Monday, April 29, 2013

The Word Counts of Some Popular YA Novels

We often go around thinking that fat, thick books with huge word counts are the best. But the thing is, that thick book that you see in a bookstore may actually contain fewer words than you think. For example, Twilight is around 120,000 words. I won't mention the Harry Potter or Inheritance series, because Harry Potter breaks the rules as it's so popular and hence word count doesn't matter, and Christopher Paolini could shave off 200 or 300 pages off of any of his Inheritance books and they'd still tell the same basic story.

But anyone, here, I'm going to go to a page in various YA books, count the number of words on one page full of text, and then multiply it with the number of pages. The result will probably be higher than the actual number, because I'm not considering the fact that pages that end when a chapter ends and begin with the beginning of a chapter have less words since the chapter name is usually spelt out, but still, as estimated word count is higher anyway, and that's what we're calculating, so these are a bit higher than normal.

1. Goosebumps: Escape From Horrorland- I know this book isn't technically YA and more qualifies as middle age, but I decided that I'd mention it anyway. But, as you're probably thinking, the Goosebumps books are usually pretty thin anyway.
Words per page: 120
Number of pages: 132
Approximate Word Count:  15,840
And another thing, R. L. Stine writes over hundreds of books in a series, so a low word count is actually acceptable.

2. Animorphs: The Revelation- Another book that's pretty thin, and it's part of a series of over fifty books, and each book was written in under a month anyway.
Words per page: 193
Number of pages: 136
Approximate Word Count: 26,248

But let's get on to some of those thicker books that you might see.

3. Sir Thursday, Fourth Book in the Keys to the Kingdom Series- Now, this book is actually the second largest of the series, with only Drowned Wednesday being thicker, but if you've seen it in your local bookstore, you'll notice that it's one of those books that make you think, 'Wow. What a big book.' Well, let's see exactly how many words it seems to have.
Words per page: Around 240 on the pages with large amounts of text.
Number of pages: 343
Approximate Word Count: 82,320
Do note that this is probably higher than what it actually is. Also note that this book is the fourth in a series by a well-established writer, and also that it is a fantasy novel, which generally adds around 14-20,000 words to any story anyway.

4. Gregor the Overlander, First Book in the Underland Chronicles: Some of you may know this book's author a bit better than the book: Suzanne Collins, the same person who wrote The Hunger Games trilogy.
This is book is also pretty large, though not as much as Sir Thursday.
Words per page: 200
Number of pages: 310
Approximate Word Count: 62,000
This is a debut novel, so something that you might want tot keep in mind.

So that's that for now. Please don't take any of the above values too literally. The point of this blog is to show that not necessarily all YA books you see have larger than life word counts. The fact is that an average of 55-65,000 words is probably a good choice. Of course, there are always exceptions, and if you think your longer novel is worth it with each word being important, than, well go for it. Unless a publisher tells you to trim it down so it can be published. In that case, cut it until it matches their standards.

The thing is, don't write a long novel just for the sake of writing a longer novel. That's the thing that you want to avoid, which is what this post is about.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Scams to Look Out For- Part One

Now we're going to be covering some general scams that you may find on your trawls as you search for a publisher/agent. With the advent of the internet and new tools available for publishing, there are a lot of con artists out there. Here are some signs that you need to look out for.

1. People who advertise in any form or come to you

Remember, real agents and editors have to fight back clients. They don't need any more. Only con artists/vanity publishers put any kinds of ads anywhere, magazines, on Google ads, or something like that. And if your publisher's is geared towards writers instead of readers, which means that it seems like they really want people to submit, than this is also a sure sign that something's wrong.

Also, no editor will ever come to you. If anyone e-mails you asking for a manuscript whom you haven't submitted to, 99.9% chances are that it's a scam.

2. People about who there are no records

Now, I suppose you're probably going to check up on any agent/publisher who offers you a contract. What if you don't find anything bad, but you find nothing?

That's another sure sign that's something is wrong. Real agents and editors get talked about. They have records. If someone doesn't, it probably means a scam of some kind.

3. Seeing your books in stores

A lot of publishers will mention that if your book gets published by them, it will be available in stores all over the country. What they generally mean is that if someone walks up to the store and orders your book, then they'll deliver it to that store.

Now, think about it. In your long years as a reader, how many times have you walked into a store and asked specifically for a book to be ordered to you? Let me guess, zero. Almost all readers only browse what's right in front of them in a book store.

Check your publisher's name. Go into a store like Barnes & Noble and ask if they have any books by that publisher. If you don't see any, well, then yours probably won't be there too. Remember, everything you see in a book store is a result of a publisher. Your publisher negotiates for a spot on the shelves, the number of copies the book store will hold, etc. Besides begging on your knees for them to take in your book, there's not much that you can do to get your book into a store.

