Unfortunately there’s a simple reason why, if this was a real submission to an agent, it would be unlikely to go any further. The agent would scan down the brief details that I ask people to provide, title, genre, language etc. One of those items is wordcount. Even if it was brilliant prose, it’s extremely unlikely that a mainstream publisher would take a risk investing in a 224,000 word YA title by an unknown writer. But let’s have a look at the submission first:
Title: Olivia & Ricky’s Odyssey to Rock Bottom
Language: US English
Synopsis: Olivia has lived a shadowed and suffocating life until a tragic event throws her into Ricky’s life. Ricky is the epitome of trouble, and even as the world seems bent on breaking them, they can’t stop falling.
A coming of age story following a lost boy and a lonely girl.
It felt like the world was spinning uncomfortably even as he lay with his eyes closed, willing his mind to regain consciousness. His head was pounding unforgivingly as the intense pain and ache that was his body started to register.
A low and pained groan escaped as he shifted his head, feeling the tug on his scalp where his hair was stuck to the hard surface underneath him. He pulled it free carefully, wincing at the pain stinging across his scalp, which in turn hurt his face. His hair felt sticky and stiff.
Blinking, he slowly tried to open his eyes, but the left was swollen firmly shut and his vision on the right was hazy and blurry, his eye watering from the harsh sunlight above.
He tried to take a deep breath then but found his nose blocked and was immediately hit by a coughing fit, sending an all too familiar pain through his ribs. He tried to still his coughs as the contraction in his chest and stomach made him feel even more nauseous.
Suddenly, he felt the vomit rise to his throat and quickly rolled over and regurgitated, crying out as the pain in his body intensified. Dry heaving and gasping for air, he spat out thick saliva before falling onto his back again with a grimace.
Lying next to the stinking pool of sick with his eyes closed, the memory of everything rushed back. Realizing that the sharp prickle he felt in his shoulders and back wasn’t scattered pebbles, but broken glass.
How long had he been lying there? Too long. He could feel the heat radiating off his skin from the sunburn that was covering his naked chest. He knew he had to move – get out of the sun – but his body felt too weak, his head too heavy.
After a while, he willed himself to move. With a great effort, he slowly pushed himself up – just a little – giving him time to collect what strength he had to keep going. He ignored the glass biting into his left hand – the right too sore and swollen to even use, both smeared in blood.
Looking through the broken panoramic window, he hazily saw the ruin of his room and the pile of things he had to climb over to get inside and out of the sun.
He tried to brush away pieces of broken glass before he grabbed the window frame to heave himself up, only to collapse on top of his tumbled desk chair in a yell from the pain shooting through his feet. He hit his chin on his broken TV in the fall, biting his tongue and tasting blood. Everything went white before his eyes for a second. The throbbing in his right hand intensifying as he used his hands in an attempt to soften the fall.
He lay uncomfortably on top of everything, feeling extremely dizzy, only taking small shallow breaths.
He started to push the chair out of his way then, and clumsily crawled to his bed. Setting his jaw, he put weight on his feet again, groaning at the intense pain as he got up and collapsed heavily onto his bed – hardly feeling his sunburned skin scream as his mind quickly slipped into an empty blackness.
He was lying in the exact same position when he became conscious again. His long legs hanging off the end of the bed that stood askew from the wall.
Again, it took him a while to break free of the haziness and make sense of where he was. Why his entire body was screaming in agony. He moved a hand to his face, hissing through his teeth when he touched the swollen and sensitive skin that kept his left eye firmly shut.
He needed to call Sebastian. He needed help and the only one he could think of calling was him.
He pushed himself further up on the bed, becoming painfully aware of his warm and sunburned skin. His phone was still placed on the drawer chest next to the bed and he pressed the speed dial for Sebastian as he held the phone to his ear, listening as it rang. It sounded distant in his heavy mind.
“Yeah,” Sebastian’s voice sounded on the other end when he picked up.
“Baz…” Ricky groaned, his face partly buried in the mattress.
“Yeah, are you okay? You sound weird.”
“I need help,” Ricky said as he exhaled heavily.
“What’s wrong? You sound kind of drowsy.” Sebastian’s voice became worried.
“I— I can’t… Just come over.”
“Ricky, did you OD? Do you need me to call an ambulance?” The sound of Sebastian’s voice was now severe and slightly panicked.
“No. No amb— just come…”
Whether he actually ended the call or not Ricky didn’t know as the darkness overtook him once again.
Editorial comment: As I said at the outset, I think this submission is doomed unfortunately, if only because of the high wordcount. Very few publishers are going to take a risk on an unknown author with a 200,000+ word YA novel. It comes down to economics. Simply, they could print two normal length 80 – 100,000 word YA novels for a pretty similar cost. They would have two bites of the cherry at having a potential bestseller, instead of one. Also, they would not be able to charge double the price for the 200,000+ word book, so they are losing out on both costs and revenue. As an author you have to understand that publishing is a business, and publishers are not in business to lose money, or to run as a non-profit in the interests of fine literature. It might be possible to dig out an instance of where a publisher has published a new author’s 200,000+ word book, but that really says nothing. The game is about maximising your chances of getting published, and asking a publisher to look at a 200,000+ word MS for the YA genre is not giving yourself the best shot. (If you’re self-publishing, the same economics apply unless you’re going straight to Kindle and never intend publishing a paperback version.)
As an agent, if I did read on, I would have been put on notice for anything looking like wordiness. “This author is asking me to like a 200,000+ word book. If all 200,000+ words of the book are excellent, well I’ll do my damnedest to sell it to a publisher.” But in this opening (which is technically very well-written), nothing really happens. The main character wakes up out of a coma/unconsciousness, throws up, blacks out, wakes up, makes a phone call, and falls unconscious again. Of the 800 words of the opening, 750 are exposition, really, describing the state of the PoV character. There’s no plot development, characterisation, even world-building.
It starts getting interesting when, as always, there’s dialogue. Dialogue is nearly always where things start to happen in fiction. One of Sebastian’s first questions to Ricky is “Did you OD?” Right. Now we’re getting somewhere. In that tiny question of only three words, we’ve learned more about Ricky, and about Sebastian, and their relationship, than we did in the previous 759 words. Those three words tell us that: Ricky is a character who might be at risk from a drug overdose; Ricky is probably mentally or at least emotionally unstable; Sebastian knows this about Ricky and also is concerned about him. You’ve told us all that in three words. That’s efficiency. If an agent read a book that tightly written, however long, he would be phoning you up inviting you to send the rest of your MS, or rather, to bring it personally so that he could read it while you wait, sipping cocktails in some swanky bar in midtown Manhattan.
You can clearly write—no problem there. But I think you need to drastically prune this novel to give it a chance of being published—even, to be honest, to give it a chance of being read.
Thanks for posting.