The Coffee Shop - JULY

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Sommer Leigh
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Re: The Coffee Shop - JULY

Post by Sommer Leigh » July 23rd, 2012, 11:36 am

Hillsy wrote:
Sommer Leigh wrote: Totally unsolicited advice, but you might want to do some research on the acceptable word counts in your genre because 150,000 is high for all areas of sci-fi for adult, particularly for a debut author. Most of the adult word counts for sci-fi are between 90,000-120,000, with 120,000 being the exceptions, not the rule.
#This opinion pertains purely to Fantasy#
While I won't disagree with what Coleen said, I will disagree a little with your advice (even if only in tone, as opposed to fact)....
That's ok, we can disagree :-) There's room for both arguments.

I don't have an opinion one way or the other about quality of longer works. I've read very long stuff that's very good and I've read very long stuff that's not. Same goes with shorter works and everything in between. I don't think long word counts inherantly mean you're not writing good stuff.

What I meant was that many agents have solid opinions about what they will and will not even consider based completely on word counts (For better or for worse, I don't know.) Keeping this in mind, it's probably a good idea to check out your top agent choices for their opinion on the matter so that you're not shooting yourself in the foot before you're out of the gate. It's hard enough standing out against so much competition. That's not fair to be judged on something like that, but I think we all know writers who have. I believe strongly that you should write the book you want and need to write, but I also believe if you have publishing goals you've also got to balance what you've written with what is being picked up, represented, and purchased in your genre. I believe if you want to be commercially successful, you've got to find a perfect middle ground between the two opposing forces. If you go against the preferences of the agents you plan to query, then you've also got to accept that you're taking a chance to be the exception. If you're ok with that, then that's cool too.

Of course, none of this means anything if you plan to self-publish. Then you can write the book exactly as you want it, word counts be damned.
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Re: The Coffee Shop - JULY

Post by Margo » July 23rd, 2012, 11:53 am

Sommer Leigh wrote:I don't have an opinion one way or the other about quality of longer works. I've read very long stuff that's very good and I've read very long stuff that's not. Same goes with shorter works and everything in between. I don't think long word counts inherantly mean you're not writing good stuff.

What I meant was that many agents have solid opinions about what they will and will not even consider based completely on word counts (For better or for worse, I don't know.) Keeping this in mind, it's probably a good idea to check out your top agent choices for their opinion on the matter so that you're not shooting yourself in the foot before you're out of the gate. It's hard enough standing out against so much competition. That's not fair to be judged on something like that, but I think we all know writers who have. I believe strongly that you should write the book you want and need to write, but I also believe if you have publishing goals you've also got to balance what you've written with what is being picked up, represented, and purchased in your genre. I believe if you want to be commercially successful, you've got to find a perfect middle ground between the two opposing forces. If you go against the preferences of the agents you plan to query, then you've also got to accept that you're taking a chance to be the exception. If you're ok with that, then that's cool too.

Of course, none of this means anything if you plan to self-publish. Then you can write the book exactly as you want it, word counts be damned.

Sommer is 110% correct here. I've been rejected by agents *solely* on word count being too long (at 115k), and they were entirely up front about that. And, yes, it was fantasy. I've discussed this with a couple of major acquisitions editors at a closed (by application only) fantasy/sci-fi workshop, where they were extremely candid with us, and they confirmed how much they hate oversized ms's even from their bestsellers. Countless agents have blogged about why word count matters. If people want to put their fingers in their ears and sing, "LA LA LA LA LA," then so be it. No one can say they weren't warned before they shot themselves in the foot. We have alllll heard the stories about that unknown author who got a BILLION dollars for their first novel, which was 1,247,903 words long, but that takes the chances of success down from a fraction of a percent to a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent. If a writer WANTS to cripple thermselves and try to run a marathon...have at it. One or two will make it, but the vast majority of those who make the grade will be those who show themselves to be professionals who understand the BUSINESS as well as the art.