Difference Between Children's, Middle-Grade and Young Adult

Because you're a teen writer, I'm going to assume that you're probably not going to write for adults. So, you need to know your categories, and this is what this page is about. Remember, all word counts mentioned are estimated word counts.
So, the first category is Children's. These involve mainly picture books and the word count doesn't go over three thousand. I can't give you much advice on these, because your reputation and luck are a bit more important than your writing skills.
Middle grade is for kids up to the age of 10 or 11. The word counts usually falls in the range 20-30 thousand.
Finally, we have young adult novels. This is the category that I'm going to be covering in detail, because if you're a teen writer, I'm guessing that you're writing a novel for teens. (Most probably.) This is also the most general category and the one which is a bit confusing with word count.
Technically, this category involves people in the ages group 12 to 17, so as you can expect, there's a lot of variety on what to write and how long.
Generally, the word count is suggested to be between 50,000-65,000. But the thing is that that's very general. There are lots of exceptions, and I've seen young adult (often abbreviated to YA) novels sell that have word counts up to 80,000. Some of the sci-fi and fantasy ones even go to the 100,000 word range.
There are a lot of diverse opinions on this issue. What I'm going to say is that it probably depends on your target age group. If your book is targeted more towards 12-14 year olds, then you can expect the word count to be a bit lower than one targeted towards 15-16 year olds. Generally, you can add around 15,000 to the expected word count for any target audience if the theme is science fiction or fantasy, because they involve intensive world building.
I'd say that you should first try to write down your whole book. If you're getting a word count of over 100k, you might want to revise it a little bit. Unfortunately (or fortunately), there's no very strict range that you should tailor your book to. It's kind of something that you'll just have to go with your gut on. 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Word Count is Important

As the title suggests, today's post is going to be about a very important topic: word count.

Now, the first thing that you need to know is that the word count that publishers and agents ask for isn't the one that you see that's calculated by your word processor. To find out your 'estimated' word count, take the following steps:

1. Select all of your text using ctrl+a.

2. Change the font to Courier or Courier New, and the font size to twelve.

3. Indent the paragraphs by half an inch using the indent tool on top of the page.

4. Right click on your text. An option will come 'Paragraph'. Click on that, and change line spacing to double spaced. Make the indentation 1".

5. Make sure your new chapters start on a new page. Basically, all of this is part of a standard manuscript format.

6. Multiply the page number by 250.

That's your word count. Here's some data from me comparing real/estimated word count:

1. Real: 7,474
Estimated: 8,000
Difference: 600 words

2. Real: 11,987
Estimated: 13,000
Difference: 1,000 words

3. Real: 98,310
Estimated: 110,500
Difference: 12,000

The difference is only an estimate. From the above data, we can conclude two things. First, your estimated word count is always higher than the real word count. Second, the larger your real word count, the greater the difference. See how for the last thing when my word count was 98k, it was actually 110k. That's a huge difference, especially in publishing, where a difference of only around 5k is unacceptable.

Now, you might be wondering why publishers do this. The thing is, that this gives a much better idea of how much space your novel is going to take up, and consequently how much paper and ink they're going to need to publish it, as well as how much time it will take to edit it. Word count that your word processor gives out isn't a very good estimate of this, because it doesn't take into fact that new paragraphs start on new lines, if there's a lot of dialogue, if you're words are very long, etc. That's why estimated word count is.

Another thing, don't think that a longer book is better. The average novel is only around 80,000 estimated words. It's around ten thousand words higher for science fiction/fantasy, but otherwise, if you're first novel is very long, it's usually a sign that you have a lot of excess words that you can delete in it. If you're e-publishing though, word count isn't exactly that much important.

The rule of thumb is that a shorter novel is better. Sure, it shouldn't be too short, but it being a few words short is better than it being a few words to long. There are always exceptions to this, especially if your long novel is very engaging throughout, but usually a high word count tends to scare off publishers. Of course, writers with a lot of clout might be able to write longer things, but otherwise, not really.

Here's a general guide to see if you've formatted your manuscript right:

150,000 words would be around 600 pages.

100,000 words would be around 400 pages.

80,000 words would be around 320 pages.

If your results don't match this, then you're doing something wrong.

