Does Size Really Matter?

I admit it. I’m an over-writer. I write my way into scenes and all the way back out of them, I write whole chapters that don’t need to be there. My first drafts are ridiculously long. I know this because I throw away more words than I end up with. My first edit starts with cutting off the beginning and end of each scene, leaving only the stuff that really needs to be there.

My goal is to get to the bones, and embellish only when needed. To treat the reader as intelligent and not tell them the same thing twice. And never, ever bore them.

With Saving Grace, I’ve cut to the bone and then some. Then I’ve had friends who work as editors go through it with a red pen and strike out anything that doesn’t grip them. They’ve found very little to delete. I now have a manuscript that is tight, fast-paced and focused on the action.

And yet, it’s 209,000 words.

While I’m heartened by articles that report published books are getting bigger, that many bestsellers defy word counts, the fact remains that most submission guidelines ask for standard-length novels, most of which are well under 150,000.

So what do you do when your manuscript is so big?

Break it into several smaller ones? It seems a logical solution considering its structure is in four distinct parts – until you read it. I’m open to changes. If a publisher has suggestions that won’t affect the integrity of the story, I’m all ears.

Until then, my approach is this: I believe in my manuscript.

I’ve worked hard to make it tight, polished and engrossing. I’ve cut until there’s zero fat, removing every subplot, scene and word that isn’t essential. I’ve analysed every line for self-indulgence. And I know that the story is good.

Success comes from hard work, but fate also has a role to play. If my book is destined for publication, I believe it will find its way to the right person at the right time. Of course, it takes an open-minded publisher to pick up a new author with a manuscript as big as mine, but I believe there’s one out there. Maybe they’re even wishing for a book like mine to come along. At least, I hope so!

I write for pure joy and whether I get published or not, that won’t change. But in the meantime, I will continue to believe in my manuscript and do all I can to help it find its way to the publisher who will see its potential.

I’m still working out how to ‘sell’ it to agents and publishers in my query letters, though. Any thoughts on how you’d approach it? Or if you’ve also written an epic story, how did you handle it? I’d love to hear your experiences.

  One thought on “Does Size Really Matter?

  1. September 16, 2016 at 9:22 pm

    I have a similar writing style, lots of pace and action, but with sparse description, so it’s hard padding things out a bit without increasing the word count. I’m working on a fantasy trilogy though, so that’s given me a bit of leeway, both in terms of being able to push scenes into another book and with a higher acceptable word count than other genres, although I still had to end the first story earlier than intended. I’ve been fortunate enough to hear talks by several bestselling authors, and editors from various publishing houses, and they’ve generally all emphasised the importance of fitting with genre standards (including word counts) and publishing house standards. I guess there’s always exceptions though – we have a bookshelf full of some pretty hefty Wilbur Smith novels.

    • September 16, 2016 at 11:46 pm

      Hi Faran. Sounds like we have similar problems! I envy you being able to shift scenes to the next book in the series, mine are structured in such a way that the each book needs to be fairly self-contained. I’m hopeful mine will be the exception to the rule, but time will tell, I guess. Good luck with your writing!

      • September 18, 2016 at 9:09 pm

        Yep it’s tricky, that’s for sure. I aimed to get mine down to 120,000 words but would’ve had to cut scenes, and I got to a point where I couldn’t take any more out without impacting the story. So it’s 133,000, which may be a little long for fantasy but I’m hoping it’ll scrape through somewhere. It does seem that speculative fiction is the genre that can/will allow scope for epic stories, so fingers crossed!

        Thanks for the well wishes and all the best with your story too.

      • September 26, 2016 at 12:45 am

        Thanks Faran, and apologies for not replying sooner. I think your word count would fit within some fantasy guidelines – I’ve seen some up to 150,000. *crosses fingers for both of us*

  2. September 22, 2016 at 11:57 pm

    I’m not sure. I guess from a publisher’s point of view, fewer words would be better. Some stories just take a lot of words to tell properly, though. I have a feeling Moby Dick in 150,000 words would be like a breathless sprint.

    • September 26, 2016 at 12:43 am

      This is true. A publisher is always going to prefer a word count that fits standard sizes for practical reasons, if nothing else. I mean, it won’t interfere with budgets for printing if it doesn’t require extra pages/paper etc, at the very least. But yeah, some stories do take more words to tell. It’s a balance, I guess. Thanks for your thoughts!

      • September 26, 2016 at 1:36 pm

        You’re welcome. Good luck with your book. 🙂

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