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  1. Dodgy Dan

    Dodgy Dan New Member

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    Getting a novel edited?

    Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Dodgy Dan, Nov 8, 2018.

    Hi there. My quest to finally finish my novel has hit a bit of a snag, and I was wondering if you kind people could offer me some advice?

    I'm in the process of slowly working myself up to send my novel to an agent, checking over the submission guidelines etc, but there is one massive problem I've discovered: my novel is too damn long. I've read several comments that say a fantasy genre story should be 180,000 tops. Mine is a massive 280,000. Ouch.

    Obviously I need to edit it down, but how? I have no idea which bits are worth keeping and which bits are worth scrapping (hell, I'm not entirely convinced the thing has legs to begin with), and I'm wary of hiring a pro editor. Mainly because of con-artists and costs (Not much cash available, sadly).

    Can anyone offer some advice on this, please? I don;t have a great deal of confidence in this sort of thing, so any wisdom would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance!
     
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  2. hyacinthe

    hyacinthe Member

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    the easiest way is to chop your manuscript into two halves, revise the first half to have a complete arc, and hold the second half as the material for the sequel.
     
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  3. Hammer

    Hammer Member

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    Hi @Dodgy Dan - that's a hell of a tome! If you get it published, if nothing else I shall have to buy a copy to use as a ramp under my camper...:whistle:

    First and obvious question would be could the work be separated into two or more volumes? Is all of that necessary for a single main plot?
     
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  4. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    To chop it into two halves is easier said than done - you'd need to ensure there's a stand-alone main plot that's resolved by the end of book one, with book two resolving the overarching plot that spanned the two books. That's gonna take a hell of a lot of editing.

    Average fantasy novels clock in between 100-130k words average, not 180k. Esp as you'd be a debut - shorter is better, fitting within the average industry standard length would be advisable. Most agents who see your 280k word count would probably think, "Man this guy must have info-dumped it to death."

    However, if you're not convinced it has legs to begin with, and you don't even know what could be cut, then honestly it doesn't sound like you're anywhere near ready to be querying?

    Sometimes with cutting word count, it's about rewriting, condensing what's said in 3 paragraphs into 1. Or even just shortening a sentence. It's about seeing if a single scene could serve two purposes rather than one. It's about seeing whether what's shown in a whole scene couldn't be shown equally well in a few sentences incorporated into another scene.

    It isn't that 280k couldn't sell - but the chances of a debut author writing a solid, succinct story with 280k is minimal. Not impossible. But it has to be an absolutely whopping sodding amazing hell of a story for an agent and a publisher to break industry standard and take a risk on a debut author with no existing readership. And you need to be absolutely certain without a shadow of a doubt that your story requires all of 280k and nothing less.
     
  5. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Contributor Contributor

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    First off, your numbers are waaaaaaay off.

    The average length of a fantasy novel is closer to 100k. And if it's YA fantasy we're talking even less, 80-90k. Your 180k estimate is wildly off for the typical YA novel, fantasy or otherwise.
     
  6. DeeDee

    DeeDee Senior Member

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    "Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell" was a recent hugely successful debut fantasy novel of whopping 1000 pages length and something over 300,000 wordcount. That said, there's a much better chance that your novel actually needs pruning. You can check that by posting an excerpt somewhere on a writing forum for a critique (by the general public of course :D). If your writing style is just wordy, it will show straightaway. Sometimes just pruning the unnecessary wordiness can halve your wordcount. That's step number one. Next would be to check if your storytelling skills are up to the mark. Do you actually need all those scenes? Are there too many scenes where the characters sit in a tavern and talk about root beer, or are there too many scenes describing how the characters walk through the woods, gathering mushrooms and cooking rabbit stew? Learning how to create an efficient scene can help a lot there. Maybe read a book about writing, or join a discussion on a writing forum, or read a few books and take notes for yourself. It takes time but you can always remember those hugely successful debut novelists who got whopping deals. They didn't become a success overnight either, there was a lot of work involved. ;)
     
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  7. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    What kind of novel is it? Is it a multi-character multi-arc world-crossing tangle like Game of Thrones? Or is it one person's story? I suspect that the strategies for cutting will be affected by that.

