Monday, February 28, 2011

Size Matters, and Sometimes it's Just Too Long!

First of all, get your minds out of the gutter, you dirty dirty bloggers!

(Now that that's over with), I have a problem. I just happen to be one of those girls that's having length issues. That's right, my manuscript is too long.

It never occured to me that it was too long, mind you. It seemed the perfect length. A wonderful, strong, delightful length. And then...I participated in a live chat on (a site all writers should check out) with Maria Gomez, associate editor at Harper Collins, and agent Suzie Townsend.

They said: Anything 50k-60k or less is really hard to sell. It's just too short.
So I thought: Phew. I'm definately set in that department.
THEN they said: Anything greater than 80k-90k is really just too long for YA novels.
And THAT's when I thought: Holy shit.

Guess how long my novel is, ladies and gentlemen? Approximately 119k. Yeah. Nearly 30k above the max of the maximums. (Who ever thought that having a well endowed novel would be such a problem?) Not to mention, for those of you who missed it on my twitter, I recently edited my novel for a 4th time and shedded 2,000 words. I was proud of myself. So proud! Guess there'll be a lot more of that happening soon.

Have any of you experienced this problem? How long was your novel? What did you end up doing? (I'm sorry if these questions are too intimate for you. :-) )


  1. Right now, I'm trying to actually boost my word count up, so I can't say I exactly know how you feel. You must have a lot of subplots going on. I'd say find your way back to the purpose of the book and the main plot. Figure out which subplots you want, and which ones you don't. Shredding a lot of mindless rants helps, too. ;) Oh, and thank you for the award!

  2. Hi gina,

    i also have not much experience here with novels. however i often have this with assignments at uni. I just have too much to say. IF this were me, which i am sure it will be soon, i would do the following.
    divide chapters (points) into three categories. THE most important, very important and extra information/nice to have chapters.
    put these in a list.
    start at the bottom. take a chapter and put it through the wringer. I look mostly for descriptive words that are not necessary and repetition. Dialogue tags can often go. shorten down non important scenes. normally the reader DOES get what you are trying to say in only one line when you think they need three.

    then move up the chapter list. obviously in your more important chapters you need more of the 'content'.

    that would be my advice. However i am sure you have already edited it to the point of distraction anyway.

    i hope you find a method that works WITHOUT removing a minor subplot.

    happy editing

    sarah ketley

  3. Oh yeah, I know EXACTLY how you feel! The WiP I've been working on for just over a year now is 117k words!! And I'm still two scenes from the end! And I look at my bookshelf and see all the fat YA novels that I love and that have already been (successfully) published and I want to point at them and say, "But... but... they're long!!) So I guess I tell myself, I'll take out as much as possible during revisions, but it's clearly not IMPOSSIBLE to sell a lengthy YA novel :-)

  4. Once you've re-evaluated all your scenes for content and whether or not the content is all super important to the story, I'm sure you can shed a lot of words just by combing the extra words out. For example, take this sentence I found about apple trees: "Their usually crisp red fruit and radiant green leaves no longer hold their glory."

    Well, you can easily edit that down to "The dead fruit and leaves no longer hold their glory." Meaning is intact, but 14 words were taken down to 10. If you shaved the extra words from every sentence, I'm sure your wordcount would be quite a bit lower.

  5. My manuscript is currently sitting above 155k and will probably be 175k by the time I'm finished, so I know, short of slicing the book in two, it won't ever fit the desired word count for traditional publishers. This is why I'm seriously considering the self publishing route straight up. But the tips people have provided above are good. I'll definitely apply them come edit-time. Don't think they'll help me cull 80k words though. :-)

  6. Hi Becca,

    that is how i manage to make such a dent in my uni assignments, every sentence in the whole thing gets micro, edited. Even if you loose 1 word every sentence, you could easily shead a few thousand.

    I am hoping that this will stand me in good stead for editing my novel.

    Good luck with yours Cally,

    Sarah ketley

  7. HAVE I experienced this?!?! Yes. I'm experiencing it right now. :D Draft 1 of my contemporary romance was 112k. They're meant to be 90k or so, I do believe. First revision took it up to...wait for it...147k! OMG! It was all plot-hole filling, but still...OMG! Third revision (which I am currently in) has got me down to about 106k, but since I've hacked some stuff out I now have to fill a hole again...which means adding more words. In short, I have a ways to go yet.

