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This has been a very contradictory topic for me. I've been told that publishers expect fantasy books to be that long but others would tell me that 170k is too long. So far I've been cutting things down but now I fear that I'm killing my story by doing that. I love writing with a bit of flowery prose but I have to keep myself back every time.

This has been stressing me out for weeks now and I could really, really use some advice here. Is it possible at this time to have a manuscript of this length? If not, then how can I raise my chances to get it published? I know I can't compare myself to others but there are debut stories that go over 150k words.

Thank you in advance.

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  • 1
    How long was the original story, before you started trimming? It would normally take >1M words in drafts to arrive at a 170k publication-grade result.
    – Therac
    Jun 18, 2022 at 14:47
  • 4
    Don't cut a story just to get the word count down. If your story was good at 170k, cutting it may weaken the story. Something I've seen with longer fantasy novels is that the original gets reviewed by enthusiasts, revised by the writer and then self-published to make sure the story gets out how the writer intended it.
    – Mast
    Jun 20, 2022 at 12:07
  • From my experience as a reader, stuff which was originally posted as online serials on services such as RoyalRoad gets published. And even the first volume of a well planed serial is usually longer.
    – jaskij
    Jun 20, 2022 at 21:31
  • Would it make the title clearer if it started ‘170K-word…’, to make clear that we're not talking about an amount of money, or a number of readers, or whatever?
    – gidds
    Jun 20, 2022 at 22:36

6 Answers 6

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You do not need to debut with the first (good) novel you complete. This shouldn't stop you from trying, but there is also nothing wrong with putting this one on the shelve for a while and publish it after you've debuted with another (possibly shorter) novel.

So if you think your story is at its best at the current length, I wouldn't compromise on that. Quality is more important than length. (But by all means consider the other answers here, like getting the opinions of beta readers, etc.)

Also keep in mind that self-publishing is always an option. Even a famous author like Brandon Sanderson self-publishes some of his (e-)books, while also publishing with traditional publishers.

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Don't kill the one story. Expand until it is two:

Slightly contradictory, but consider if your story is too long. Does it keep focus throughout the work? Are all areas of those pages equally relevant and fleshed out?

I was in a similar situation to you, and the advice I got was "Couldn't this be a whole series?" It made me realize that the first half was actually kind of light on details and plot development. I realized that if I cleaned up the first half, and gave it the kind of quality and meaning it deserved, that my novel would be absurdly huge. So I broke it into two stories, adding the details to give the first half a resolution. I didn't need to cut - quite the opposite, I had to add scenes and content to make the first half fully functional as a standalone work.

But in the end, I was much more satisfied telling the full story I wanted in two parts than trying to cut the original down to fit a preconceived idea of what a first story should be.

  • PS The fantasy/sci-fi field tolerates longer stories, but I was told that the FIRST novel by an unknown author is better short because there is less cost/risk in getting a shorter work published by an unknown author. I can't verify if that is true, but it makes sense.
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  • As a reader, I generally look for longer stories and series. My target book is 1000 pages long. I read plenty of shorter stories, but being able to get into a story for a long time and not having to constantly learn new MCs and universes keeps me interested. Jun 20, 2022 at 15:26
  • @computercarguy That's pretty common for the field. But for a FIRST novel, I'm told they (publishers) are more conservative.
    – DWKraus
    Jun 20, 2022 at 17:19
  • adding the details to give the first half a resolution This is key, especially for a first time author. Publishers often like having the option to do sequels if the book becomes a hit, but don't want to risk committing to a full series from an unknown author in case of poor sales. They also don't want to leave readers unhappy if things fall through. -- You need to make sure Book 1 is resolved enough that readers are left satisfied if that's the only book which ever gets published. Publishers aren't likely to risk it otherwise.
    – R.M.
    Jun 20, 2022 at 21:26
  • @R.M. Exactly! The first book had an end-point, and didn't require a sequel. But there was one already there if needed.
    – DWKraus
    Jun 21, 2022 at 0:27
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Every single debut fantasy writer I know personally who had a long debut novel queried a shorter novel. They might have queried a 120K novel, landed an agent, and in revision with the agent, ended at 170K.

I am unaware of a single debut author who landed an agent with a 170K tome.

A good way to shorten is to fold scenes together. Find the one thing that needs to be conveyed in a three thousand word scene and put that single item in a different 3000 word scene. You have just shaved off 2700 words.

Another way to shorten is to check the opens and ends to chapters. Often, paragraphs at the front and back can go.

A third way is through beta readers. Where things drag, cut.

A fourth way is by limiting the story to a single viewpoint. My guess, based on your length, is that you have at least four.

Discipline.

Good luck.

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If I was in your position and I felt my novel was ready, then I'd write my pitch letter and send it out to agents that rep my genre. If they think the story has potential, then they will most likely want to read some or all of your work.

Agents are typically professionals that understand their markets and which publishers would be more receptive to which stories.

Then, if the writing is good and the story is good, then they'll work with you to get the work in the best possible shape for publishers. That may mean breaking the novel into a series, that may mean cutting out something, or it may mean that they think that everything is so terrific that publishers will overlook the length of the story.

The agents might also just ignore you. Which you will have to decide how to interpret. Agents get tons of pitches and aggressively filter out the dreck. But, they rep books to publishers so they can eat and pay rent, so they have a strong incentive to look for stories they can sell.

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A good long story will work better than a story crammed into a length too short for it. (Not that there's any guarantee for even a good story.)

Perhaps you should rope in beta readers. If other readers think your story should not be shortened, perhaps it is fine as it is. Otherwise, they may usefully suggest places where it needs shortening. Other pairs of eyes are useful.

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  • Isn't this the right answer? As a reader, I don't care how long a story is; I only care whether the story is coherent and meaningful to me and has no fluff. So one has to get beta readers' feedback!
    – user21820
    Jun 20, 2022 at 10:16
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Excellent question. You see, most publishers who work with new authors are reluctant to publish anything over 100,000 words, simply because they don't know if it will sell. However, there are exceptions--I have heard of 215,000, 250,000 and even 300,000 word debut novels being published and becoming an instant success.

Yes, if you can cut back some things, it would be easier to get it accepted, but if you look hard enough, you'll be bound to find someone who will publish it.

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