So if Step 1 is to write your book, and Steps 2 through 73 are to write a bazillion query letters and enter contests to help you find an agent, and Step 74 is to score an agent, I guess I’m finally at Step 75 or so.
And that involves making some manuscript changes that my agent thinks will help win over publishers of my genre.
She didn’t ask for many changes. And the few she asked for I agreed with 100%. But the biggest thing she needed me to do was to trim the manuscript by 16,000 words. (Gasp!)
Not that I didn’t know that was coming. …
I’d read lots of great articles and posts about why 100,000 words it the TOP of the word count, and – for a debut author – you should really try to hit the low line of the word count, like 85,000 words. (Everyone asks me how many pages this is, and I’m not really sure — I always think in word count. But I think 85,000 words is roughly 200 pages, 100,000 words is closer to 350 I believe. I was writing close to 400! a.k.a. Too many.)
Anyway, I’ve always written long. At the newspaper I was known for this, and it sometimes when an ad would drop out, my editors Dixie or Greg would turn to me and ask me if I could extend a story (sometimes other people’s stories!) by 300 words to fit the space? Sure! Writing long was my specialty. …
But now (in fiction) it’s becoming a liability, and I’ve known this for some time. I’ve even taken classes in — and tried my hand at — writing short stories, because I know there’s an art to it that I have yet to learn.
Anyway, when my agent asked me to trim from 116,000 to 99,999, I took a deep breath and dove in.
And you know what?
It was kind of fun!
I went in pretty ruthlessly and chopped away. Here’s what I did, in order:
- Searched for the word “look,” which I overuse. Deleted as many as possible (“she looked at,” “she looked up,” “he looked away,” etc.
- Searched for the word “suddenly,” which is a lame word to use in storytelling. Deleted all of those.
- Searched for “ly” and found a gazillion “really’s,” “usually’s,” and “finally’s,” which apparently I overuse in my writing as much as I overuse in regular speech! Deleted tons.
- Also during the “ly” search I nixed tons of adverbs, which are considered a lazy form of writing anyway. (You should just find a stronger verb: Instead of “run quickly,” just say “sprint,” etc.)
- Did a read-through from page one and deleted lots and lots of “beats” in conversations. (Beats are where the character moves something across a table or pushes her hair out of her eyes or some other gesture during dialogue. They’re used to give “pauses” to a conversation, but they can also slow a conversation down unnecessarily.) I got rid of “He nodded” and “She smiled” a lot here also, which are common (but usually unnecessary) beats.
- Got rid of redundant thoughts the characters were having about each other. (Entire grafs went there.)
- Deleted lines of “body parts doing things to express emotion,” which my agent asked me to do – they’re pretty clichéd, so I’m glad she asked me to look for them! Hearts pounding, hearts flopping, heartbeats escalating. … I had lots of hearts doing lots of crazy things!
Anyway, after this three-week exercise, guess what?
I deleted 16,000+ words!
Kind of embarrassing, really.
But man, I learned a lot.
So I turned it into my agent yesterday, and then (I think) she starts sending it to publishers. …
Wish me luck!