Category Archives: word count

The Ideal Word Count

I’m going to be totally honest: My published novel is way too long for it’s genre. Word count may be subjective, but when you’re a new writer it’s a good idea to stay within the suggested guidelines. At the time, I didn’t have the heart to cut it down to the “ideal” word count for a middle grade fantasy. I still believe The Healing Pool is a good story, although if I hadn’t published yet I would totally be slashing away to trim it down.

Since The Healing Pool was published I’ve gotten much more concise with my writing. I’ve gotten better (with the help of critique partners) finding areas that drag and cutting them to get to the good parts. For middle grade (MG) that’s especially important. Young readers want action, drama, interest and not too much backstory. As much as I love backstory, I always end up cutting at least 80% of it from the initial draft for that age group. My latest MG novels are at a comfortable length of 35-40K words. Just in the sweet spot for the genre.

However, my new found joy in trimming the fat has come to bite me in the rear with my young adult (YA) novel. The first draft halted at a mere 48K words, just too short to compete with other YA books. For the first time in a while, I’m finding it hard to get more into the backstory or really hash out some arguments between characters, even when I have the luxury to expand, explain, and elaborate to my heart’s content. I’ve gotten used to writing fast-paced action, but with this book I should take more time. I need more practice hashing out relationships between characters. I’ve taken the time to do that over the past few months, and it’s been a painful process of adding sentences here, extra dialog there, with only the occasional burst of adding or doubling a chapter.

With several novels at various stages of completion, I should be glad I’ve gotten the editing bug. I enjoy working on a completed piece. It’s challenging yes, but sometimes it’s a relief to have a complete plot and just work on the details! I’m just at the end of the third draft of my YA novel and somehow managed to add about 10K words from the original. It’s satisfying to watch my novel creep up from still MG length to a just-acceptable length for a YA book. I’m hoping the changes are positive ones that stick and can continue to grow. My biggest fear is that when I come back to it after a break/critique group, all those lovely words will be eaten by the delete key…

Anyone else watch their word count like a non-boiling pot? Anyone have trouble cutting even one word from a first draft?

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Secret to the Perfect Query

…don’t you wish there was one?

Here’s what you need to know: there’s no such thing as a perfect anything, especially when it comes to art and writing. The beauty of art is that it’s personal expression, and the downfall of art is that it’s personal expression. As much as you like it, there will always be people who think it can be improved. You put your love, sweat, tears, midnight-coffee-runs, tendonitis-flare-ups, and more into your books to make them as “perfect” as they can be.

Once your books has gone through proper revisions, drafts, and critique groups, you are ready to start the publishing process. This is much harder than it seems. Your lovely, full-length novel must now be compressed into 300 words or less! It sucks, it’s hard, and it’s doable. Remember: as great as your book is, the next task is to get someone to buy it. If you decide to go the agent route, that means a query letter.

A perfect query is the writer’s dream, but what you really need is a query that does its job well. You need an agent to: get hooked into your idea, understand the story, knows the important characters, and know a little about you, the author. Now, while there may not be a “perfect” query, there is a formula YOU MUST FOLLOW. I don’t care how awesome and creative you are, an agent’s job is to sell your book, not be entertained with a new version of a query. Make an agent’s life easier and get the attention your book deserves!

Basic query structure (Whole query is 300 words or less):

  1. Dear (AGENT): Personalized reason why this person will love your book. Keep it brief, always use the agent’s name unless querying an entire agency (which does happen) 1-2 sentences will show them you did your research about the agent/agency and also gets to the good stuff faster!
  2. Paragraphs 1-2: Hook the agent and give a brief summary of the events in your book. Don’t give away major plot points, but don’t be so vague no one knows what your story is about. Think of the back of a book cover you read at the library to figure out if the book interests you or not. Keep this under 200 words.
  3. The genre and word count of your book. Round the word count. Don’t be “that person.” If your book is 58, 432 words, you can say 58,500.
  4. Your Bio: Only put down things RELEVANT TO WRITING. Put down: other publications (magazines, short story contests, book talks, and other novel publications all count.) If you haven’t published, it’s okay to say that versus using unnecessary filler information. If you are write paranormal romance but you’re also an aspiring gardener who loves cross-breeding tomato plants, guess which factoid is worth mentioning? Unless your profession/serious hobby is relevant to your book do not fill space. If you haven’t published, that means your writing bio is: “This is my first novel.” Boom. Done.

(The examples and resources at the end of this blog do a much more in depth version of this)

I have been through countless drafts of my query for a couple years and it’s always changing. I’m lucky to be part of several groups that help with queries and other aspects of writing and critiquing. If you write anything from PB-YA, join the Society for Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators (www.scbwi.org) It’s an invaluable resource.

Seeking help, reading examples, and being open to throwing out what you have and starting over is crazy-making, but all part of the process. Writing a query is one of the hardest things you will have to write, but a good letter with the right balance of hook, summary, intrigue, and characters can get you on the path to publication.

