Friday, September 4, 2020

How Long Can You Go? Word Count Limit for First Books

First-time authors who love epics, such as Tolkien or the Outlander or Game of Thrones series, often ask me about word count for their manuscripts. "I'm at 150,000 words," one writer told me recently, and "I just can't seem to cut anything." Another wrote me this week about her ending--not sure where to stop, she keeps writing. Such dilemmas are common in the drafting stages, and I've encountered them too. Writing can be so satisfying, and trimming not so much.

If you're planning to self-publish, this is not an issue. You don't have to follow any rules but your own and your story can be as long as you want it to be, if you can afford the cost. But if you're hoping to find an agent and publisher, it's good to know the ballpark numbers--what's acceptable in the industry today.

Agents are particularly straightforward about their ability to sell first-time manuscripts that are less than 60,000 or that exceed 90,000 words. One of my early novels was around 45,000 words; an agent I approached loved the story but declined to represent me. "It's just too hard to sell that size book," she told me.