Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Padding: Yay or Nay? - Word Count

Here is a conundrum...a lot of fantasy authors have issues with their word counts being too long. That's all well and good. It's easy cutting stuff for me. If only that were my problem.

Over at Rachel Gardner's publishing blog "Rants and Ramblings," I read over her quick and dirty tutorial on what it takes to get published. I figured I would expand my education, no harm right? Well, the issue of word count came up and she pointed to a resourceful post by Colleen Lindsay of "The Swivet" that described industry standard word counts in a variety of genres. I balked because the genres my projects fell under -- Adult Contemporary Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, Historical Fantasy (for one project at least) -- had 90,000 words as the standard minimum.

My current MS, Faerie Games, has a grand total of 70,000.

So here's a quandary for everyone out there: is it acceptable to pad a manuscript a bit so that it can sell?

On one hand, if an MS is too short, adding additional description is never bad. Adding entire scenes isn't even bad, just make sure they can do something for the rest of the plot. However, 20,000 words worth of padding seems a bit excessive. That might just mean I'm being stubborn, but revisions that huge would mean super charging certain minor subplots, adding entire chapters dedicated to minor events and largely unneeded development.

Then again, perhaps more is needed. Sometimes character development is lacking, sometimes extra, vivid, descriptions are needed. Sometimes certain subplots need to be intensified and minor events can lead to phenomenal moments in a work.

You tell me, how much is too much and how much is too little? What's your personal experience with the word-count system? Too much, too little?


  1. I would highly suggest having some extra eyes on your MS to help you through this portion. The extra eyes could tell you where you need to add. My current WIP is a novella at this stage and I'm not familiar with trying to reach that kind of word limit. I think these rules everyone goes by should be accepted in moderation- don't add if you honestly don't think you need to- go with your instinct of it- don't do it based on some standard.

  2. My feelings on padding -anything- are pretty clear cut. As I'm writing, I often have a thousand different ideas and possibilities that never make it onto the page. There are smaller stories within stories, various tidbits of information I cut out because the flow of the paragraph doesn't work with it... all sorts of things.

    Oh, and I agree with the comment above mine, too. Extra eyes. They'll help you find out where you can get away with stretching things out a bit, and where it'll just come off as being dull and cumbersome.

    The end result is that, like you, even my LONGEST work of fiction so far has fallen significantly short of that 90,000 average.

    But keep in mind that that's an -average-.

    If you've got the padding to put in, and bring it up closer to that mark, then there's nothing wrong with putting it in once you've had time to make sure everything flows properly as is. Once you've got your work to a certain point, there's always places you can go back and add a little bit more if you need (or want) to.

    The problem comes up when, as I have often seen happen, the author begins to 'pad' their work with fluff that in some way or another detracts from the overall quality of their efforts.

    In the early stage of the game, when you're trying desperately just to get your name out there, you can afford to make a compromise like that. You can afford to do whatever you need to do to get the job done, to a certain extent.

    So long as you don't overtly sabotage your own work with un-interesting, in-eloquent drivel... people will hardly even notice that Chapter 22 is actually nothing but filler. In some cases exceptional cases, it can actually prove to be quite popular and interesting... although not everyone will agree on that point.

    In the end, your goal should always be quality over quantity. But if you need quantity to make the sale... then just make sure that your fluff is up to par with the rest of your work, and you'll be fine.

  3. Oh wow... something got botched up in that data-packet transfer! Oi.

    I don't know how my final paragraph and "cheers" managed to wind up in the MIDDLE of that comment, but let's just pretend that those were both at the end where they belong, orrite?

    Awesome, it'll be our little secret.

  4. My feeling is that they have those standard word-counts because *most* books fall into that category. If you're way over or way low, chances are you do need to make changes. What those changes need to be can be hard to discover, of course.

  5. I had this problem with my first manuscript, which was literary horror, and it fell at 40,000 words. Now horror is longer, and literary (especially debut literary) can be shorter, but I was way, way under. I had one industry professional recommend that I bump it up to at least 55,000 for querying purposes. She said it was unlikely anyone would touch something shorter than that.

    I struggled with the same questions you’ve posed… and eventually compromised. I came up with 10,000 words worth of good, value-adding content, but the harsh truth is that that book is probably still too small to attract the attention of an agent or editor on its own. But I decided that I would rather have a book I could stand for that never got published than a book full of fluff that might get published. You only get one debut novel, right? (And I made sure not to make that mistake again for my next two manuscripts, which are more common lengths.) I wish I had an easy answer for you. At this point, I’m sort of letting that first MS go. All I can hope is that I can publish it someday after I’ve made a name for myself and am less constricted by fearful industry folks, you know? Good luck!