Agents & Manuscript Word Counts: Is There An Optimal Number?

I recently got some interesting feedback from an agent about my query for a historical fiction novel. The manuscript is approximately 140,000 words. She noted “the high word count was a bit concerning.”

She also wrote “For a new client, going over 100k can be pushing it.” Apparently it’s a signal of potential overwriting that will require revisions.

I’ve gone back to manuscript to start trimming, but I’m not sure I want to cut 40,000 words on one agent’s advice.

Have other writers heard anything similar? Is there an industry benchmark on manuscript word counts for new authors?


4 thoughts on “Agents & Manuscript Word Counts: Is There An Optimal Number?

  1. From what I’ve read/heard, requests like that often have more to do with the economics of page count and binding for paper books, than with the actual quality of the individual story. It might be more worth your while to keep looking for a different agent who “gets” your work – or try out self-publishing it to get reader feedback directly.

    If you’re interested, is one of my favorite places for keeping up with industry news and connecting with other writers about questions like this. It’s very self-pub friendly, but there are also a lot of commenters who are conventionally published or using both avenues for various works.

    Kristine Kathryn Rusch ( also has a lot of interesting posts on the publishing industry and the business of writing fiction – go straight to the “business resources” tab.

  2. Thanks for the thoughtful reply! I figured there was an element of economics involved in a smaller manuscript. I’ve actually done a significant amount of cutting and I feel like I’ve got a leaner piece of work without having sacrificed much in the way of story and character development (I hope)!

    • That works. šŸ™‚

      I read your WWII short story over on Wattpad yesterday, and it’s excellent, so I’m very interested in seeing more of your work! Fei the Hero is waiting on my Kindle, so I’ll hopefully read that this weekend.

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