How long should a MS be?

Since one of my jobs at S&Q is literary agent, I found this blog entry by Colleen Lindsay to be really helpful. Here are the bottom line facts that she lists:

YA fiction 50k80k
urban fantasy / paranormal romance
80k – 90k
mysteries and crime fiction
= cozies: usually 60k – 70k mark), most: 80k to 100k
mainstream fiction chick lit: 60k to 80k words; literary fiction: possibly as high as 120k but lately less; thrillers: 90k – 100k; historical fiction as high as 140k. Nothing under 50k.
science fiction and fantasy = Should be the same as adult fiction; a few editors consider 100k ideal for good space opera or fantasy; \ a truly spectacular epic fantasy: maybe 120k /130k.  (Sequels may be allowed longer)

On the last point made by Lindsay, I noticed the other day that the Inheritance Trilogy no longer a trilogy. It is now planned as a four-book series for exactly this reason. Christopher Paolini had the third and final book all planned out, but when he wrote it out it grew way too long (see the video here).

I have to wonder why Lindsay is dealing with so many gargantuan manuscripts. My suspicion is that writers are thinking only of “the story” and not about selling themselves to a publisher as a profitable person with whom to partner. Being obsessed with “the story,” is just fine if you don’t care about being published. But then why bother to even submit the manuscript?

Publishing companies have a great many expenses. No doubt they all hope that some one book will take off and be a huge seller. Who wouldn’t want to be the beneficiary of a J. K. Rowling popularity bomb?

But you can never plan on that. Rowling’s books are great but that does not mean that there are not plenty of other great manuscripts out there that no one ever hears about. One can’t plan to be a world famous multi-millionaire from writing a book any more than one can plan to win the lottery. And publishers can’t plan on that either.

What you can do with a reasonable chance of success is become a reliable hard-working writer who creates material that a publisher can trust to produce. If you have some giant of a book you must get published, your best chance is to succeed at conventional works so that publishers will give you a chance when you propose a mamoth book.

By the way, Lindsay provides a lot more commentary and discussion so make sure you visit her post.

  1. So, while I am tempted to say‘ well, I reckon this proves that great minds think alike’ and leave the issue at that, this topic is one of increasing pertinence in society today. We have so much interruption and interaction in our lives, we simply do not give our minds the opportunity to wander— and as professional blogger Michael Graham points out, even when given scant moments of free time, we instead seek out rapidly- passing interests which dominate our lives. A generation has been produced that is more plugged- …

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