Sorry about not being more diplomatic in my response, but after a while (30 years, 1 agent, a couple of contracts, and a crapload of private conversations with everyone from superagents to supereditors) this whole "But they don't REALLY mean it when they say that" discussion gets waaay old. But this writer says and THIS writer says and THAT writer says. Too bad they aren't the ones reviewing the manuscripts.

But, hey, I'm sure we just need to educate the acquisitions editors a little more. Or self-publish. God knows I'm making a killing at it. (Side note: I've had more success with self-publishing--appealing directly to the reader--writing shorter, not longer.)
Last edited by Margo on July 23rd, 2012, 12:06 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: The Coffee Shop - JULY

Post by dios4vida » July 23rd, 2012, 12:01 pm

trixie wrote:
Beethovenfan wrote:Having this extra responsibility has pushed my writing to a back burner, and well, it's depressing. I feel so disconnected from my writing that I hardly know what my muse looks like anymore (there is another thread on here about if your muse was a person). I have been doing a little bit of editing and critiquing which I think has saved me from going insane. And the Bransforums. This coffee shop. You all are awesome. It's nice to read how everyone is doing, to see your little triumphs, as well as your hardships. I guess what I'm saying is I'm glad to be on this little boat with you all! You're helping me get through my difficulties by sharing your thoughts and feelings.
Thanks.
I just had lunch with a writing friend today who reminded me that Life Happens.
Or, as I like to say, Manure Occureth. :D
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Inspiration isn't about the muse. Inspiration is working until something clicks. ~Brandon Sanderson

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Re: The Coffee Shop - JULY

Post by LizV » July 23rd, 2012, 5:34 pm

Not everybody in the biz agrees that 120,000 is the max: http://arcaedia.wordpress.com/2011/04/1 ... 4-15-2011/ puts 150,000 within the acceptable range (granted, at the upper end, but still acceptable).

LurkingVirologist, just write the story the way it needs to be written. If it needs 155K words to tell the story, then that's the right length for your book. (Of course, if it doesn't need that many words, then trim it, but you already know that.) Any agent who would bounce it solely based on word count isn't someone you'd want to be working with anyway.

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Re: The Coffee Shop - JULY

Post by LurkingVirologist » July 23rd, 2012, 10:07 pm

Thanks Mark, Sommer, Hillsy, Margo, and Liz ;) . I always value intelligent input covering multiple perspectives, especially in areas where I'm rather new. As for the WiP, I'd written the first draft purely for myself, then came upon the idea of trying to get it published once I was into the editing process, so I'd already 'bent' a few of those first-timey rules without knowing they were there, and in ways that couldn't really be fixed post hoc. I'm planning on making another pass at it after a short break, so we'll see what happens. Helpful links by the way.
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Re: The Coffee Shop - JULY

Post by Margo » July 24th, 2012, 2:25 am

LurkingVirologist wrote:Thanks Mark, Sommer, Hillsy, Margo, and Liz ;) . I always value intelligent input covering multiple perspectives, especially in areas where I'm rather new. As for the WiP, I'd written the first draft purely for myself, then came upon the idea of trying to get it published once I was into the editing process, so I'd already 'bent' a few of those first-timey rules without knowing they were there, and in ways that couldn't really be fixed post hoc. I'm planning on making another pass at it after a short break, so we'll see what happens. Helpful links by the way.
If you decide you seriously want to pursue traditional publication, I can't stress enough the value of getting to workshops and conferences where you can actually network in person with agents and editors. Reading blogs, joining crit groups, even making friends with other writers on forums...these things cannot replace the value of actually talking with the people you're hoping to do business with. You'd be surprised how quickly they put a name to a face once you've run into them a couple of times, especially someplace like Maass's BONI or Viable Paradise. Many of them take a fairly active interest in helping writers in whom they see potiential, and they can be surprisingly open with their *real* opinions and behind-the-scenes stories.
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Re: The Coffee Shop - JULY

Post by Hillsy » July 24th, 2012, 8:05 am

Margo wrote:
Sorry about not being more diplomatic in my response, but after a while (30 years, 1 agent, a couple of contracts, and a crapload of private conversations with everyone from superagents to supereditors) this whole "But they don't REALLY mean it when they say that" discussion gets waaay old. But this writer says and THIS writer says and THAT writer says. Too bad they aren't the ones reviewing the manuscripts.
hehe...no probs....much easier to understand candidness (Candidity? Candidism? Canditropy?)....What gets my hackles up about this whole debate is two-fold, one of the mind and one of the heart...

