The Journey to a Bestseller: Word Count, Character Sheets, and Kindle Reads, oh my. (Series #9)

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Hi guys! It’s been a busy week. I finished the second draft of my client’s manuscript during the day; and worked on my book at night. Just in case you are new to this blog, I am writing a bestseller…or what I am going to do try my best to make it, and you are all coming with me. I will talk to you about what I’m doing all the way through. But, I have paused it for the month of August as I edit a book that’s coming out in March.

I’m editing the third book in the Freedom Fight Trilogy. Currently titled: The Final Rescue. It’s a YA fantasy/romance with sci-fi elements. Here’s the blurb:

She’s a warrior princess.

He’s a runaway slave.

Together they’ve battled their way around the globe, lost members of their team, found what they were searching for.

Now their army is ready and waiting for their return and the epic finale to the mage war.

Oh yeah. I got the chapters interspersed so they alternate between protagonist/antagonist. I did do a whole read and made sure things were flowing. Unfortunately, I’ve managed to go through it, and it’s only 53,862 words.

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Why is that a big deal? Word counts are important. If you send in a query for a YA fantasy that’s 45K words, you will be automatically rejected by almost every agent. They will reject you because they can’t get you a publishing contract with that number of pages. They aren’t going to wait for you to write more or finish, and now since you’ve queried those agents with this book, unless they were interested in the first place, they won’t want you to send it again. You’ll have to find new agents to query. So how do you know what the word count of your novel should be? (I don’t remember which blog post I wrote including my word counts) When in doubt, this is a handy little guide I go by:

Realistic MG:* 25K- 60K with a sweet spot of (30K- 45K)

Fantasy MG: 35K- 75K sweet spot (45K- 65K)

Realistic YA:** 40K- 90K sweet spot (45K- 75K)

Fantasy YA: 50K- 100K sweet spot (65K- 85K)

Realistic Adult: 70K- 110K sweet spot (80K- 90K)

Fantasy Adult: 90K- 124K sweet spot (100K-115K)

Westerns: 50K- 80K sweet spot (65K)

Memoir: 70K- 100K sweet spot (80K- 90K)

*Middle Grade **Young Adult

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There are many different word count beliefs and cheat sheets on the web if you look it up, but they are generally going to say the same thing as the info above. Which means, for me to be at the sweet spot with this book, I need to write 11,138 words. So what am I going to do?

First, I will give my manuscript another read-through to see if I’ve missed anything. I could send it “as is” to my betas and ask them where they think I should add the text. But I want to send them a book that is as complete as I can make it. I want them to be proofreading, not full-on line editing for me. I think, since my protagonist chapters are quite long and my antagonist chapters are short, it’s pretty obvious I should add to the latter. But I am also at a point where I feel like everything that needs to be in the story is there. I don’t want to write “fluff” chapters that an editor makes me cut at the end anyway.

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I believe I will write down the sceneology of my antagonist. Meaning, I will make a list of the scenes I’ve created for the antagonist and see what the current story is, then I will create some new scenes that either show more of his character or the world and how he deals with it. A lot of the bad guy’s chapters are memories that tell how he got to where he is, but there’s not a lot of action on his part. Well, its 50/50. I need more present narrative and dialogue to offset the past.

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That’s going to take studying my character in depth. To do this for your own cast list, make a character sheet. My friend and I made an exhaustive character spreadsheet. Let me know if you’d like a copy. But you can do it yourself. Open an Excel spreadsheet, or grab some paper, and divide it up into columns. Make sure you are in landscape orientation. List in the first column all the things you want to know about your character; each on a new line going down. i.e. hair color, eye color, skin color, related to, their job, in a relationship with, their hopes, they identify as, their fears… Like I said, I have a long list.

Across the top, put a character name over each column. Now you can write in and compare your characters’ colors, relations, jobs, and make sure there is sufficient diversity. It’s a handy chart that you will use during the entire writing of your novel. You will look at it when you need an eye color real quick and you don’t want to have to dig through your ms to find out what color you already said they were.

It also helps you to know your characters well, so you know when something “sounds” like them, or not. This way, their character is fully fleshed out. You will give them a language of their own and your story will flow because it will make sense why people do what they do. If someone in your manuscript does something out of character, or the reader doubts a character’s speech or actions, they are taken out of their fictive dream.

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What? Are you talking about sleeping? No. I mentioned this last week, as well. The “fictive dream” is that time when you are so engrossed in reading a book that you forget you are reading. You are experiencing the story. When you break that attention, you risk losing them to a distraction. Say your character throws rotten vegetables at someone’s face, but she has been super sweet up til now, the reader might be jerked out of her reading by lack of belief. But then she thinks, “Would she really throw those vegetables? Oh yeah, I forgot, I have to peel the zucchini for dinner…” And they put down the book and walk away. Are they excited now to pick it back up? No? Then you’ve shot yourself in the foot.

So make sure your characters stay in character!

When you are editing it can get very tedious as you read over mistakes or keep missing them, because you are so familiar with your own text. However, when you change a document in any way (like changing the font, or color, or formatting), your brain sees it as a brand-new document. When you see your ms like that, it is easy to find the mistakes. What I do, and what I teach all my clients is, for the last draft, do a Kindle read. You are used to reading quality books on your kindle. Your brain expects it. If you email your own manuscript to your kindle, and read it like a “real” book, the mistakes jump out at you. I promise. I do it with every book and the people I’ve told have loved it as well.

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How do you email your Kindle? Once on Amazon, click where it says Account & Lists. On the right of the drop-down menu, click Manage your Content and Devices. You should see a list of your Kindle books. On that page, there’s a menu bar near the top. Click on Preferences, then scroll down to Personal Document Settings. Now you should see your Send-to-Kindle Email Settings. This lists your Kindle email, usually your normal email with @kindle.com after it. click on Personal Document Archiving and what you send to yourself will be part of your Kindle library, meaning you can read it on the app, too.

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I know that’s a lot of steps, but if you follow them, it shouldn’t be too hard.

Last step: If you or someone else you know, wants to send a document to your Kindle, you must “approve” their email first. Which is the next item in the category: Approved Personal Document Email List. Just add any emails that you approve of, and you’re set.

Everybody have a great week!

~jenn

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