I posed this one directly to agents at this weekend’s ALA Midwinter Conference, and the sentiment is consistent: You can’t explain away the knee-jerk skepticism that a word count “far out of the norm” inspires. Don’t try. DO try to go back to your manuscript and justify the final word count to yourself. Does every scene deserve to be there because it is essential to its chapter’s overall goal? Has minutiae crept in, like writing that your character picks up a glass, walks to the sink, and fills it with water when all you really need to write is that the character took a drink? Are you explaining how the characters move from scene to scene or can you just start a scene with the character already there? Is your language as tight and straightforward as it can be within your chosen style? Can the story be broken into two volumes, as with M. T. Anderson’s Octavian Nothing books (both of which are quite long)? If you honestly feel no shortening is necessary, that you aren’t just being reluctant about “killing your darlings,” then simply state the word count in your query letter and knock their socks off with a killer pitch.