Firstly - I'm an analyst by day and have always been enamoured by the quirks of numbers. I remember finding out that it's actually more likely (in fact bordering on and inevitability) for someone to win the lottery twice than for no one to win more than once. Or that it only takes 11 people for it to be more likely to have a birthday in the same week. They seem counter intuitive, but they're true, and I love all that. So I'm really not approaching this from a Dorothy-clicking-her-ruby-slipper-heels-together place. It's is all about ratios and probability...and yes accepting that you've got a smaller chance. But it's nowhere near as disatrous as claimed.

So lets play with numbers a bit - these numbers are wildly wrong, but its the concept that counts (and i'm not patronising: you could well know this already, I'm just running through a thought process...)

Lets say there were 1000 debut novels published in 2011. Let us also say that just 1 was a Doorstopper 200K behemoth epic fantasy (The Lies of Locke Lamora: for example, 193K). Let's, say that this is a rough ratio, year in, year out. OK fine. 1 in a 1000 chance sound pretty impossible, on top of being published in the first place is about, what, 1 in a 1000?....add them together, 1 in a million!!!! Literally, one in a million.....daunting right?

Well no. It's not 1 in a million, it's actually nearly 1 in a 1000 again. It makes an assumption that your book is the only book ever written and theres a thousandth of a chance it passes muster. Wrong. Here's where the concept comes in. If a million books are submitted, you just have to be in the top 1000 to get published (assuming a decent level of quality). So there's a direct correlation between the number of books written, and the baseline you need to achieve (assuming of course you believe in market forces, supply and demand and so forth - in otherwords people want books so publishers will supply them)....Now hold onto that thought.

So lets take our million books submitted: say, 60% will be YA? (I'm running off wiki that just says the majority is YA)...Ok well you're writing an epic fantasy, so it's unlikely to be published under YA anyway. So now you've got to be in the top 400 of 400,000. Then we take that adult 40%...about a 20th are fantasy...so top 20 of 20000 fantasy books, and lets say 10% are 150K+, (that fair?) so now you've got to be in the top 2....why is that important? Because we've already seen that a long fantasy novel can and will be published 1 in a 1000 times. Supply and demand says a booming 200K behemoth is wanted, therefore if you write the best one - you're getting pretty damn close to publication.....so lets draw a line under that and say, just for ease...your 200K mega-book has a 1 in 2000 chance

Lets apply those same numbers to a massive market...Romance. It's quoted at about 20% of the market (20% of those 1000 published novels I mentioned at the start), which gives us 200 newly published romance novels. Now lets say slightly less people are writing new romance, as a ratio, than fantasy, just to make a point. So out of those million submitted novels, just 15% is Romance. 150,000 new novels are submitted. Do the maths: 1 in 750 chance.

That's it? So by writing a niche thing like a doorstopper epic fantasy, I'm Only just under 3 times less likely to get published than someone who has written a mainstream romance novel? Wow, not such a millstone now.

Hang on, you scream, what about publishing houses? There must be a chokepoint there. No, the ration's still apply - hell they could even work in your favour. Say there are 10,000 presses, so 1 in 10 produces a new novel a year, average. Lets say 20 run epic fantasy. Therefore, "The Lies of Locke Lamora", our 1 doorstopper fantasy, could have been printed by any of 20 presses. Ok, now lets say you've got a Romance book. You need 2000 of those presses to run Romance books to match those odds. But hell, does it even matter? The point is you've got 20 options and you're the 1 in 2000 that made it. It doesn’t matter if very few presses - such as Tor or Orbit/Gollancsz - accept big novels, they have to produce books, so good debut doorstoppers have somewhere to go. If Tor has to deal with 2000 hopeful novels clamouring at their door, then you can bet there’s a thousand Harlequins trying to deal with 150,000 novels.

