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…….