Word Count Woes (Yes, I have them, too)

Oh, word count. I can’t even begin to guess how many times you’ve heard me say those words. When we’re overwhelmed with awesome contest entries, or when there are so many we’re overwhelmed before even seeing how awesome many of them are, one of the easiest ways for me to thin the herd is to immediately skip past any with an inappropriate word count.* And I know a lot of writers who enter those contests probably hate me for it.

Which means that many of you will be delighted to hear: My book is too. freaking. short.

Are you done yet?

 Yes, my adult women’s fiction manuscript is sitting stubbornly at a number well below what I know will get it published. Now, I’m not saying that it’s 25k words. But it’s not 80k, either, and that was my goal. The first draft, was 56k. Out of desperation, I sent the (mostly) unedited first draft to my amazing critique partner for help. I never let anyone see my early drafts, but I needed to know if the bones of the story even worked. Her advice? Cut 9k words.

B…but…but… I asked how to make it LONGER.

So, you see, contestants, I FEEL YOUR PAIN! (I will, sadly, never feel the pain of people who write 200,000 word children’s books, but you’re in good company. Plenty of talented writers are in the same boat.) But I know it’s not complete, and that’s half the battle. I’ve only done a couple of drafts. With each additional draft, I’ll add layer and depth. I’ve got a few more people lined up to read, and I’ll ask each of them to suggest subplots that could be fleshed out more, character arcs that could be more defined, things they wanted to see described, and other areas that will not only improve the book but

Now, I am NOT advocating adding scenes for the sole purpose of making the book longer. That would be silly. But when a novel is only 48k words, that’s not a book. That’s a novella. And that means, if you want to seek traditional publishing, you need to figure out what it’s missing so you can turn it into a complete book. Just like I will.

* No, I’m not going to tell you what an appropriate word count is – Google it. My favorite resource for kidlit is Jennifer Laughran’s blog, and Writer’s Digest has some good guidelines for adults. And yes, I know that NaNoWriMo is all about writing “a book” in a month and the goal is 50k words. I’ve done NaNo, and I love it – but what you’re writing in that month is a rough draft, not a book. If you’re writing an adult novel and you get 50k words down in one month, you have a fraction of a book to be expanded through edits.

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  1. Instead of layering, perhaps you could think about adding an entire subplot, or exploding the story outwards. Another thought, though a really audacious, nutty one: could you consider the END of your novel as the MIDPOINT?

    • My early drafts are so sparse, if I extended the story or added subplots, I'd still have to go back and add depth to the beginning. The end result would likely be much too long.

      I've tried adding subplots before just to increase the word count, and I usually wind up regretting it.

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