Could you tell me - are there big word count issues for a first novel? Mine is accessible literary fiction. The thing is. it's edited down to 135,000 words from approximately 150,000 words. I'm wondering if I've gotten it down to an acceptable size. My novel is a period piece, and it has required a good number of words to capture the characters as well as the place, period, and action. Does this sound all right to you? Am I in a reasonable ball park?
Sorry, this is harder to hear than it is for me to say. Honestly, no, you're not in the ballpark, regardless of your topic--you'll get blanket rejections before people even look.
I would say that the absolute upper limit of OK is 100,000 for a debut novel, but you'll find some people turned off to it if it's anything above 80,000.
I'm not making these numbers up from my experience--I've read identical stats on a lot of agent blogs. It's pretty much an industry standard. But (with only a very few exceptions) I think you'll find in a survey of successful literary debut novels, the average page count is between 250 and 400. Often, authors get really famous for longer opuses--but those aren't their debuts. Those are their second or third books.
There are practical reasons for this rule! It's not (entirely) that editors are close-minded pigs. The reason is 100,000 words casts off at about 480 typeset pages. That would make your book...well, a lot of pages--astronomically expensive to produce. Since literary fiction (particularly debuts) sell in smaller numbers than genre fiction, the potential profit margin on your book would be even lower than on another debut. Publishers would be very, very wary of the financial risk they were undertaking.
Furthermore, think of your audience--you're an unknown writer at the onset. But readers are probably going to be more willing to take a chance on you if the commitment is relatively small.
This is really hard for you, the author, in terms of your story, but what I would do is try to whittle it down for your submission. If an agent or later an editor is like, "awesome story, but why didn't you develop the romance between Billy and Matilda [or Craig or Alice or Pete] more?" then you can stick stuff back in.
Also, ask yourself if maybe you've written two books--can you strike out one element of this book and spin a whole other plot out of it? Might as well make all your hard work work for you.
One last word for the wise--I wish that all publishing was based on beautiful writing and wonderful ideas, not on marketability and production costs. I wish literature as the pure art and publishing as the industry had a little bit larger of an overlap. BUT. More content does not always mean better content. So please, revisers who read this and want to accuse me of being mercenary, please believe me when I say there are craft and readability issues central to this as well as production/money ones.
I don't mean this to apply to anyone in particular--and indeed, it may not apply to you--but try to keep in mind as you're revising that probably the most universal flaw in early-career writing is overwriting or over-inclusion of material.
I find that I, personally, feel less regretful about taking a knife to a manuscript (my own or someone else's) when I keep a separate document where I deposit everything I've parted with. There's no reason you can't use good material in something else later, and there's no reason you need it now (unless you NEED it now--and be honest with yourself about the difference between "need" and "really really want").
Hope this helps. Any thoughts out there in the blogosphere?