Friday, January 11, 2008

Heartsong Word Count

I've sent several rejections over the past couple days. That's never fun. I get so many that I'm often just looking for the first thing wrong to make me weed a proposal out of the pile. I know that's not what any prospective author wants to hear, but it's true.

Many times that "first thing" is word count. Our guidelines clearly state that a Heartsong novel must be between 45,000 and 50,000 words. So, it's a little frustrating when I get submissions with more or less than that. The cover letter might even say something like, "I know your guidelines say 45,000-50,000 words, but I'm hoping you'll consider publishing my story anyway."

Sorry, but probably not. The exception to that would be if the story sounds so fantastic and the word count is just a little off (like no more than 5,000 under or over) that I'd be willing to work through adding or cutting in the editing process.

Why am I such a stickler to the word count? What would it matter if one Heartsong had 42,000 words and another had 57,000? Well, 45,000-50,000 words are what fit nicely in 176-page, mass market size paperbacks. And that's the format Heartsongs always are. No bigger, no smaller. No more pages, no less. If we changed the format, we'd have to change the deal with our printer, which would change the cost of printing, which would change the cost of the book, which would change the cost of being a Heartsong club member....

Sometimes established Heartsong authors turn in manuscripts that are over or under word count, and they can tell you that I email back asking them to beef it up or cut it back. If the story is over 50,000 words it won't fit into 176 pages, and if it's less than 45,000 words, we'd end up with a bunch of pages to either leave blank or fill up with advertisements. (A couple ads are great, but no paying reader wants too many!)

So, there's the scoop on Heartsong word count. What an exciting blog entry, huh? :) But I hope this is helpful information to those of you who'd like to write for Heartsong, and I hope to see fewer submissions saying, "I know my word count is off, but..."


Mary Connealy said...

I had an editor tell me once (not from Barbour but it's got to be true in most publishers) that they reject 80% of the manuscripts for some basic reason like word count or a book not right for their line or some other fundmental, easily fixable by the author, thing.
So, anyone reading this comment, if you follow all the guidelines exactly you've just jumped yourself into the top 20%, a much smaller group to compete against.

Patricia W. said...

This is good to know. There's so much advice out there, even advice like "Send it anyway. If the editor likes it, she'll work with you." Sounds to me like editor will never read it in many cases. I'd so much rather do everything that's within my control according to guidelines to the best of my abilities rather than get knocked out of the box for something like this.

Jennifer Hudson Taylor said...

I will definitely store away this tidbit of info. I always try to stay within the word count guidelines, but last summer an editor requested a complete from one of my manuscripts that finaled in the Genesis. My word count was 10,000 over their acquiring line, now I'm wondering if I should have cut it first. In a situation like that, should an author take the time to make changes or go ahead and send it? I worry that it's rude to make an editor wait when they've asked for something.

JoAnne said...

Jennifer, in a case like you described, I would recommend just emailing the editor and asking what he/she prefers. Let them know that you realize your word count is over their guidelines, but you'd be happy to cut before you submit or submit right away and cut later.

Good question!

Jennifer Hudson Taylor said...

Thanks, JoAnne!