Anyways…..all this number fun is just to accentuate a point (Not least of all because all the numbers are guesstimates). Yes a big word count is a problem, but it demonstrably doesn’t turn your 1 in 1000 chance into a 1 in a million shot. Even if I am out by a factor of 2 (which in this context would be massive) and it’s 1 in 4000, that’s still only, ONLY, 4 times the odds of publication in the first place. If you ignore the ratio and just concentrate on the raw numbers published, then the worst decision you can make is NOT writing YA. And everyone will think that doesn’t ring true.

My second point (Yes I did mention there were two) is far more heartfelt. I pretty much exclusively read big novels. I reckon 19 of the last 20 books I read were over the 120K limit (and even then I reckon The City & The City is above 100K). Obviously, I’m going to get tetchy whenever the word count point is raised, that somehow I love these books despite their length. No: I think these are amongst the best books ever written, in many cases because of their length. And the thought that future writers might be discouraged from writing them purely for business and marketing reasons, leaving me twenty years down the line with nothing to read, god it just makes me feel hollow.

I AM the audience, the readers, for “oversized” books, and I don’t want to see them banished to some kind of seedy e-book underworld where they don’t get the critical acclaim they deserve

Sheesh – I’ve just written 1100 words…..man, no wonder I’ve got issues with brevity…=0)

I’ll shut up now…….

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Re: The Coffee Shop - JULY

Post by LizV » July 24th, 2012, 10:07 am

Loving the numbers geekery, Hillsy!

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Re: The Coffee Shop - JULY

Post by dios4vida » July 24th, 2012, 11:17 am

Wow, Hillsy, you made my brain hurt!! If I hadn't been married to an accountant for six years and learned to half understand stuff like that you'd have lost me a waaaaaaaaaaaaay long time ago. Even so, you still lost me.

And "number fun"? I thought that was an oxymoron. ;)

Of course, this is the gal who FINALLY passed college algebra on her fourth try because her math-and-physics-oriented sister and brother-in-law tutored her every night through the darn class, so I'm really not the person to talk to about numbers.
Brenda :)

Inspiration isn't about the muse. Inspiration is working until something clicks. ~Brandon Sanderson

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Re: The Coffee Shop - JULY

Post by Margo » July 24th, 2012, 11:41 am

Hillsy.

Interesting. Before quitting my job because writing was paying my bills, I was an analyst as well (for 12 years). Your numbers have some assumption in them that don't add up, considering that the number of publishing houses you assume includes the smallest of the small indie presses, which usually don't even deal with agents. The Big 6 are just that...six major umbrella companies, with a fair amount of movement between them. It's not unlike the movement of agents from agency to agency. Considering I know fantasy/sci-fi only agents who receive more than a thousand queries a month, I also don't think the 1 in a 1000 chance is accurate.

BUT, for the sake of argument, let's say it is. 999 failures for every 1 success. 999 writers who are going to get that rejection slip and cry, doubt their talent, destroy their manuscript. Some will even stop writing after three or four major rejections, especially if they've spent two or three years writing something exceptionally long--200,000 or 300,000 words is not uncommon for newer writers. So YOU know the score. YOU know the risk you are taking. By reducing your chances even a little, you increase the possibility of heartbreak. But that's your decision and your right to make it. If you fail, it is your private pain.

But what responsibility do we carry when we advise other writers to reduce their chances. Can we meaningfully lessen their pain when they take our advice and fail? Or do we post a sympathetic message and go back to our lives, pretty much unscathed by the fallout of our own counsel?

Am I suggesting a writer should never write a long novel? No, bestsellers do it all the time. But was Jordan's FIRST book 800 pages? Was Martin's? Or were they allowed that latitude AFTER they proved their skill and had established a loyal audience?

