I think I've written a novel of the right length, but worry that the word count will put off agents

a few thousand words away from my third draft of a literary novel which comes to around 114,000 words. my research indicates that this would affect my ability to get an agent, already impacted by my not having written a commercial book in the first place.

although I do start off slowly, on purpose, I don’t think that I have any scenes that don’t contribute to the overall work. I’ve cut a few which I didn’t want to lose, but which I know didn’t.

I do have two fallback plans: self-publishing and another idea, which I won’t go into. self-publishing will entail a lot of work on my part, I know. more than if I had my work put out from a traditional publisher, I mean.


You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Most agents will tell you not to pre-emptively reject your own work on their behalf.

OTOH, you don’t need to be concerned about agents, per se, but that their preferences reflect the preferences of publishers and readers. It might be a good idea to see what unbiased readers you trust think about the “slow start.”


I think @kewms is right. For a good judgment, you need unbiased readers. As for the slow start… you can also start “fast-paced” and put the slow parts in later when the reader needs a breather. That’s the Hollywood trick :slightly_smiling_face:

I guess it all depends what you mean by “work”. You could spend the next ten years trying to get an agent and then trying to land a publishing deal. That will involve work too.

I’m not suggesting you go with trad or self-publishing. I’m just pointing out that there’s no path here that doesn’t involve a lot of work, in addition to the work you’ve already put in writing the thing. (By the way, congratulations on finishing it!)

As asked already, has your work been read by unbiased readers? (non-family or friends)

If not, then I think you’d be shooting yourself in the foot starting to submit to agents. You really want to first get feedback from readers who you consider your target audience.


@JimRac: of course either choice would involve work. I meant that they wouldn’t involve equivalent amounts of work.

to answer your question, yes, the opening of an earlier draft did get looked over by people I don’t know. I will complete the third draft by the end of this week, though, at the latest. after that, I’ll decide whether to show it to anyone else whom I don’t know.

at some stage, I will make sure somebody else has a look through it for proofreading purposes. I don’t know what else I’ll do.

@kewms: thanks for that.

yes, properly speaking, I should have phrased it as agents and/or editors.

in the end, the readers matter more than anyone else, but I haven’t decide whether or not to self-publish or not.

do you have suggestions as to online writing communities of more the intermediate writer kind? the writing communities that I know of tend to have a lot of beginner writers. nothing against beginner writers, of course.

As long as your writing is captivating and there is a reason for that pacing, it won’t be a problem. Two long books that spring to mind which have slow paced openings are Lonesome Dove and Gone With The Wind. Both are truly excellent examples of pacing, taking the time to establish and embed the reader in a world before turning that world upside-down.

If the writing isn’t captivaing, well… then making it shorter might not help anyway!

There’s a good mix of experienced writers, editors, and agents (as well as newer writers) discussing the writing life at the https://writerunboxed.com website.

They have a recurring group of contributors who write about self-publishing, querying agents, hiring editors, terms to know from trad-publishing contracts, and so on.

I get their daily newsletter with the latest blog post. Sometimes it’s a cheerleading post, and sometimes a nuts-and-bolts post about common plotting mistakes or tips on marketing a book.

Searching their archives could give you more information about your options. I’d start with a list of pros and cons for each option to narrow down which path seemed like the better fit for me.

Then, I’d use their archives to put together a list of questions still needing answers as well as items to watch for when contacting agents or editors.

Yes and no. :slightly_smiling_face:

In fact, stories are more and more told this way. It starts with the world being turned upside down. Only then is the reader told how it came about. The “more boring” part can be very exciting, if you already know where it’s leading. But you have no idea how.

@RuthS: I meant in terms of online communities, rather than blogs.

Lonesome Dove was published in 1985, Gone With the Wind in 1936. I’m not sure either is a great model for someone hoping to reach contemporary readers.

I didn’t mean to say it so clearly, but that’s exactly the point.

Many stories today are no longer told (slowly) chronologically (as they used to be). They start with the exciting middle, tell how it came about, warm up for the final spurt and then come to the surprising end. Or something like that …

The WriterUnboxed group is a community. Complete with a writing conference every few years.

In fact, they’re gearing up for their 2023 conference in November.

@kewms: thank you. I thought that, too. additionally, the publishing industry does allow more leeway when it comes to historical fiction (and fantastical fiction, for that matter). my novel may arguably count as historical fiction given the setting (mid-1990s) but I fits more squarely into literary fiction.

@fto: yes, I know about the in medias res technique. I have a screenplay version of the novel (written between the first and second draft) which uses that technique. if I thought it would work for the novel, I’d’ve done it that way.

I disagree. Both are still published and enjoyed by many today.

No, it can’t be more boring, just a slower pace.

There are a number of sites out there, some free, some subscription-based. Most involve swapping work. That is, you critique my novel, and I’ll crit yours.

I’m a member of Scribophile, a writing community I’ve recommended before–see my description of their crit process here.

If you are at all interested in Scribophile, I recommend signing up for the free plan and browsing the site. Read critiques of the works of others, looking for critiquers whose feedback is insightful, at the sophistication level you are targeting, and in the genre you are targeting. These are the folks with whom you’ll want to network and swap crits. (Scrib is as much a networking site as it is as work-sharing site.) Essentially, your goal is to find other writers who would also be your ideal readers.

Check out the forums as well. The publishing forum is full of questions such as yours. The forums are also a great place to find like-minded writers.

The benefits of the paid plan made it worthwhile for me, but there are plenty of active writers there who are on the free plan.


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Would an agent rep them and a publisher buy them today if they were first novels submitted by an unknown author?

I won’t pretend to possess the industry knowledge needed to hazard a guess at the answer. I’m just pointing out that this question is probably more relevant to the thread than whether these novels are still published and enjoyed today. :innocent:



FYI, I looked this up, and Larry McMurty, who authored Lonesome Dove, had published novels for at least twenty years before that one came out. so really not applicable here. also, I don’t have a MS anywhere near the length of the two novels under discussion. I do understand the greater point that a novel of sufficient quality can get gatekeepers to bend rules… and a good thing, too.