On a final note, remember, if you're aiming for 80k words, write around 74k in real word count. Aim slightly lower in real word count while you're writing, and then find out the estimated one when you're finished. Don't bother with this word count thing while you're working on your first draft. Just set up a rough idea of how much you have to write, but otherwise, worry about it after you've written the very best that you can.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Giving Up on Tales of Ink Sorcery

Yesterday, I got the final rejection slip for my book. That's that, and now I don't have any publishers/agents left to send it to. As a matter of fact, no one even asked for the full manuscript after I had sent my query letters, so I guess there's some fault with them.
But no matter. I've decided to write another novel, and I have an idea for a third as well. I'll try to do things better this time, and I hope my luck will turn out better as well.
Not that I've totally given up on my first manuscript. Maybe, someday, when I do get published, I'll take another good look at it and give it another polish. Until then.
Thanks guys for reading.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

What Got You to Start Writing?

My fourth grade teacher was always enthusiastic in trying to teach us to write. He’d give us loads of tips that I continue to hear from other people today. Too bad I really didn’t pay attention to them. Back then, my writing was horrible, and I really didn’t try to change that. I finished fourth grade and then, he was no longer my teacher.

For some reason though, when I was in the fifth grade I decided that I wanted to improve. I applied something that I had been taught, and for the first time I got praise for my writing. I wanted to do it again. I continued practicing. I didn’t churn out masterpieces all of the time, but I did get better. I remember winning second place in an essay writing competition. True, it was second place, but my fourth grade self probably wouldn’t have even tried. I wrote almost everything, poems, short stories, essays, and articles.

All through that time, while I did get new advice regarding writing, I could link it all with what my fourth grade teacher taught me so long ago. Ironic, I never really listened to the man while he was teaching me, and then I pretty much regarded his words as dogma once he had completely vanished from my life. It's strange how you only realize how much your teachers did for you only when they stop doing it.

What about you though? Who inspired you to start writing? Was it your parents, your teacher, or some other incident entirely?

Why You Shouldn't Let the Statistics Get You Down

I see a lot of websites running stats on the chances of getting published. They are generally thought of to be abysmal, and the websites claim there are better chances of getting struck by lightning than landing a deal with an actual publisher. I have to say that I disagree with most of them.

                                       Did someone say they want to be struck by lightning?

For one, not every book has the same chance of getting published. Even though most publishing houses may get around 10,000 submissions per month, but 90-95% of them are just not publishable for reasons as simple as bad grammar, or maybe they don’t match with what the publisher publishes. (The number will be higher for more famous publishers.) And anyway, of the rest of the books aren’t necessarily very good. After all, publishers don’t want okay books, they want great books.

But leaving that aside, I’m going to give you some statistics on why you can get published.  My stats may not be totally accurate, true, but I still hope they give a rough idea of the situation out there.

 To run through my own statistics, let’s first take the population of America over 18. Not to belittle my fellow teenage writers, but I know very well that not all of the adult population will be capable of writing a book, so it really evens out. I would guess, though this is an overestimate, that around 240,000,000 people would be able to write a book.  (I’m getting data from the U.S. Census. Approximately.)

Well, how many people who want to write a book actually sit down to write one? Though I know a lot of people who think of writing one (mainly so that they can say that they’ve written a book in their lifetime), I know very well that actually sitting down to write it is something different. The number is actually quite low, in my opinion around 95% of those people will never start or get pass page thirty.

Even harder is actually finishing the novel. Lots of people will lose inspiration, give up, or think that they don’t have the time to write a book. I think 98% of people will never finish their novel.

So how much competition do we have now? One- thousandth of the original, or 240,000. Not exactly very good odds. Still, finishing a novel is hardly the end of the story. 

How many of those writers won’t just delete the manuscript after it is done? How many will revise and edit tirelessly until the book is perfected? How many will look for the right publisher or agent? How many will use effective queries and target the right publishers? How many will cope with rejection and not lose heart through this process? After all, let’s remember that a lot (around nine-tenths) of the submissions publishers receive are rejected for some very basic problems (the book is boring; the plot doesn’t make sense, etc.)
Let’s say it is 1%. I bet it’s actually lower, but better to overestimate. That leaves our competition at 2,400. Take the fact that 40% will be nonfiction, 1440 is left. A bit more manageable number.

I’ll stop right there, and won’t reduce it further by pointing out that you’re competing with people in a particular genre among with other things. I also haven't considered other countries as well. I’m also guessing my numbers looking a bit too good to be true, but that’s not what I want to say.

What I want to say is that the stats don’t matter. Ignore the stats. There are a hundred factors like perseverance, talent, etc. that numbers can simply not capture.

I wrote all of that to give you a feel of how the numbers are actually in your favor if you’re serious. But seriously, ignore even them. Write. Work hard, and don’t even bother with the numbers, because the statistics mean absolutely nothing. The moment you give up, your chances of being published become 0%. I repeat: Never let the statistics get you down. And as this guy would say,


As a matter of fact, don't even bother looking up any more stats pages. Come on, get writing! You can start by leaving your comments below this page.