    I have a similar problem, if somewhat smaller in scale--my WIP is probably going to run about 170K when I finish the first draft, and I suspect I need to get it down to 100K. Right now, I'm not worrying about that. I found that trying to suppress length caused me to also suppress creativity, so I'm going to let it balloon all it wants until I have a completed first draft, and quite likely until I have a completed second draft. It sounds crazy to write and polish a lot of extra length that I will probably cut, but I'm confident that right now, that's how I have to do it. I've met me.

    When I do cut, that cutting's going to have to be my problem. I can't imagine an editor doing it, even if I were going to pay for one.

    When I do get to cutting, what I imagine, now, that I'll do, then, is:

    - Evaluate the plot/story/character function of the long scenes. I love character and relationship development, so many of my scenes are a whole lot of that, and an itty bitty bit of plot.
    So this 2K scene can't go because of that paragraph of plot, and that 3K scene can't go because of those two lines of plot. I'm not going to cut them both, but I can probably cut the best character bits of both, and all the plot, into one 1.8K scene. Repeat that a few times, and a fair little bit is cut.

    - Concentrate flavor. I have a section that's 30K--30K--that doesn't have that all much more impact or plot purpose than another that's 5K. I think that with the 5K section I managed to find and hit the emotional core very quickly, and in the 30K one...definitely not. I'm not, right now, seeing how to cut out the bland parts that are diluting the flavor, because I don't find them that bland as I read them--each individual scene is fine. But there's just not enough flavor in that whole 30K. I suspect I'm going to have to get some distance from it.

    - Cut subplots. Or possibly, and counter-intuitively, add subplots. There are certain things that are developing slowly, over a lot of words, that I might be able to snap into place faster with the right subplot. Imagine--not that this is in the novel--that you have a character who spends chapter after chapter getting more and more disenchanted with his job, and eventually quits. Replace that with a subplot where an evil rival gets him arrested for a crime and fired. In both cases, he's disenchanted and unemployed, but the subplot option probably got him there a lot faster.

    Ohhhhhhh. I just realized that the motivation for that 30K is a moving part. I can sub in something more understandable and more efficient. Huh...

    OK, now I'm distracted, so I'll just post this.
     
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  8. Rzero

    Rzero Member

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    I don't know from averages, but if ever there were a genre where a honking long read might find an audience, it's fantasy. Stephen King has 14 novels that top the 200K word mark; "It" and "The Stand" are well over twice that each. Two (almost three) of the Harry Potter books hit 200K. So far the Song of Ice and Fire books range from 290K to 440K, and the Wheel of Time series averages over 300K per book. That's as many as I felt like looking up, but there are endless examples. If you enjoy fantasy, then I'm sure you're aware.

    I'm not saying your story wouldn't benefit from some amount of pruning. I have no idea, because I haven't read it. What I'm saying is, don't focus on word count; focus on content. We all have trouble trimming things we like. It's easy to become attached to lines, conversations, chapters and entire subplots that are superfluous to the story. Fresh eyes can help, and you should definitely get a second, third and probably twelfth opinion before you send it out into the harsh world of unsympathetic strangers in the publishing game. I'm fairly new here, so I couldn't tell you much about the Writing Workshop sections of the forum, but it looks like an invaluable tool for issues like these. Someone else on this thread could probably give us both some advice about that, because I hope to take advantage soon with a few works in progress.

    This is sound advice (as was the rest of the reply). Economy and brevity can often be more effective than detailed elaboration. Pacing is also key. Cull what you can from the slowest parts (if that happens to be a specific problem). All of this depends greatly on your personal style and voice, of course. I don't believe Charles Dickens, for example, extensive as his vocabulary was, actually knew the definition of the word "brevity", let alone it's merit. He's considered by many to be one of the greatest writers of all time, so there's obviously a lot of room for either approach.
     
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  9. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    I really like this post. Welcome to the forum!

    One of the best ways to cull, which isn't for everybody because of the time lag, is to wait till ...oh, maybe a year or so has past since you finished the draft. Then go back to it with fresh eyes. By that time, you'll be less enamoured of the lines, words, scenes, etc, because you will have forgotten what it was like to write them.

    Sit down, start from the beginning, and read ALL THE WAY THROUGH, in chronological order. Don't be tempted to skip anything, or jump ahead to your favourite bits. Read the whole thing. And any time you are tempted to skip or jump ahead, mark that passage. Mark when you became re-interested after you got through it.

    Don't overthink the exercise at this stage. Just mark quickly and keep reading.

