Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Don't Judge a Book By It's Word Count

There's a topic that's been on my chest for awhile now that I felt like I should finally talk about. That is the subject of word count.

In school I had a class where we were required to write a complete novel at 50,000 words. The idea was that if we had a completed novel under our belts we could either revise and add more to it later or learn from the process for future work.

As it turned out, I really enjoyed writing mine and decided I wasn't finished with it. Based on what everyone was saying, I knew that I had a lot of work to do to get it "ready." I still remember a talk I had with a colleague awhile back who shall also remain nameless. I told him I had written a book and he asked how many pages it was.

255, I replied. 55,000 words.

He shrugged, unimpressed. "Oh, so a short story."

Mind you, he was not a writer. In that moment, I felt a strong urge to question him on his literary merits. But I remained calm. I simply assumed that I had to double the length of my novel for anyone to take it seriously.

What is crazy to me is that in all that time, I didn't stop to question this advice or do serious research on the matter. I also didn't stop to question whether appropriate word count was different by genre or target audience.

So I rewrote. I wrote until I could write no more. I wrote until I had a novel of over 100,000 words. At the time, I thought, "Well that ought to impress ol' Judgy Pants!"

But then I started doing the research...and it was a bit disconcerting. As it turned out, and is probably no surprise to my fellow writers, that the new adult genre lingers at around 75K or under.

It's also probably not a surprise to anyone that this was my reaction:

Did I learn a lesson? Of course I did! Always do your research and do what feels right for your story. That being said, I am in a bit of a sticky situation. 

As it turned out, the rewrite was completely necessary and actually greatly enhanced the quality of the story. As I attempted to add "volume" to my novel, I found that the second plot did, in fact, add an extra layer of depth to the story. Without it, I don't think my novel would feel complete. At the same time, will agents automatically dismiss it because of its length?

It's possible I'm on a uphill journey here, but I have faith in readers. I believe readers read for the story, and not the page count. After all, we didn't sit through all of the Harry Potter books 'cause they were novellas did we? 

Has anyone else had a similar experience? Are you having trouble selling your novel because of its word count?