80,000 to 100,000 words. That’s what most agents define as the good average size of a fantasy novel for a first-time author. Too few words and you risk leaving the reader behind without enough explanation; too many words and it might be daunting for a reader to even start since they don’t know what to expect. My first novel was completed at around 192,000 words. That’s twice as long as the first two “Harry Potter” books combined. Oops. If I wanted it to be considered, I’d have to cut it in half. Not easy, btw.
And that’s not all. Much of the terminology I used was accurate; that is to say it was inaccessible to the average reader who didn’t delve into medieval studies and heavy fantasy. Do you know what a ‘wimple’ is, or a ‘pelice’? If not, I would have lost you in at page 2. (They are medieval articles of clothing; a wimple is fabric draped under the chin and a pelice is a long over-garment lined with fur. Neat, huh?) I always assumed that if the reader ran into a word they didn’t recognize, they would look it up and be educated. Maybe I’d put a glossary in the back. Well, that doesn’t fly; none of my test readers wanted to do research to read my damn book so I had to make more changes.
Pelice and wimple in action!
Another problem I noticed was my attention to detail. I realized that for much of the early book I was using my artwork as a guide, wanting to write about all the neat stuff I had taken so much time and effort to draw. I was describing things to death, forcing the reader to create images in their minds that were specific and elaborate. What I failed to realize is that most readers (me included) hate being overburdened with descriptions. So what if they pictured it differently in their minds? Did they enjoy the story? That’s the important thing. This allowed me to cut out huge swaths of text, lightening the word-burden considerably.
Also, do you realize how easy it is to type “heroes” and get “herpes”? Think about it.
I’m not going to go into too much detail about Agent Queries because there are far better places online to get advice, plus I figure if I haven’t been excepted than I’m not a reliable source. Let me just say that this is perhaps the hardest part of writing a book. Most people cannot describe their story in one paragraph in a way that grabs the attention and piques interest. If you ask me on a bad day, I’m likely to say my book is about “Knights, wizards, and fairy-dragon bullshit.” What I actually wrote in my agent queries was a bit better, but it went through several drafts before it was even close to being useful. If I ever get accepted by an agent, I’ll post the letter that worked.
Once I cut the book in half and changed the title from “The Gold Cat’s Daughter” to "Cindra and the Rose Knight”, I was able to get more hits from prospective agents. I have received nothing but form letters saying “no thank you” but that is to be expected. We can’t all be Stephenie Flippin’ Meyer. Read her lucky story of how her enormous first book got accepted if you are a struggling writer and really want to be annoyed.