Sunday, September 16, 2018


1. My suspense novel is roughly 140k. Is that instant death? Should I not include the word count in the query unless required? There is a second protagonist that plays a significant role and is responsible for about 1/3 of the word count. I left him out of the query because I felt it made the query too cumbersome. This leads to my second question.

2. Is it misleading to not personally include this second POV in the query? He is from Kadyn’s past and is trying to find her. So technically he is represented by what's there already

Dear QueryShark,

The rules of Witness Protection are not only absolutely clear but incredibly simple: Keep a low profile and under no circumstances make contact with anyone from your past.

You’d think it’d be easy, but it’s not. Not for twelve-year-old Kadyn Hopplar. The past is so much more than just a reference point. It’s best friends and great memories. Most of all, it’s a time when she was happy. A time before her father was killed by the bad men.

She’s got the typical challenges of any normal pre-teen starting a new school in a new town, but while she struggles to move forward she also struggles to let go of her past. Only, her past isn’t ready to do the same.

The bad men are still out there, and they’re waiting for the smallest hint of her presence like hungry spiders on a web. When Kadyn learns that something has happened to her ‘old’ best friend and is desperate to find out more, they may just get their chance to pounce.

Walk a Web of Spiders is a 140,000 word suspense story and my first novel. I also write short stories, two of which have been published.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

I'm very VERY leery of a suspense novel that clocks in at 140K, because suspense should be taut, not languid. 

The idea that you just not mention the word count in a query is Textbook Example of Foot Shooting. If I'm intrigued by the query, and request the full, the first thing I do when you send it, is download the manuscript. My word processing program tells me the number of pages and word count automatically.

If you think I won't notice 600+ pages, and 140K word count, you're wrong.
If you think I'll just read it anyway, you're also wrong.
If I think you're trying to pull the wool over my eyes, well, we've gotten off on the wrong foot, and that's Not Good.

But the thing that really bothers me is you've got a 12 year old protagonist, and the plot seems like that of a middle grade novel. 140K is very much too long for a middle grade novel.
Including the second POV seems like a good idea if only to rescue this from sounding like a middle grade novel. In fact, if you start with him, and then talk about Kadyn, it might do the trick even more neatly.

There isn't a lot of plot on the page here. My assumption when reading this is that Kadyn is in WitSec because of something her parents did. But if people are hunting for her, well, the reason for that will help elevate this to a more adult sounding suspense novel.

First figure out how to cut 40K words from the ms. Every person I've ever met at a writing conference who says "this can't be cut" watched me trim 1000 words out of the first 30 pages without fanning a fin. 
Then, start over on the query.  Make sure your reader (me) knows this is an adult novel.


nightsmusic said...

You have 140K words that are directed at who? Adult readers? MG? I'm an adult and unless the novel blows me away, even I don't want to read a novel that's 140K words. I can't imagine kids wanting to. Even Harry Potter was only 310 pages or less than 80K. So the first thing that hits me with this is the word count and the second is your intended audience. And the third is, like Le Sharque mentioned, what makes this 12 year old girl such a threat to the 'bad men' that they need to kill her? You're centering on her wanting to contact her friend and the possible consequences without telling us why she's where she is to begin with. So other than the age, this could be any generic thriller.

You need a compelling plot on the page here. That's the first thing. The second is to figure out who your readership is and connect that to your audience. Like I said, I thought this was MG at first. And the third is figure out where your story starts and then pare it down to those things that drive the story forward. At your word count, I'm guessing there's probably 40% of your darlings that you can kill right off the bat.

Once you've got a tight, amazing story, then write your query again. You might find it's completely different.

Tom M Franklin said...

"Every person I've ever met at a writing conference who says "this can't be cut" watched me trim 1000 words out of the first 30 pages without fanning a fin. "

Without fanning a fin is now one of my favorite sayings.


Frankie said...

140K words is way too much. As nightmusic said it’s not clear who this book is for.
Read other books in the same genre you wants to write and look at how they evolve the story throughout the book.

Also from the query the plot is not very clear. You maybe need to start where the story begins and move from there. You also need to write in a way it makes your (future) agent interested in reading more.

As a personal advice, I can confirm you can easily cutdown at least 10k of what you wrote that is not absolutely important for the story you wants to write.

Maybe what you need is a beta reader or a critique partner, someone who can read your work and be constructive (and brutally) honest with you.

WacoCatbox said...

I'm scared to death my word count is killing me, too. My WIP MS is down to 166k from nearly a quarter mil and every time I go through with a different editing knife (edit for "that"s, edit for filtering language, etc.) I kill off more words. Sometimes when drunk I kill a chapter or two and find it works in the end. "Save as" and drink some. Come at it with an axe. Sew up the damage later when sober.

Lenora Rose said...

Does a 12 year old still phrase the murderers of her father as "The bad men?"

It seems like a small thing, but so many writers write kids who are either too old or too young for their stated age, seeing something like that feels like an alarm bell.

I too have done the carve down and carve down thing (180k down to 130k for one project). It's not fun but it is amazing how many times you can go through and still have more to cut. (There are authors who write the opposite way, starting bare bones and having to actually add meat and tendons and flesh to make it a complete story. I am amazed by them, but I am definitely not among their number.)

I *can* imagine a taut book that runs to 140k. There had just better be a LOT going on, and thriller is rarely the genre where it happens.

Mister Furkles said...

For me, not an agent, the query was excessively vague. (1) the 'bad men' conveys no information. (2) Not telling why the father is killed hides the inciting incident. (3) There is no indication of what happens--a.k.a. it's all setup and vague at that.

If the novel is written like the query, it can likely be cut by 40%.

Karl Henwood said...

If you haven't already try getting a critique partner. It may take a few tries to find a good one, but it's worth it. After four years I had my novel a short as I could make it at 150k words. It wasn't that I wanted it to be that long, just that after so long working on it everything looked like I thought it should.

Then I got a dynamite crit partner and she took an axe to it. Now I'm at 119k which, for a sci-fi book, is OK. Also the story reads more smoothly and flows better, and she pointed out a huge list of other holes and problems to patch in the bargain. I owe her booze.

So don't give up hope, look for an informed outside opinion and specifically ask about how the book could be shortened. And if your partner can't be absolutely savage when suggesting changes to your MS then you need a better partner.

Laina said...

I once made a writing partner cut like 60k in a few swoops. I'm a very tight writer (which can also be a problem, but you know, life) and I find it really fun to cut stuff I have no emotional attachment to. Available for hire also :P