Question of the day: I'm an unpublished novelist finishing up my first book. I'm thrilled to say that after all these years, revisions, and the incorporation of feedback from several people who read my first book, I'm happy with the results. But, there might be one problem: the length. As I compiled agent information to start querying, I came across a blog entry from an agent who said that women's fiction should be between 80k-100k words. My book is 70k. My question is: how strict are agents and publishers regarding book lengths? If they fall in love with a book, will they care that it's 10k fewer words? Should I go back and revisit my book to see where I can add stuff or should I start querying? I'm concerned that I might be padding it and not adding useful scenes and/or dialogue. Help! What do you think?
This is a very good question, especially given the fact that just a few weeks ago, I was saying that bigger isn't always better and advising people to use a very firm hand with their editing. That said, I do think there are certain constraints that people have an expectation of, and you need to be within the ball park of those constraints when submitting. Yours is tricky: you're not so off the mark that it's glaring, but at the same time, it's a shorter book but might eke by. I don't know. I definitely DON'T think you should bloat your manuscript, but I might advise you to really take a look at it and be 100% sure that you have added in as much conflict as possible. Is there some angle that you're missing with your character, one place where her life can fall apart in one more way? If so, thread that plot throughout the book, and I think you'd be set. When I write a manuscript, I have a very clear idea of where I am in my word count so I can set different story arcs in motion accordingly. This was something I had to learn as I went, but, for example, I start the final act around 65k. By thinking of your book in parts and with word count as your target for the onset of these parts, you can come close to that 80-100k cushion more easily.
Again, I think your instinct not to write just for the sake of writing is the right one, but I also think that these parameters are in place for a reason: 70k, for example, is a thin book, and publishers may not want to bid (and publish) on a small book when, if you're looking for hardcover (again, for example), they'd be hard-pressed to ask people to pay $24 for 220 pages. Or maybe you do query it, and if an agent loves it enough, he or she will help you bulk it up. If you really don't want to add to it and fear you're doing it more harm than good by doing so, then don't. Stick with your gut. But I also wouldn't mention word count in your query letter. You don't need to, and it might get more doors closed without the first page being read.
I'm torn on this and would love to hear from others. What say you? Bulk it up or leave it be?