From thinking through our fingers.com/2018/02/22/back-cover-blurbs-vs-query-letter-blurbs/
Query blurbs, as you may have noticed, are the loud-laughing, secret-sharing gossip at the party. They spoil almost everything. But they do it for good reason. Agents and editors read more query letters than we can probably imagine. They understand story structure. They get it on a deep, bedrock level. To appeal to them, to show them ours is a story worth giving their (very limited) time to, we need more than just the basic surface-level of the story.
Details. It’s all about those specific details.
When writing your query letter blurb (or anything, really) please, for the love of words, avoid phrases like:
- “Or her whole world will be turned upside down.”
- “Or everything he thought he knew would fall apart.”
- “Or everything would change.”
Distinguish between different targets:-
Back Cover Blurb: “She must race against time to prevent a catastrophe!”
Query Letter Blurb: “She must defuse the bomb or a school bus full of children is going to blow up!”
If a phrase in your query could be used to describe literally hundreds of other stories, it doesn’t belong there.
You’re not going to hook agents or editors with generic lines like “They must master their new ability or the world will be destroyed.” The world is always about to be destroyed. Main characters always have new abilities that need mastering.
What makes your story special? What’s unique about it? What does your story have that the other 724 queries in the agent or editor’s inbox don’t?
A main character who uses graffiti art to make incisive social commentary, but secretly dreams of being an accountant some day?
A clever novelization of Westside Story, but with mermaids?
A murderer who puts a chess piece in the mouth of each of their victims, and the clever young waitress who figures out why?
And again from Jericho writers (Harry Bingham)
So: how many words in a novel?
We’re going to talk some specific genres in just a moment, but it’s worth setting the landscape a little first, just because you may as well know the territory here, and because a lot of fiction simply doesn’t fit in tidy boxes.
So, the average wordcount for a typical novel is anywhere from 70,000 to 120,000 words. I’d guess that the actual average number of words in a novel was somewhere close to 90,000 words. (How come? Because novels mostly cluster at the shorter end of that 70-120K spectrum. There are plenty of prolific authors who might never break the 100,000 word barrier.)
These guidelines assume that your book is broadly commercial (rather than highly literary, let’s say) and that you are writing for adults. If you are within that broad zone, then as far as length goes, you’re doing fine.
But then again, sometimes fiction is long.
If your story justifies the length, you needn’t worry if you get up to 150,000 words, or even 180,000.
But that is on the very long side. 180,000 words print about 650 paperback pages. You only get away with novels of that scale if the story has an epic quality and storytelling is remorselessly excellent. (Also, don’t trust any source on the internet which tells you that such stories are unsaleable. They’re just not. My own first novel was 190,000 words long and was sold to HarperCollins for a lot of money.)
Romantic fiction usually runs from about 75,000 words up to about 120,000. Anything within those limits is fine. 70,000 words could be okay, but no shorter than that. If you’re over 120,000 words and writing a saga, that’s fine. If you’re writing an ordinary romance, you probably need to do a bit of cutting.
CRIME AND THRILLER GENRES
Crime novels often run a little longer than women’s fiction, so although 75,000 words is fine as a lower limit, anything up to 130,000 words is standard. Don’t go below 75,000, though.
FANTASY AND SCI-FI GENRES
Fantasy novels can be long. They can be up to 180,000 words, or even over 200,000, but the novel must be wonderful and must fully justify its word count. In other words, you must be scrupulous about editing every sentence for length.
If you’re writing for a more literary audience, then the rules above apply on upper limits. In other words, anything up to 120,000 words, no problem. Up to 150,000 is fine, but check you’re not waffling. Up to 180,000 words, you really, really need to justify that word count.
And lower limits are quite a lot lower. A good, short literary novel might be 60,000 words. A very good, very short one might be as little as 45 or 50,000. The shorter it gets, the better it needs to be. If you find your novella is as little as 30,000 words, consider merging two more linked novellas, presenting a 90,000-word package to agents and publishers.