Make It Word Count

If you’re an aspiring author like me, eventually two words are going to cross your path if they haven’t already: word count.

If you’re really new to this biz, you may still be telling people about how many pages your book is. And that probably works better for friends and family. But all that agents, editors, and publishers want to hear about is word count.

Why? Because you might be writing in Courier, Times New Roman, Squiggly Wiggly (please don’t), but the one thing that stays uniform across the board is word count. How many words have you crammed into that Word Document that is your novel? But more importantly, how many should you have crammed in there?

As is with a lot of things in the writing world, the answer is it depends. It depends on your genre, your age range, and whether or not you’re JK Rowling or Plain Tryingtagetpublished Jane. But is there any kind of guide for how many words a novel should be?

According to Writer’s Digest, this is a typical guide for novel lengths:

Adult: Commercial & Literary ~80,000-89,000 (for you newbies, if you have it double-spaced with Times New Roman, this will be around 300 pgs, depending on your formatting)

Sci-Fi/Fantasy ~100,000-115,000 although lean toward the short end of that figure

Middle Grade ~20,000-50,000 depending on age range

YA (they say the most flexible of ranges) 55,000 – 69,999 although the trend is getting closer to the top of the 80Ks for the max. Again this depends on genre, story, etc.

Picture Books ~500-600


The thing is you can’t use other authors to argue the length of your book because 99% of the time your arguments are invalid. Especially if the author in questions is 1) super famous, or 2) wrote something a long, long time ago. When you’re a household name, you can write a 160,000 word book because odds are your name is the money-maker the publishing world sees (although for your reader’s sake, please don’t).

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Recharging Writing

I took a break from Shade my WIP. I had this other idea come to me, what I’m affectionately calling Code Name Clemmings. I wrote the first chapter, and then feeling too much anxiety over not knowing where the story was going, I paused and wrote an outline.

Before CNC I’d been focused mostly on editing and revising Shade and partly on a couple of short stories and if we’re being honest, doing some tourism training in San Francisco. I wasn’t getting as much writing done as I wanted, but sometimes that’s just the way life goes.

But here’s my point.

I’d been in editing mode so long, when I embarked on writing CNC for kicks and giggles and because my Pitch Wars mentor Marieke recommended I try something completely different after finishing revisions on Shade—when I finally sat down to write something new—it was like my brain had forgotten how to be creative.

I’d been focusing on editing for so long, which is very important, I’d let the flow of being creative run a little dry. Granted, I had written a couple of short stories in the meantime, so it wasn’t a complete creative drought, but I noticed something.

Editing, without spurts of creativity, can give more power to your internal editor than your internal creator.

Although I’m sure the same can be said, and should be said, of being creative and never doing enough editing. You might be in this mode if you get severe anxiety when it comes to editing. It’s a delicate balance as a writer.

So how does one maintain a good balance between the internal editor and creator? How does one embrace both the yin and yang of writing? Because when both are in balance, skill grows in both areas at an impressive rate.


I’ve been in editing and revision mode for a few years now. I feel like it’s something I know how to do well, and feedback from critique partners doesn’t sting like it once did. I’ve learned to uncover the root of the suggestions (if the CP is less experienced) and glean good advice. Often they’re right—at least about finding the weak spot. Their suggestion may not be on the mark, but they still helped me find weak spots, and that’s a very good thing.

Since I’ve been doing this for a few years, I’m very adept at editing and revising my work.

In order to get into this stage yourself, I recommend first of all, embracing the editing. I have an entire series on editing available for help, which is based on my experiences over the past few years. Read books on editing and making better story. And most importantly, take it to people who will be honest with you.

Start with softer critiquers if you need. These can be friends and family who help you catch easy to face things, like typos and grammatical errors. Then find those honest critiquers who tell it like it is. Sometimes you can find these people at writing conferences or workshops. With Google Docs and the like, doing this editing online has never been easier.

And edit other people’s stuff, even if you think you suck at editing. You’ll learn a ton about writing, either in seeing what good writers do really well, or seeing mistakes to be avoided.


Often this is the least hard part to do for most writers. It’s the most enjoyable part. I probably don’t need to tell you how to have fun creating, but you may feel like writer’s block is knocking at the door or maybe you’re not sure what to write or maybe you’re losing the passion—whatever it is, you need to recharge.