    Once you get to the end, then go back and look up the marked passages. Ask yourself what it would take to 'fix' the problem so the passages flow directly into the rest of the story, without a glitch. You can do anything from cutting the passages altogether to leaving them as they are. Or shift them to another location. But they can usually be improved.

    Maybe 'sum up' what a descriptive or backstory passage is about? Rather than detailing everything. In other words, 'tell,' don't show. Showing is for the passages that you want to come to life in real time. Telling is for the passages you need to include for information, but you can convey the information quickly in a sentence or two. Pick out the one or two really important or unusual details in the passage and remove the rest. And etc.

    Avoid making dry lists. Instead of listing all the details in a particular setting, pick out the details that the POV character is actually noticing ...and let us know WHY these details stand out for the POV character. The character's overall impression of what they are seeing is often enough, and doesn't take the reader out of your character's head.

    Maybe you discover you're skimming that passage because it's a repeat of something you've already told the reader. Cut that one. (It's easy to make that mistake, usually because you don't want the reader to 'miss' what you are wanting them to notice. Avoid that trap, if you can. Say it once, say it well, then move on.)

    Or maybe the tone isn't right. Maybe it's developed a too-preachy tone (you're telling the reader what they should think or feel) or a tone that's too lighthearted and cutesy for what is happening just then. Fix these things.

    Maybe the passage is okay in itself—but it's in the wrong place. If you've got serious tension building, and then you suddenly drop in a wad of backstory, you're going to risk killing that tension. So get that backstory in elsewhere.

    I agree that word count isn't important (unless you have a word count you MUST stick to for some reason connected with traditional publishing in your chosen genre.) What is important is creating a well-paced story flow. If a story keeps the reader's interest and they are dying to find out what happens next, then they aren't going to be counting words.
     
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2018
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  10. MikeyC

    MikeyC Active Member

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    I believe agencies don't like long books for debut novelists as they are a harder sell to publishers. Agencies are businesses there to make money, so they most likely go with what is more likely to sell.

    Established authors can write books of any length as they have a following and can gaurantee certain return.

    Rgds

    Mike
     
  11. Rzero

    Rzero Member

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    Thank you, and thank you. I'm enjoying myself immensely. I don't know that I'm being very helpful, but I'm contributing and I'm learning. It's fun. It seems like a genuinely cool crowd.

    About that Writing Workshop, maybe you'll know. I've been reading short stories and the like, and offering opinions where I have them, but I haven't tackled anything longer than a few thousand words. In fairness, I'm a very distracted, impatient reader. (I was the original poster boy for ADD in the early 90's. They actually considered renaming it after me, I think. So God bless audiobooks.) Anyway, is it easy to get a longer work read and critiqued in the Workshop? Would @Dodgy Dan have any luck there with a piece so massive? (gigity) Would my 20,000-word mess of two thirds of a novella garner enough interest for real guidance or serious critique? Granted, holding interest is another thing altogether, but I see a ton of views and comments on the shortest works, the single scenes and flash fiction especially. Is that maybe the wrong place for what I'm asking? What's the deal with progress journals? Why did they change green Skittles from lime to apple? Sorry. I felt like I was on a roll there.
     
  12. Gemima

    Gemima New Member

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    I'm sure it's already been said, but it sounds like it needs to be divided into 2 separate novels - one being a sequel to the first. Maybe see where a good place to end novel 1 could fall within the expected wordcount and edit accordingly so it reads well as a complete work in itself and go from there. The bonus is that at least you'll already be over halfway through novel no.2!!!
     
  13. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think the workshop is just for snippets from novels, and usually not entire short stories either (as this can, apparently, impact on your ability to get them published ...jury is out on exactly how that works.)

    What happens with longer pieces is kind of organic. You hang around long enough to find out what the members are like, what kinds of things they're interested in, etc. Then maybe pick somebody who seems to be the sort who likes the kind of thing you write, and maybe approach them via a 'conversation' to do a swap/critique.

    If I were you, however, I would not approach people without being willing to do a swap. If you do actually have ADD, then that would be a factor which I'm sure people would be sympathetic and understanding about. (I can't tell if you were serious or joking about the poster boy thing. :) ) But just let things develop organically. Anybody who writes longer things here is likely to be looking for beta swaps, so once you've been around a while, you'll probably find a few who are willing to swap with you. I do think you have more success finding betas if you are willing to give critiques as well as accept them. The two-for-one rule in the Workshop demonstrates the philosophy behind the forum ...which I totally support.
     
