Fantasy and sci-fi tips from an award-winning editor

I attended a Reedsy Live where Jonathan Oliver gave some wonderful tips for fantasy and sci-fi writers that I’d like to share. Some of these tips are for all genres though.


What’s a word count for fantasy and sci-fi?

For adult fantasy, he mentioned the range to be about 130,000 to 250,000 words. Sci-fi landed in about 80,000 to 120,000 words.

I did, however, have a literary agent mention that YA fantasy shouldn’t get much higher than 130,000 words. YA tends to have smaller books than adults, so that’s something to keep in mind.

What’s something all writers should know?

The “hook” should be about the first twenty pages. If the first twenty pages don’t shine, it’s hard to keep someone’s interest for the other 200 or more pages. It’s critical to get the readers’ interest quick.

What’s an editor’s pet peeve?

He mentioned one that is mine too, but it rarely happens to me: formatting. Make sure your books are double spaced with indented paragraphs and curved apostrophes. Use a serif font since those are easier to read. Also, don’t design the book beforehand since that will get messed up in the edits.

It saves a lot of the editor’s time if the base work is already done.

Are prologues okay?

I’ve seen this question come up everywhere recently on Twitter and at conferences. Me and Jonathan agree on this as well. Prologues are generally okay.

He continued on to talk about how “there are no hard or fast rules of writing.” Write with your passion. No one writes a book the same. Some books work well with a prologue, and some don’t. But if you believe in the prologue, keep it.

What if I already wrote books two, three, etc.? Or what if I have ideas for them?

For the most part, you’re only going to sell book one if you’re a new author. Two or three book deals are expensive for a publisher to take a chance on. They’re going to take the chance more with authors they’ve already published before instead of newer ones.

Jonathan did mention that some publishers will publish your first book and option the next two, which means they will publish the others depending on the sales of the first book.

I’m American. Can I publish with a uk publisher?

I was glad this question came up because I don’t see people speak on it often. Jonathan said it’s possible for Americans to publish with a UK publisher.

Are book covers important?

Yes. As someone who has read hundreds of books before, I can tell you that covers matter. Covers are usually your book’s first impression on the world. As much as people say don’t judge a book by its cover, many people do even if they don’t realize it.

Jonathan agreed with this and mentioned how he has seen books sell better if they have a better cover.

He also brought up a good point that I had never thought of before. Since Kindles and phones are a big thing, it’s important to have your book cover still look good on a smaller screen.

Best advice?

“Write with passion and write well.”

Readers will be able to tell if you’re writing to catch a trend. Write what you love to write no matter what.


Hope you found this useful!

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