I’m currently in the process of revising my upcoming book to incorporate some of my publisher’s suggestions. Let’s call it Book One for the time being.
This started out as a big, BIG book in one of its earlier incarnations, but the perceived wisdom offered to unpublished writers is generally to keep the word-count of your first novel down to a modest 80,000 – 120,000 words (depending on genre).
At the time I wrote the first draft of this novel I was still with my first agent (I’m now with my third). I knew the damn thing was too long when it came in at 230,000 words, so I chopped out 40,000 words in a heroic edit and emailed my then agent to say that it was finished at 190,000 words. Her response was to get it down to 119,000 words and then send it.
I stomped around for a few days muttering darkly that it couldn’t be done and then thought, ”Why the hell not give it a try?’ After all, as writers aren’t we always told that sooner or later we’ll have to kill our darlings.
Of course, I archived the long version before editing, but then I did a surgical strike on the manuscript. The sub-plot was the first casualty. It had grown in the telling and a couple of neat secondary characters had made a bid for more page space than I could afford. Out they went. Then there was a complete chapter which included world-building and character development, but didn’t advance the plot. That was 6,000 words eliminated in a single click of the delete key. Viewpoints? Well, all but the main two had to go. Starting point? Start later and drip-feed some of the earlier story in as flashbacks.
Four long, keyboard-pounding days later I had a book that was 115,000 words and I was amazed that it was actually (in many ways) stronger for the cuts. What I’d done was pare down everything not immediately progressing the main plot. However I was a little worried that I’d thrown out the baby with the bath water, especially in terms of motivation of my antagonists, since I’d lost their viewpoint scenes.
Soon after that for various reasons I parted company with that agent and as an afterthought added back in another 8k words to reinforce the aspects I thought had been weakened by the drastic cut.
I got my break when the lovely Sheila Gilbert of DAW wanted to buy a different book of mine and said those immortal words: What else have you got? It turned out that she not only liked Book One, but thought it would be an even better debut novel than the one she bought first. My offer from DAW turned into a three book deal. Book One, a sequel to Book One (to be written from scratch) and the original purchase.
After long discussions with Sheila it turns out that DAW isn’t one of those publishers trying to keep the word count down, even for a debut novel. A high word count is fine as long as they’re good words. In fact Sheila had some suggestions for what to add in and–yes, you guessed it–it’s a good job that I kept that original long version because some of what I chopped out can be selectively restored, including some of the viewpoint scenes from one of the antagonists.
I’ve just finished restoring some of the scenes and writing a few new ones. The whole thing currently stands at 165,000 words, but I think with one more pass it will end up closer to 150,000. I have to deliver it before Christmas, so I can afford to leave it for a week and let it settle before taking another pass.
So what’s it called? I’m not being coy about this because the title is still up in the air, but the working title is Empire of Dust and it’s a space opera, sold to DAW as part of a three book deal and hopefully due out in the latter part of 2014.