Great sources for guidelines and examples:

Agent Query

Writer’s Digest

Fun Examples

Writer’s Market Books

Agencies: Many literary agencies have examples and guidelines on their websites. Great resource, especially if you want that agency to represent you.

Have you used other resources for writing query letters? Please comment and share!

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Filed under agent search, Editing, query, Rejection, struggling, Uncategorized, word count, writing

One Novella and One Novel

I’ve decided that Charley’s Dragons is going to stay a novella. I think it’s working as a shorter work and I don’t want to try and add more than it needs. As much as I want to have it be a novel it’s not up to me. Like a child, a MS will decide on its own what it wants to be when it grows up. I will return to it soon to continue editing and maybe even paring it down a little more in places I tried to boost the word count. I’ve already started researching novella contests and journals to hopefully get it published in the future.

My last post I went to another MS in process and that was the best decision I’ve made in a long time. Despite getting sick (AGAIN!!!) I have gone through the whole MS, edited the parts that were written, filled in the middle, and COMPLETED the first draft this morning! I’m so excited to have another book done! It’s a middle grade fantasy so it’s shorter than an adult novel, but it’s in the upper range for MG which is great since I can see eighth graders especially enjoying my bad@$$ character.

This is going to be the first book in a trilogy following a young girl on her path to becoming a Dragon Rider. (Obviously I’m a little obsessed with dragons in most of my books…) I never considered myself to be a series writer, but when I started working on this book I realized I had too many ideas for one novel. Spreading it out and developing the character over three books I think is going to help the story. Yet another example of how a MS will decide what the writer is going to do.

I’m sure you’ve heard authors say that books write themselves and it’s absolutely true. Since I started writing as a little girl my characters told me what their futures will be. Sometimes I argued with them, but the characters win. Listen to your characters, feel what your MS wants, and enjoy writing. It’s a journey, and much like life, the path to finishing a book is never a straight line.

(Image Source: MotivatigGiraffe.com

 

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Change of Scenery

It’s been waaaaay too long since I’ve returned to my blog. Thank you for coming back and reading! I’m hoping to be back more often.

I’ve been focusing on writing Charley’s Dragons so much I’ve grinded to a halt. The book is “done” in terms of story, but it’s still very short to qualify for a YA novel. I’ve been going through it adding bit by bit, but I’ve learned that I’m great at cutting and not as great adding! I took a break from writing for a couple weeks (being sick also encouraged my novel-neglect) and I decided it was time to write something else to help get my creative juices flowing.

I went back to a middle grade novel I started a year ago and re-acquainted myself with the story and my badass main character. It’s another fantasy (surprise surprise) yet the main character is my favorite part of this manuscript. She’s determined, strong, and speaks her mind–even when it gets her in trouble. Honestly, I’m using her as a vehicle to vent my frustrations with women’s rights, but she’s fun and exciting.

When I returned to my MG novel (Book One of a trilogy I think) I had the first part and the last part written with a huge gap to fill. Even though I had trouble adding to Charley’s Dragons, I’ve been writing profusely with Book One. The gap is filling nicely and I’m getting into my other characters and having fun world-building.

Yesterday I decided to check the word count for Book One and it’s at 34,000 words, right in the sweet spot for MG fiction. I still have to fill in the gap, but my MS is at novel length! I’m very excited to be so close to finishing another book. Of course it will need to go through extensive editing, but editing is fun. (Sometimes writing is harder than the editing!)

I’m getting back into a writing-groove and I hope that stays true for my blog as well! Even though I want to finish Charley’s Dragons, I know that the best thing a writer can do for her novel is to put it in a drawer for several weeks. Once I’m at a good stopping point for Book One I’ll return to Charley’s Dragons with fresh eyes and a better idea of what the MS needs.

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Word Count

I have the strangest problem–my novel is too short! Most novelists I have encountered or read blogs on have the opposite problem. My first novel The Healing Pool was CRAZY long and I had to cut it down about 20,000 words. My current project has the whole story written but needs at least 11,000 more words to make the minimum word count for YA novels.

I enjoy cutting back. Finding redundancies and adverbs and lags in the story and slicing them down is satisfying, although also a little sad. Adding words has been a slow and tedious process. I wanted NaNoWriMo to be my motivation to beef up this novel, but if we’re being honest I got only about 5,000 words in. In my mind any adding is great, but it’s frustrating how hard it is to add to this novel. The story line is finished. It makes sense from point A to point B and could work as a novella, but I want this to be novel length. I am proud of this story and I want to have a wider audience to enjoy it. I don’t know anyone who reads novellas. The only reason I know they exist is because we talked about the different kinds of creative writing in High school! I have nothing against novellas, but I wish I knew of more people who were interested in reading them.

Part of my trouble is time and short attention span. Since graduating college I can honestly say I no longer have the stamina to sit and write a paper for 2-3 hours in one sitting. I have no idea how I managed to write as much as I did in school, never mind sit in class for 5 hours a day! Working 52 hours doesn’t help either. Luckily my work hours are going down starting in the new year. Maybe with that extra time I will try to write a little bit more each day. I can only hope Netflix will not beckon me over….

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