The solution: read.

Okay, that’s not really the solution I’m going to talk about, but it is a big part of the equation. Have you ever said anything like this phrase: I’d love to read, but I’m too busy using what little time I have writing.

Maybe liar is a bit harsh, but the truth is you do have time to read, you’re just using that time to do something else. Even if you can only get a chapter in a day, READ.

Back to the other part of the solution: write.

I know, I’m probably driving you crazy. But I’m serious. Write. Whatever your genre, pick something completely different, and write a short story about it.

I highly recommend flash fiction. You must be brief, you have little time to info dump, and you have to create empathy for characters quick. I’ve found this to be extremely helpful in streamlining my novel writing. It’s also very refreshing. You don’t have to spend the same amount of time as a novel (although you may later if you really like the idea, but save those for after the flash fiction). You’ve finished something, which has its own sense of accomplishment. And you’ve done something a little different, so when you go back to the regular genre, you’re rejuvenated.

I think of it as always having to eat Italian food for every meal. Italian is really good, but after a while, no matter how good it is there comes a point when you’re done with Italian and you’re desperate for anything else. So you have a little Greek or a little Thai and suddenly Italian has all its delicious flavor back.

It’s not a long commitment, like a whole other novel. Plus, with flash fiction, you can enter it into contests and get yourself more writing creds if you intend to eventually query your work.

Write flash fiction or short stories and you’ll find a renewed sense of energy in returning to your longer WIP. Plus it’s fun. And just so you know, flash fiction is—up to this point—just about this long.

Get recharged. Grow as a writer. And keep the balance.

What do you do to recharge your writing? Is your writing yin and yang out of balance? Have you written flash fiction or short stories before? Did you find the process invigorating? Anything you would add?

Meeting Notes 10

It’s been a couple of months since my last Meeting Notes post. And to be honest, there haven’t been a ton of meetings lately, which for me is a good thing. Now, without further ado…

meeting notes jae

Sometimes I really have no idea what’s going to come out when I start doodling. I tend to like shading things and giving them a bit more of a 3D perspective, but I’ve always had an obsession with drawing eyes. I usually don’t doodle them, but this time I said what the poodoo, why not?


Thanks to inspiration and a sort of reminder from Mayra, I’m going to work on presenting an editing series to go along with the How to Write a Novel Series and the How to Design a Book Cover series I’ve already featured here on the blog. I’m hoping all of you will add your own editing tips in the process.

I recently finished up another major edit session on SHADE and am going to tackle the query letter next. I have a decent one, but my mentor from Pitch Wars made some new suggestions, so I’m at it again. I think once I’ve got a copy we’re both happy with I might send it over to Janet Reid’s Query Shark blog and see what she has to say. It’s both frightening and thrilling at the same time.

I’m going to commit to writing the editing series for next week. You heard it here first. Look for the editing series next week. This will include advice on how to do it yourself, beta readers, writing groups, and when to seek a professional editor (yep, that’s a when). There’s a lot more resources available than you’d think, many of them free of charge—and they’ll improve your writing.

Anything you’re hoping to see coming out of the editing series? Anything you wish I would doodle while I was making my meeting notes? I’m up for requests or suggestions. Have you ever dared to submit to the Query Shark? Would you? Let me know below.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Turkey Day all! I hope you’re eating tons of turkey and other tasty treats. The fam and I have since last year discovered the delight that is Cinnamon Pie, which now accompanies Pumpkin Pie for dessert when we need to add a few extra thousand to the already bajillion+ calories we consume on this most blessed of food days.

Even attempting to bake cinnamon pie in the first place is all due to the Dual Spires episode of Psych. And believe you me, this cinnamon pie is re-dik-ka-luss! Thank you Sharon Miller or whoever it was that posted it.