Using Big Words For No Reason

While I was editing my novel, I decided that I needed to make myself sound a bit smarter. So, I decided to take a few of the words I was learning for the SAT (If you've studied for the SAT you'll know what I'm talking about) and peppered them over my writing.

Trust me. Don't do it. Later on, when I read it, in every single place where I had inserted one of those 'special words', it just sounded plain wrong. When your readers will come across that word, they'll think 'Huh?' and it'll just end up breaking the flow of your story. Yes, you should vary your vocabulary and try not to repeat the same phrases (Like saying 'Their lips locked' every time there's a kiss), but don't grab your thesaurus and sprinkle the most difficult-looking words all over your manuscript. It won't look natural, and trust me, if it sounds forced, it also tends to sound boring.

The same thing for the word 'said'. 'Said' is the only word that you can never overuse in your manuscript. It has a way of magically blending in with your dialogue so that your readers can concentrate only on what your characters say. The moment you insert something different in every other line, you are begging for your readers to grab the book and smack it over your head. Trust me, I inserted a dozen different words for 'said' into a chapter and saw what it looked like. Not pretty. Just leave 'said' as it is.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Six Things the Teen Writer Must Do

There are a lot of pages that list six things that writers should do to get published. But this is a page listing things that teen writers should do in addition to those. Most of these are things that I learned myself through trial and error, but hopefully you won’t have to go through that.

1.       Will my age matter?

If you’re wondering if publishers will reject your book based on your age, well, the answer is no. I’ve only seen one publisher that specifically mentioned that it didn’t want authors under the age of eighteen to submit, and that was just one small publisher. There are hundreds who will still accept your work.

However, do not bother to mention your age in any of your query letters to publishers/agents. There’s no point in doing so. For one, they won’t care. Secondly, if you’re worried that people are going to discriminate against your book because you’re a teen, then why do you mention it? Also, never put things like ‘this is my first book’ or things that devalue your book like ‘I know it may not be perfect’.

2.       Don’t Be Impatient
Sure, even adults can be impatient, but waiting is unbearably agonizing for a teen writer. I know how it feels. You want stuff to happen right now, but unfortunately the publishing industry is slower than the Internet Explorer browser. 

And, if you’ve done the math, I’m guessing that you’ve realized that you’ll probably end up being published when you’re twenty or twenty-four. I know, that seems like forever at this point, but that’s just the way it is.

3.       Take Everything You Read With a Grain of Salt

There’s lots of information out there on the web for writers. So much that most of it directly contradicts one another. 

The most important thing to remember in this regard is that writing is an art. Every book is different, and the method you will want to choose to get it published will also be different. Never follow anything completely to the letter, always remember to experiment and add your own style to what you do.

4.       Take Your Work Seriously

If you don’t take your own work seriously, how can you expect someone else to? What this means is if you want to be taken as a writer seriously, like an adult, then you have to do things professionally. That may seem a bit vague, and the best way to illustrate it would be with an example.

Write your query letters like a pro. Get people to proofread them. If you can tell a teen wrote them just by reading your letter, then it’s time to change your strategy. Also, like I’ve mentioned before, don’t mention your age. Ever. Until your publisher comes out with a contract, then it’s not a problem saying you’re underage. (And all it means is that your parents will have to sign, not you.)

Another thing: While it’s true that your work may not be as good as it should be, there’s no reason for you to ever mention that. If you think there’s a problem with your writing, fix it; don’t mention it to a publisher. Don’t be overly humble either. If you’ve worked your heart out on a book, proofread it, and you believe that it’s ready to be published; then go for it.

5.       Do Things

What this includes is:

a. Writing every single day. This is important because you’re going to end up competing against people who are probably in their thirties and who have a lot more experience writing than you do. It doesn’t need to be strictly about your book, it can be anything. Maybe you can rewrite a passage from a book you like in your own words and see how your style comes out. Or you could keep a diary, or if you want others to read it, a blog. 

b. Going out and doing things that aren’t related to writing. Another disadvantage we have due to our ages is, as some people would say it, ‘you haven’t had enough rich life experiences yet’. 

The real question is ‘What are you going to write on?’ If all you do is write all day, where are you going to get your inspiration from? The key is to go out there and do things. Be part of a club, go camping, do chores, just don’t sit idle by your writing desk.

6.       Don’t Give Up

This is probably the most important thing. I’m guessing that even if you did everything you could, no publisher is willing to take up your book.

