re: Is My MG Manuscript Too Wordy?

in Formatting/Punctuation/Grammar/Submissions/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

Is a 50,000-word MG novel too long? If I send a query to an agent with the word-count, will they be likely to dismiss it based on the word count?

Thanks!

Heather

Dear Heather…

That’s not an alarming word count. Middle grade fiction typically falls between 25,000 – 45,000 words, leaning toward the smaller end of the spectrum more often than not. But there are no set numbers. Consider this: Karen Cushman’s The Midwife’s Apprentice is a slim one at 22,000 words (about 122 printed pages, depending on the edition in your hand). Christopher Paul Curtis’s Bud, Not Buddy, comes in at about 52,000 words (245 book pages, again depending on how your edition has been designed). There you have it, two Newbery Medal books that show the word count spectrum can be stretched either way for great stories.

Happy writing!

The Editor

Happy writing!

The Editor

9 Comments

  1. A 50,000 word MG book is only too wordy if there are words in the book that are not needed. Make sure each of your words are required to tell your story in the best way possible.

  2. I’m no expert like Dear-Editor, but I have to think a manuscript would have to way outside the norm to be rejected outright based on word count alone. If it’s really good, but a bit on the short side or a bit on the long side, so what. It’s good. Good luck with your efforts, Heather. Just having a 50,000 word manuscript ready to sell is an accomplishment. See you in the bookstore!

  3. I somehow feel the need to go against the grain here. Before I even opened this to see what Dear Editors answer would be, I guessed that she and most of the commentors would offer the accepted wisdom that, if the book is well-written, word count won’t matter. But my guess is that what the author says so well in 50K words can be said equally well in 35K or 40K. Then put the rest in a new book or in volume two of a series. This is why good copy editors and editors are so valuable. It’s also why working very hard on the outline BEFORE we start writing is so important: it keeps us from going down a few 5K-word rabbit holes. The problem with deviating from the outline and going down these so-called rabbit holes is that sometimes the rabbit holes are extremely well written and thus we, as authors, are reluctant to toss out some of our best writing even if it may not advance the narrative. While it’s true that the Newbery award has been granted across a broad spectrum regarding word count. But I think it would be wise to run the manuscript by a variety of qualified readers, and if even one of them says what you hear some people say about movies (“really great but coulda been 15 minutes shorter”), then try to find ways to, in the words of Strunk & White, “Omit needless words.” Just my gut reaction. Best of luck Heather!

    • You have a point, Steve. I can have a 35k word manuscript that’s too wordy and someone else a 50k manuscript that is too short for the subject matter. Word counts are convenient yardsticks, though. I read a lot, but I can tell you when I’m buying a book I do consider how thick it is. If I have vacation coming up, I don’t mind the thickness, but if I’m going to be reading on the morning train, thin is in. Maybe that will change when Santa brings me an iPad and I read more e-books, but, for now word count…counts.

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