And now in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’m going to post 15 things I’m grateful that I know about writing:

  1. Rough drafts are just that, rough. Don’t stress over the first draft. Instead, have fun with it.
  2. Feedback is the key to better writing.You don’t have to do everything everyone suggests, nor should you, but you should strive to understand why they said it.
  3. Some will tell you the definitive right way to write a book. Don’t believe them. Everyone is different and everyone’s processes are different. It’s good to learn from other writers and how they operate, but if it doesn’t work for you, don’t do it.
  4. If you want to improve, check your ego at the door when asking for someone’s honest opinion. Thick skin is a requirement in this business.
  5. Read. A lot. Then read some more. You may think you don’t have time because of all the writing you need to do, but reading is the saw sharpening for writing. Do it, or end up being cliché and boring.
  6. Share your work. Find a writers’ group or get in on the blogging community and find fellow writers. Another pair of eyes will see flaws you don’t. The sooner you’re willing to do this, the faster you’ll grow.
  7. Don’t query your manuscript too early. What’s too early? Right after the first draft is definitely too early. Even the fourth or fifth draft is probably too early. There are plenty of beta readers out there willing to help you.
  8. Don’t self-publish because you’re lazy. If you got 10 rejection letters and it hurt your feelings, toughen up. Self-publishing may be the right avenue, but you’ve got to know it will take just as much if not more work to be successful if you go that route. If you’re not willing to do gut-wrenching hard work, you’re in the wrong business.
  9. Panster or Plotter? If you like flying by the seat of your pants, meaning you don’t plan you just write, try plotting sometime to shake it up. If you have to follow a plan and have trouble deviating, try flying by the seat of your pants a few times. I used to be a heavy plotter, now I do both. I find both extremely useful to crafting story.
    jae tired
  10. Blog. But I’m busy writing! you say. Blogging does several wonderful things for you that you’d be a fool not to take advantage of. It sharpens your communication skills, it gets your name out there even if small at first, and you can make connections with other writers and potentially industry professionals. I’ve met some fantastic people blogging. And they’ve made me aware of competitions and other opportunities I may not have heard of otherwise. Plus the camaraderie alone is worth the effort. Blog!
  11. Improve. There is a wealth of helpful information out there to help improve your writing. Some books I recommend are Story by Robert McKee, and based on a workshop I attended, Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. You can also head over to Janice Hardy’s blog for an astounding amount of awesome tidbits to sharpen your skills.
  12. Hire an editor. But don’t do this until you’ve had many, many other eyes scour over your manuscript first. Editors can be pricy and you want to present them your best work so they can focus on important changes, not the bajillion typos you left them. This should be a requirement before self-publishing. If you’re doing traditional publishing, I’d still recommend it because you can learn a lot on how to improve. Even if you do an exchange for it with a newly graduated college student, find a way, and get it done.
  13. Read other genres. It’s good to venture outside your traditional reading circle. You may find inspiration for future stories and it broadens your experience. For example, I read Darkly Dreaming Dexter, certainly not within my usual reading list. It’s not the kind of book I would recommend to myself, but I learned a lot about voice and the idea of a serial killer that kills serial killers fascinated me. I probably won’t tread into that genre often, but I’m glad I read it.
  14. Enter contests/competitions. There are an abundance of contests out there. Writer’s Digest sponsors a whole slew of them. Get yourself some contest cred, it helps with the query letters and it gives you an idea of how your writing fares in the real world. You may have to try your hand at a few short stories to do this more successfully. Read Anton Chekhov to get an idea of short story beats.
  15. Go to writers conferences. Many agents say they prefer finding aspiring writers at conferences. That’s probably because if you’re invested enough in your story to be at a conference they know you’re invested enough in it to take it all the way. Having to pitch your story means you need to be able to talk about it in a cohesive way, which means you’ve thought about it extensively. And while you’re there, network with other writers. That’s where I learned about #Row80, #wordmongering, and how important blogging and tweeting are to building your brand. Plus I met some great people, most of which I still stay in contact with. And, it’s fun!

    Jae New York City

    I went to NYC for a writers conference. It was a life-changing experience, and I learned a lot.

So there you have it. Fifteen things I’m grateful I’ve learned about writing. Hopefully I’ve added a few more things you’re grateful to know. There’s plenty of room for all of us to have that title of “published” author, so let’s make sure to help each other all get there. Do your part and share your experiences so the rest of us can glean good info from your experience. And as always, keep on writing!

p.s. Again, no Friday Flix tomorrow. Holiday and all, plus I want to catch up on some novel writing. See you Monday!