But here are a few stats that I’m going to throw at you. Most people don’t get their first book published. Most people are over thirty when they finally do get published.

Now, if you’ve started writing a novel when you’re 14, even though it may not sell, you can always write another. And another after that. Think about how many books you could write by the time you’re twenty-four. (Add to this fact that writing is an art that can be learned. By constant practicing, you can learn how to write a great book and get it published.)

No matter how depressing things may seem at one point, remember that it isn’t the end. If you keep trying, you will end up getting somewhere someday. Maybe not now. But when you do get your lucky break (which will come eventually, trust me), be sure to take it all the way. You can always go back and publish any manuscripts you have that have never sold right now later on. 

And, besides these six points, I’m going to add that you should probably check out these great sites for teen writers (and a few for writers in general):

1. Query Shark: A blog that's great if you want to know if your query letter is up to the standard or not. It's also great to read the posts and get to know what a good query letter should look like. (And, all of the query letters are critiqued by an agent, so I suppose you could say that you're getting very nice advice.)

2.  Teen ink: If you're aiming to be a novelist, no, this site may not help you get your novel published, but for other articles and stories, it's a great site and I think every writer under twenty should check it out.

3. Fiction press: Some people may tell you to stay away from this site, but it isn't that bad. Basically, this is a site where anyone (I mean anyone, which is why there are a lot of bad stories floating around) can post their stories (original fiction only) and anyone (once again, anyone) can review it. You may not get too many reviews, but you can also apply for a beta reader, someone who will willingly read and advise you on your story. The only thing is that it takes no training to be anyone on fiction press, so do keep that in mind. Also, many of the readers won't want to run through an entire novel which is probably around 90k+ words in length.

4. You can connect with both writers and readers from all over the globe on this site. It's very neat and this is another site you should definitely check out.

5. This link is pretty self-explanatory. You can get some very useful tips from other readers.

Should I Draw A Map For My Fantasy Novel?

One of the things that's constantly bugged me when I was writing my fantasy novel was the map. You know, the maps that they publish at the beginning of some fantasy books? (Come on. Even Winnie the Pooh books have a map of the Hundred Acre Wood at their beginning.)

                                           Please use proper spelling while naming your places though.

Now, a lot of guides would tell you to stay away from making maps, mainly because they're cliched and such. That's true, but at the same time maps seem to add a depth to your novel that can't be captured with words. It adds another dimension to your work, and makes the world you're drawing all the more real. Not only that, it can serve as a template for you while you're deciding on your plot.

But no matter how nice they look at the beginning of a book, I kind of decided that I wouldn't draw one. Aside from the fact that using maps is humdrum, there's a fact that your publisher probably won't bother looking at your hand drawn map and your writing will be far more important in this regard anyway. Plus, it's your publisher who gets to decide whether or not your map will be added, and if they do, they'll probably get a professional to do it.

Also, aside from the fact that I do not have enough artistic talent to bring out a map, there are two main reasons I opted for not drawing my map:

1. It's hard keeping your map realistic. You don't want to fill it with names like 'The Forest of Doom' that no one in their right minds could possibly actually name a place. Not only that, but you have to keep the map in synch with your story. You can't have your characters traveling between two towns in one day and then suddenly traveling three times that distance in one hour. You have to make sure that the distances between locations make sense, and that geographical features do as well. (Water doesn't run uphill, and neither do real rivers.)

2. If you haven't plotted out all of your world yet, if you make the map, then you can't change it later. This is actually the main thing that kept me away from attempting to draw a map. I hadn't visualized all of the world my book was supposed to take place in, and I wanted to explore it in a bit more detail in later books. If I messed up, there wouldn't be any turning back. (If you're wondering, I have a general idea of how my world looks like, but I'm not sure about the finer details in a few places.)

So, enough of my ranting. I'd like to know what you guys have done, or what you guys think. I'm sure a lot of you are working on (or have finished) your own fantasy books. Are you considering making a map? What factors contributed to your decision? As always, I'd love to know.

A Short Introduction

Hello there. If you've stumbled upon my blog, I'm guessing that you're probably on it because of the title. After all, I've seen a very small amount of information on becoming a writer directed at teens, and most of it goes along the lines of 'you probably don't have enough experience, practice, but don't get your hopes high'.

It is a bit infuriating. I know, because when I started writing my own fantasy novel Tales of Ink Sorcery I didn't get too much information either. Right now, my book is somewhere in the publishing process, but I have learned a lot.

But more importantly, there is a lot that I want to know. Despite trudging through various sites and books for several hours, I still find my information lacking. So, continue onwards in this blog to see what I've figured out (or want to figure out) and hopefully tell me what you think, because above all that's what I really want to know.