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The Write Question is a weekly video podcast all about writing. Today’s question? How do you cut words from a book that’s too long? If you have a question you’d like me to answer you can email me, tweet me @pubcoach, or leave a message for me at the Skype account, The Write Question.
How do you cut words from a book that’s too long? That’s the topic I’m addressing today in The Write Question. I’m Daphne Gray-Grant, the Publication Coach.
I have a question from Samantha Smith, a writer based in London, England. Here’s what she’s asked by email…
“I wrote my book long ago, when teachers encouraged more use of adverbs, adjectives and long descriptions. My first draft turned out to be around 188,000 words. Now however, the preference is for shorter story lengths. I managed to reduce the word count to 174,000 by taking out clutter and glue words, and I’m continuing by further refining my sentences. Do you have any additional advice, please?”
Thanks for your question Sam. You and I spoke further by email and you told me you were writing in the genre of romantic fiction. You also told me about the complex and detailed Excel spreadsheet you’re using to track your progress. You’re even changing all the “I am”s to “I’m”s so as to save extra words.
I really hate to rain on your parade, but this diligent and hard work is not going to be nearly enough. To be published in the romantic fiction genre, your word count needs to be somewhere between 65,000 and 80,000 words – no longer.
This is not a question of “trends” in reading as you seem to suggest. Instead, it’s a rule.
Printing is expensive and so is the time required for editing. As a result, publishers have always had fairly strict guidelines with respect to word counts. The only genre where the word count exceeds 100,000 words is fantasy.
Yes, historically, there have been some very long books published. War and Peace springs to mind — it was just over 587,000 words. And J.K. Rowling was able to write much longer books once she was well established. While her first book was only 76,000 words, her fifth one, the longest in the series, rang in at 257,000 words.
But these books should NOT be regarded as the rule. They are outliers and new authors need to follow the rules scrupulously if they want to get a publishing deal.
So, if your manuscript is currently at 174,000 words, you need to cut some 94,000 words to get it to the more publishable length of 80,000 words.
Ninety-four thousand words! That’s 54% of your book! You cannot make a cut like that by playing with individual words and sentences. You’ll need to change your plot.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Does every element of the current plot really need to be there, or can some of your plot points be deleted?
- Does every single character need to be there, or can some of them be removed?
- Are there any digressions or backstories that can be taken out?
You will need to make big decisions like this in order to reduce your novel to a length that publishers will actually consider.
I suggest you read a blog post I wrote several years ago about how to make big and dramatic cuts to a piece of writing. See link in the show notes.
One other strategy you might consider is whether your book can be cut into two. If you can engineer an “ending” of some sort at roughly the halfway point, you might have a series on your hands, and that could make you even more attractive to a publisher.
Finally, let me wrap up with the words of American professional wrestler and mixed martial artist Ronda Rousey: “Why do you think swimmers shave their arm hair off? Because every little thing counts.”
Sam, I know it’s hard to think about cutting the words you so lovingly wrote. But if you want a publishing deal, so that other people can read your writing, you’ll need to follow the rules of publishing.
Viewers, if you have any writing-related questions, I’d be happy to do a video on them. Just send me a quick email, email@example.com, or put a note in the comments section of this YouTube video.
And, if you’d like to learn more about how to make writing a happier and more rewarding process, check out my latest book Your Happy First Draft. I don’t sell it in bookstores or via Amazon. The only place to buy it is on my website, link on the screen below and in the show notes.