    So yeah, I know how you feel. Pretty much all my manuscripts are too long. :D I tend to bloviate a lot ;)

  8. Hmm . . . well I could start off by saying size doesn't matter, but we all know that is not true. IMO a great book is a great book no matter what the length, and I would hate to see somebody simply add useless words to push their ms from 59,000 to the magical 60K mark.

    My manuscripts tend to start of in the 6,000 - 70,000 range, then get longer as I do content revisions. I just finished a grammar/ overused words revision of my YA contemporary yesterday. I employed a list of kill words (ie that, so, very, really could/would etc . . .) I managed to shave 1600 words out of my manuscript while making the writing tighter.

  9. My dystopian YA and my contemporary retelling of Catskin both hovered in the low 80k range just where I wanted them and haven't changed overly.

    My epic fantasy (um, which could totally see daylight, but is in stages of constant change) yeah, that maxed out at a wopping 160k when I first transcribed it. And there was absolutely NOTHING I could cut from it. Well, nothing I could cut right then.

    Since that first draft, I've consolidated points of view, cut out redundant statements (that's one I still find in current works. Too much tv influence, every time something comes up you subconsciously reiterate what's important about that event) and I've found other things that now seem silly but that back then I didn't realize I didn't need. As of this moment, Seekers hovers at 118k and dropping. So there's hope, it just takes time and isn't easy :)

  10. My first MS was well over 100K...and it wasn't scifi (where you can get away with that).

    To reduce a word count, I'd recommend looking at every paragraph, scene, and chapter and decide whether or not it advances the plot. If not, cut it out, no matter how much you love it. ;)

  11. Oh, that damn word count! I once heard someone say that they write LONG to write SHORT. The light blub went on. Yup, that's me. So, I am always extra brutal in the revision process. No matter how much I might like something (a paragraph, scene, chapter or character), if it isn't absolutely necessary to the story then out it goes.

    And If I can't shave 10% off the book's 1st draft length after the the first go around, well then, I'm just not working hard enough.

    But, there is nothing that says a longer YA novel won't sell. It's all about story. And if the story's amazing at 117K, then roll with it.

  12. I don't write YA. I write sci-fi, fantasy, and urban fantasy. Mine is around 120,000 which is about the maximum that the genre can bear.

  13. Good luck with downsizing! Actually I'm trying to bring up mu word count and finding it difficult!

  14. Hey fellow crusader!! Thanks for stopping by my blog! I write YA fantasy/paranormal and my books are always in the 60-70,000 words. I think my longest has been 80. I'm not sure why I only write between 60 and 70 most of the time. I guess it can be a good thing. :) Good luck trimming your manuscript!! It's a pain in the butt, but it does make it better! :)

  15. I had that problem with a novel! I ended up having to remove a few of the story-arcs, of which there were way too many. After it was all gone, I realized the book was tighter and had more substance to each scene. It IS hard to cut things, though. I'm afraid there's no helping that!

  16. Ha! Perfect blog title.

    I usually tend to write about 70K, though my current manuscript is nearing 80K (a bit long for a YA, but I haven't gone through the editing/trimming phase yet). I do know the prologue is out. That would put me at 84K if I kept it.

    It is hard to kill our babies, but in the long run it will be worth it. Watch for places in which the scenes don't truly move the story forward, or slows in pace and see if you can trim those.

    Good luck.

  17. I'm no help because I'm having the same problem! In the middle of editing and somehow I keep *adding* words instead of tightening them up. I'm at 140,00 where I should have maximum 120,000. Sigh...

    Passed you an award, fellow crusader!

  18. LOL Well I started near the 190K range - cause personally, I read so fast I won't even pick up a book under 100k - why bother - If im in the store anyway - I probably have a couple hours - I will grab a cup of coffee and read it there. I only drag home long books. So I wrote for many years and had no idea that there was a word count limit - imagine my surprise.
    So I got to snooping on the net and - sigh - cut a 160K draft to 120 - I am now on the 17th edit (I discovered that addy-word keeps pop-goes-my-word counting me too) I am determined to cut another 6k to get it in the reasonable 110 range)

    Phhhffft - 60K I could pop one of those out every 2 weeks.

    Uhem - tend to be a bit long winded I guess.

  19. My first "finished" (ha, what a joke) draft of my first ms was WAY too long. I took a break from it and tried my hand at Flash Fiction. Boy what a challenge that was! But, writing Flash Fiction really helped me recognize which words are necessary and which are not. I highly recommend it as an exercise. :)