And in this economy, are the Big 6 more or LESS likely to take a risk on a new author whose production costs are going to be twice that of another author (or more)?

You have drawn from assumptions made with a certain amount of data, though I think you have too little data for the assumptions you have made. I'm drawing from personal, face-to-face conversations in which I actually asked agents and editors these questions, and in an atmosphere where they were more candid than they would have been on a blog or after meeting someone briefly once at a con. Are you wrong? Does it matter? The odds are still small. Making them any smaller needs to be a highly informed and personal decision, but before we encourage others to turn their chances from even 1 in 1000 to 1 in 1001, we need to recognize that we are not going to feel their failure like they are any more than we'll feel their success as they will. Sometimes, the act of giving advice needs to come with the understanding that maybe...we shouldn't.
Last edited by Margo on July 24th, 2012, 2:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Coffee Shop - JULY

Post by LizV » July 24th, 2012, 1:47 pm

Margo, you make valid points, but I think you're also making an assumption: That the aspiring writer with a 200K manuscript is going to be happy if they get it published but have to cut 40% of it to do so.

If they are, then great -- that 40% probably needed to go anyway. But if they're not? Which is ultimately more heartbreaking for this theoretical writer: To write the book they really wanted to write, and never get it published, or to get published with something that they know is not the book it could have been, not their book in their heart of hearts? It depends on the book, and the writer.

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Re: The Coffee Shop - JULY

Post by Margo » July 24th, 2012, 1:58 pm

LizV wrote:Margo, you make valid points, but I think you're also making an assumption: That the aspiring writer with a 200K manuscript is going to be happy if they get it published but have to cut 40% of it to do so.

If they are, then great -- that 40% probably needed to go anyway. But if they're not? Which is ultimately more heartbreaking for this theoretical writer: To write the book they really wanted to write, and never get it published, or to get published with something that they know is not the book it could have been, not their book in their heart of hearts? It depends on the book, and the writer.
That's where it becomes inportant for the writer to know what path they want to tread with what book. If your heart tells you that you can't provide the publisher with what the publisher is asking for, then you need to self-publish or go with a small press that has a niche market that matches what you want to do. If your heart is set on what the Big 6 bring to the table, you have to give them what they want to buy.

Here is something most writers don't seem to understand. After walking away from trad publishing and seeing a lot of self-publishing success, I let some people talk me into starting my own small press. I have a VERY specific audience who wants a VERY specific kind of book. I provided 8 writers of varying experience with very specific guidelines. Only two were able to follow those guidelines. One of the others left me hanging by waiting until he was supposed to submit a finished product before telling me he had gone in a DIFFERENT direction. I didn't publish it. It was fine for what it was, but my audience would have bought it based on the imprint name and HATED it. The costs incurred to me were minimal, though the aggravation was great. The costs incurred when this happens to the Big 6...

So, yes, you have to prove you can be RELIED upon to FOLLOW GUIDELINES when significant amounts of money are in play.

But again, as I said, if a writer can't handle that, there are specialty presses and self-publishing. The writer just shouldn't expect to make their own rules in traditional publishing because they can't bear to shelve a project until they have more clout or because they are using "the muse concept" to self-sabotage (which is a whole different topic).
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Re: The Coffee Shop - JULY

Post by Mark.W.Carson » July 24th, 2012, 2:14 pm

Margo,

You have no idea how much that sort of response teases those of us who have to have answers to everything :). You literally had me going "Gah, say it already."

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Re: The Coffee Shop - JULY

Post by Margo » July 24th, 2012, 2:22 pm

Mark.W.Carson wrote:Margo,

You have no idea how much that sort of response teases those of us who have to have answers to everything :). You literally had me going "Gah, say it already."
Mwhahahaha
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Re: The Coffee Shop - JULY

Post by Mark.W.Carson » July 24th, 2012, 2:36 pm

Big Meanie :?

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