Whittling it Down
By John DeDakis
What to do when a manuscript is too long.
As usual, my thoughts about the writing process might also be relevant to living.
Case in point: What to do when a manuscript is too long (or a life is too cluttered)?
Answer: Whittle it down.
(These comments will be about writing; you decide how to apply them to your life.)
I recently got a manuscript to edit that was a whopping 141,000 words. The writer obviously had a lot to say. But, sadly, too much to say. An agent or a publisher would not be impressed.
Publishing is a business and most of us are unknowns with no book sales track record. Some 170,000 books are published every year in the U.S. alone (more in the U.K.). That comes to about 475 books a DAY. Many (if not most) don’t earn back the money a publisher spends to produce them. Therefore, it’s highly unlikely a publisher will agree to buy a bloated manuscript because its prospects of making money are too uncertain – but the certainty it will LOSE money goes up the longer the book.
Your goal should be to trim your manuscript to about 75,000 words. This doesn’t necessarily mean that what you cut will go onto the scrap heap. This is because publishers, if they like a manuscript (and the author), will want to know if you have any more stories up your sleeve. You’ll be able to say, “Why, yes. I do!”
Remember: This is a business.
My novel "Fast Track" went through 14 major revisions. At one point, it was a 150,000-word mishmash. One publisher rejected it because it didn't fit into an easily identifiable niche - it wasn't literary, it wasn't a romance, it wasn't a mystery. He said he didn't know how to market it.
So, I took the manuscript to the book review club that met in my neighborhood. They read the story and then let me sit in on their critique. By listening to their comments, I realized I had three subplots I could easily jettison. That was the tipping point. I whittled it down to a lean 75,000 word-mystery that netted me an agent and a publisher -- and some very enthusiastic readers.
Whittling really can pay off. See for yourself:
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