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

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.

If your first novel is Lonesome Dove good, you’ll be fine!!!

Oh dear Lord, yes! Have you read them? They are both mindblowingly amazing!


After 30 years as an acquiring editor–10 in books, 20 at a national magazine–I have never seen a manuscript from a first-time author that didn’t need its word-count cut by at least 10%. But cutting is hard bordering on traumatic, and most writers–even experienced writers–go about it in the most traumatic way, with a meat cleaver. But cutting is best done with a scalpel.

If scenes aren’t working, you’ve probably realized this and fixed them, or excised them, or moved them, or rewritten them to suit. As such, 114,000 words isn’t too far outside the bounds. But it’s a rare writer who can’t squeeze another 14,000 words out of a manuscript going paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence, word by word, excising redundancies, replacing five flaccid descriptors with one that’s truly sharp, realizing that saying the same thing twice is exactly half as effective as saying it once, only better.

Make a fresh copy of your first chapter, print it out, and go through it word by word; if you didn’t lose 350 of 3500 words I’d be surprised. If you’ve got 32 chapters and lose 350 from each, you’re just lost 11,200 word, and antsy agents are much more likely to take a flyer on a first-timer. That’s how they make their money, after all.

And now for an aside: Hey Piggie; glad to see you’re still here with your feet on the fender. Were I still in books I’d probably acquire both GWTW and Dove, though I might mention to Ms. Mitchell that her adherence to the United Daughters of the Confederacy Myth-making might be past its sell-by date, and I’d point out to Mr. Murphy that when baking biscuits, you don’t build the fire inside the Dutch oven.


Don’t tell Ms Mitchell; tell Scarlett, Melly and Mammy!

And whoever in their right mind listened to ol’ Gus’ opinion on anything save perhaps which Comanches might be standing way off on the horizon, anyhow? :wink:

Good to see you here too!

@Ahab: thanks for the great response! hadn’t expected to hear from a pro editor (or, in your case a former one)…

my third draft revision consisted of the aforementioned scalpel edits. like I said, I know I have a slow opening but I couldn’t find a way to make it faster. (during the scalpel edit, I already trimmed that part.)

Well, I’ve been here since 2006, when Scrivener was just a bouncing baby Beta birthed in Keith Blount’s bedchamber. The forum was a lively community back then, where we talked about writing with this new cool new tool. Nowadays the talk goes mostly along how-to-format-my-mathematically-dense-dissertation lines, or how can I automate the writing process so I don’t have to spend so much time actually, you know, Writing. About which I have zilch to say.


Yup. Austen wrote with a quill. Hemingway used a typewriter. Aaron Sorkin scribbled away on cocktail napkins while working in a bar. Yet somehow, not being able to change the menu font colour in the most advanced writing programme ever devised from dark grey to light black seems to be a major impediment to some people.

//takes a moment to look at his own writing output for the past 10 years

Ah, well. :flushed: You see, in my case I was distracted by, you know, important things like… err, well…

//re-evaluates life
//comes up wanting
//descends into depression
//sees a jar of toffees
//cheers up immediately


@pigfender: well, as I said above, McMurty had published quite a few novels prior to Lonesome Dove. but I take your point!

All of whom are fictional characters, and therefore the author’s responsibility. GWTW has not aged well at all.

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Well, I was born and raised in the Apartheid South. My Maryland mother’s grandfather was a surgeon in Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and my father’s grandfather was a private in the Union Army’s 5th Tennessee Infantry. My little East Tennessee town was similarly divided. One block away from our United Methodist Church was Trinity Methodist Church. Before the War they were one church, but half believed only in the Old Testament and half also in the New (as my paternal grandmother used to say). And a century after the war we still didn’t talk to Those People, as Gen. Lee described the Union Army.

As Faulkner said, in the South the past isn’t forgotten, it isn’t even past. Which is why when I came home from a tour in the navy in the late 1960s I lasted about a week before I headed north to New England, and I haven’t left since. I mean, those people!

Margaret Mitchell, like her characters, was frozen in her own mythical past, and her writing by today’s standards is problematic to say the very least. But then so is George Eliot, and Mark Twain, and Dickens, and Thackery, even Harriet Beecher Stowe and Virginia Woolf. Do we now erase their existence because we have evolved, or imagine that we have? Or do we just say GWTW was a ripping good yarn about two very flawed characters living very flawed lives in an indefensible society who pretty much got what was coming to them? And it was written by a very flawed human who was exactly emblematic of her time and place.


It’s an amazingly well told story, and to be clear doesn’t paint those two very flawed characters or their very flawed lives or the indefensible society that birthed them as anything other than flawed and indefensible.

I don’t know anything about whether this is true or not.

Certainly judging from the one and only book she wrote you can’t draw that conclusion; her characters in a book set in the 1800s use language that they would have used in that time. That’s good, not bad, writing and only serves to underline how people were viewed back then. You’ll have heard much worse said with far less respect in any Tarantino movie.

I don’t know anything about her time or editorial position when she worked as a journalist, but from what I glean from a limited glance it seems that the biggest controversy surrounding her seems to be that she wrote about strong women who didn’t fit into the accepted standards of femininity for her time.

But anyhow… the point is — it’s a book with a slower paced intro and with good reason. It has to draw you in and make you complicit with the pre-civil war south before it can show how much that world was turned on its head by the war and its aftermath. If you have a slower paced open in your book that’s fine — but have an equally good reason for doing so.

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A dangerous question to ask in the current year.

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