn’t even going to read that much, that same person will never read my book even if it is only 1k.)

Because of this, most of the time when I’ve posted or sent along a draft of a query letter for others to critique, I have outright lied about the word count, because more often than not, people get caught on that, and then I don’t have any idea if the rest of the letter is any good. However, recently I posted my query on Jamie Ayres’ blog, who generously hosted a set of query letters that we could all critique for each other and that an agent was also going to help with comments, too.

Obviously, I’m not going to lie on THAT one. And lo and behold, the word count was the overarching topic in the comments thread. I absolutely expected this. However, even after I commented on my own post about this issue, others still piled on. That is sort of what actually got me more annoyed. “Beating a dead horse” is the expression that came to mind. Me=dead horse. (I feel like I must add in here – sincerely –  that this is in no way a slight on Jamie or her blog, or this opportunity she offered. It is just another example of standard, understandable reactions. It is also in no way a slight against anyone’s query on the blog – I applaud each and every one of them for opening themselves up like that, I really do. PLUS – two of them received requests from the agent for their full manuscripts- AWESOME.)

Of course, the agent mentioned it, too. That didn’t bother me at all. Well, it did, but not for the same reasons.

It is not lost on me that the fact that everyone – agents included, of course – might be missing my story for that one line. In fact, you might call that line in my letter that includes the word count a “throwaway line”. Oh how very ironic.

It makes me sad that requests for more pages of my novel may never be given simply because of this part.  This one part that I knew would be problematic when entering the game. Sometimes, though, I like to remember that bestselling debut novels (and decent selling debut novels) of great length HAVE hit the market – and recently, too. The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach is one such novel – 512 pages. I am definitely not saying that my novel would be a best seller (and those who have read it might be laughing and saying – to themselves only, of course, right? – that it is good, but not THAT good – and I’m quite okay with this – not hearing it, but that the opinion exists, haha!), I am merely saying it happens – and not as infrequently as naysayers would like to have me think.

Do I have options for changing my novel to make it shorter? I certainly do. I have had a couple people asking me about making it into two books. And at this point I think, maybe. There are a lot of implications for how the first book might have to change in order for this to happen, and even then it will be on the long side, although maybe not startling so. I could also keep the story as one book and rewrite. “Rewrite” is pretty intimidating, though. There’s no easy way to shorten my story without truly rewriting it. I definitely don’t have the heart for this. Or at least I don’t have the heart for it right now. I could shelve it altogether, focus entirely on the next one that I’m working on, try to sell that one, then hope to pull out this first one if I was successful with the other one.

All viable ideas. But I’m not ready. I’m not ready to do this on my own, anyhow. I already often feel like I’m flying solo on this whole thing anyway; to make an emergency landing on my own feels way too scary. A time may come. But not yet.

I believe in my story. I really feel I have to try to plunge forward with what I have. I am not ready to give in. Call me stubborn. Call me stupid (not to my face, please). I am simply calling myself hopeful and optimistic. It’s who I am, through and through.

7 thoughts on “I Will Walk 500 Miles.

  1. No, I don’t believe it does. The e-publishing route is, of course, another way to go. It’s low on my option list, but definitely not off of it. I am still pretty ambivalent on that route.


  2. Janet, I can only imagine how frustrating this must be. Have you read any Jean Auel? That’s who I first thought of as I read this post. If you haven’t, here’s a little bit about her and her books: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_M._Auel

    Does it help if we offer you words of encouragement? Virtual hugs? Shall I send wine 😉


    1. It’s been many years, but yes, I have read Jean Auel, and yep, one of many examples of many long books. My sister recently pointed out The Time Traveller’s Wife as another very long debut novel.

      And yes, the words of encouragement are immensely helpful. Thank you!


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