I'm so sorry! I think I sent all of you a message rather than posting this as a discussion here. My question was, as a first time novelist, I wondered if there was a word count limit that agents and publishers look for in a manuscript. Could a manuscript be too long? 

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I think you need to check the targeted agents site. Look at some of their authors, then check their books on Amazon. I would be very careful not to go over 90k, but some agents/editors prefer anywhere from 65k to 80k. 

Good morning, Kelli.  Kathy makes a good point to do some research on the agents you like, but I also think part of your question is directly related to your target age group.  Are you writing a YA novel or a novel for adult readers?  I believe YA novels are somewhat shorter, but I personally feel like the lengths of adult novels really depend on the story.  This may sound a little vague, but your story should be as long as it needs to be.  And if your story is strong and you have compelling characters, then agents and/or publishers will love it no matter how long (or short) it is.

All the best to you!

Thanks to both of you. I've written a historical fiction novel set in World War II Soviet Union. I do think the book is too long, but I think I can trim the fat so to speak and whittle it down to a reasonable length without changing the plot or cutting a character. I just wondered if there was a word limit that would automatically turn agents and publishers off. I'm not afraid of doing the hard work of cutting and trimming, but I don't want to set myself back right out of the gate with a word count that throws up a red flag. :)

I love historical novels set in WWII!!  I'd love to read it sometime (hopefully when it gets published!)  Let me know if you need an editor, by the way.  I'd be happy to help.

Thanks. I sure will. :)

Colleen Lindsay's word count guidelines are generally considered reliable indicators:


80K to 120K is the range she gives for mainstream fiction (and I'd put historical fiction in there), but anything over 100K is going to be suspect. 

Thanks for sharing that post. It was a huge help! So now my question is, do I start trimming and parring down the book now before querying agents and editors? Or should I pitch the book, see what happens and make it clear I'm willing to put in the work to make it an acceptable length?

Incidentally, my fears were confirmed here: my book is too long. I think I can shorten it to 120,000 without losing any major plot elements, but if I have to go all the way down to 100,000, I'm afraid it will change a good bit of the book. This is hard! :)

You should tighten it up as much as possible. Put your best foot forward. That blog was spot on. When you submit something 120k it shows you are an amateur.

No, never send an agent or editor anything that is not your very best work.

My previous comment got eaten, so I'm submitting this and trying again. More in a minute once I verify this works.

Okay, so here's the longer stuff.

I've twice had to remove 10,000 words from a manuscript, and both times what I did was set a word count to delete per page. I'd go through by chapter and then after each chapter I'd do the chapter again, although I'd find less to remove on second pass of course. After six weeks, I'd lost 10% of the book without losing any plot or characterization.

How? Well, you look for words that don't add meaning. eg, "She walked across the living room to sit down on the couch."  That can become "She crossed the room to sit on the couch" (three words lost) or "She sat on the couch" or even "She sat," depending on whether the location of the couch or the loction of the sitting is important.

You never need to say she climbed up the steps...climbing means up. Or she fell down. Yes, unless she's in space, she'll fall down. She shrugged her shoulders? What else do you shrug? "She shrugged." She wore red shoes on her feet? Um, yeah, by definition. ;-) These are painless places to lose words, and I set myself the goal (and I bet you can too) of losing 30 of those words per page. That'll come out to be about 10% of your book, and since they're just words that don't add meaning, you won't miss them afterward.

And as you're doing this, you'll invariably notice whole paragraphs that add nothing and can go away too.

It's slow going, but it's totally worth it. Read your book aloud afterward, and you'll hear the difference. Plus catch extra words that can go.

Good luck!

Thank you. GREAT advice! I know it needs to be done. It intimidates the heck out of me, but I'm going to go after it!

That is a perfect explanation. I was just going to say, watch for filler words. If you are in deep POV, you can also eliminate a lot of pronouns. I just finished trying to read a book where every character "thought to himself/herself" Who else are they going to "think" to, unless its paranormal? But even that, is pushing it.


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