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How Long Should My Manuscript Be? Word Count Explained

One thing our editors get asked about frequently is word count requirements for series submissions. Why do we have specific requirements for our series and how much can an author stray from the guidelines when submitting?

To understand why we have word count requirements, it’s helpful to understand Harlequin series.

Word count = page count

All series have recognizable branded packaging and a consistent and unique reading promise. “We call our series ‘series’ because they are books that have a similar guaranteed story type, such as Romantic Suspense, Medicals, or Heartwarming,” says Executive Editor Kathleen Scheibling. “Harlequin publishes 4 or 6 books/month in each of these series. And to publish that many books, which are offered in print as well as digital, we adhere to the rules of production, which means a certain page count. Word count = page count.”

Each book in the series is the same price and meets reader expectations for story type and length of read. Sort of like going to the movies, where you pay the same ticket price for every film. You’d be pretty disappointed if you paid full price to see the latest James Bond movie and it wrapped up in an hour!

But does that mean your submission has to meet the requirements exactly?  “There is a bit of wiggle room, of course,” says Kathleen. “No one is going to write a book of exactly 55,000 words! If you do, I’ll be impressed! The requirements allow for a range of about 2,000–3,000 words in either direction. (If I say any more or less our Production department may find out and then I’ll be in trouble!)”

So, while your 100,000-word (or 30,000-word) romance might work for another publisher or the indie digital market, we wouldn’t be able to consider it for Harlequin series.

But what if your manuscript meets the guidelines for one of our series in every other way? Can you just cut or add to your manuscript and submit?

Writers must also be editors

 “Only the writer can answer that question,” says Kathleen. “Writers must also be editors. If you can’t see a way to trim or lengthen your story, then it’s time to look for other opportunities. In my experience, if you are way under or over our word count, the story may simply not be right for us. Or else you have a lot of work ahead of you.

“I’m the Executive Editor of Harlequin Heartwarming, which is one of our series with a longer page count,” she continues. “This means that our stories have room for more plot complexities, including multiple subplots. Books with shorter word counts may not have room for subplots or may just tell a shorter or more fast-paced story. That said, I’ve read longer books that read very fast, and shorter books that read slower. The important thing is to just keep reading!”

What about the synopsis and chapters?

We don’t have word count requirement for synopses and chapters. Synopses guidelines are viewable when you click “submit” on the series of your choice on Submittable (3-5 pages is the usual recommendation). For chapter length, do what feels right. Read books in your chosen series and see what those authors have done.

For more on Harlequin series, visit our About page and our Which Series Are You? page. And find free books to sample at TryHarlequin.com.

Do you have more questions on word count? Let us know in the comments! Or email submissions@harlequin.com.

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