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  14. Rzero

    Rzero Member

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    @jannert, good info. Thanks. And yes, I was doing a bit, but attention span is definitely an issue. It's less so though when I'm interested in a subject, so if I understand you correctly, and I'm using context clues to infer the meaning of the term "beta" here, that shouldn't really be a problem. I'll likely be trading with folks of similar taste.

    I also support this two for one idea. When I was reading the rules, it made a lot of sense to me. It has encouraged me to speak up more than I might have otherwise, which is also helping me get a feel for the system before I drop a brief outline in there next week, which excites me almost as much as it terrifies me. :meh:
     
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  15. ToDandy

    ToDandy Senior Member

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    From what I've read most novels average 75K to about 130K range for traditional publishing. However, you're in luck, because Fantasy is one of two fictional genres (Historical Epic being the other) that gets away with really long word counts, but only for adult. They often (usually in the case of what I personally read) exceed 150K. If you are writing young adult, however-- or God forbid middle grade-- then you're out of luck because middle grade rarely exceeds 60K and over 90K is a no-no for Young Adult with VERY few exception.

    To summarize:
    -If you are writing epic, high fantasy or a historical epic then you're probably fine
    -If you are NOT writing high fantasy (urban fantasy or something similar) probably need to cut it down
    -If you are writing for any age group besides adult, you need to cut it down
    -If you are not even really writing fantasy (good lord) you need to start killing your babies or break it in half
    -Sorry, but you still need to do heavy editing and cutting probably regardless. That's just how it goes. Even Brandon Sanderson who writes monstrous near 400,000 word books says he cuts about 20% of his novels out.

    Epic, high fantasy gets away with long word counts since those books are expected to take time for world building and agents/publishers know that they draw in readers willing to read long sweeping novels and series, but don't confuse that with runnaway word counts or loose writing. Make sure your story is well edited, paced, and tight.
     
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2018
  16. Dodgy Dan

    Dodgy Dan New Member

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    Hello again. Thank you so much for your replies and advice. I always knew when I was writing the book that it was ballooning to an unfeasible size, but if I am honest, it didn't really bother me too much at the time. I was having so much fun with the world building that I always ignored the thought, and now I am left with this 280k behemoth to contend with. I know some stories can get away with being too long, but let's face it, those are from established authors, and I don't fancy my chances very much.

    So it looks like I have some serious pruning to do. Well, less of a pruning, more of a chainsaw massacre, really. I'll try to carve the book down to the lowest word count I can and see if it holds together afterwards, but I can already tell it's going to be painful to do. I had naively hoped I wouldn't have to do the whole "killing your babies" thing, but I think I'm going to lose a hell of a lot of them before this is done.
     
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  17. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Any chance that you could more “un-weave” than cut? If it’s a braided story with many plots, maybe you could extract a subset and hope for sequels.
     
  18. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Chainsaw massacre of "kill your babies" - you sure know how to make things sound horrific! :nosleep:sounds ten times worse than "kill your darlings"!

    Hey, I think it's good you did what you did - having fun is important. The moment you're not having fun, it becomes pointless really. (In fact, the biggest red flag is when the author is bored because, as our own book's biggest fan, if we, the author, are bored, then what are the chances of the reader finding it interesting?) It's fine that you just got everything out the way you wanted and wrote everything you wanted to write. Lots of writers don't get to your stage. They're stuck with nothing to edit.

    You got a diamond in that 280k - you gotta believe it - and when that diamond shines, it's gonna be so worth it.

    Cheering you on! :cheerleader::cheerleader::cheerleader:
     
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  19. psychotick

    psychotick Contributor Contributor

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    Hi Dodgy,

    Okay, I'm going to go against the grain here. Do not cut. Do not break it into two halves. From what you've described in your opening piece you are nowhere near that point. Instead if you are satisfied that the work is at the best state you can get it by yourself, now is the time to look at beta readers. Go to people whose opinions you trust as readers of the genre, and ask them to tell you what they think. Ask questions of them. Not is it too long. But does it capture their interest? Does it drag in places? Are you repeating things? Are there things they don't understand? Etc, etc.

    When you've got all of that, start the rewrite - but don't edit for length. Edit for quality.

    After that you've got a choice to make. Are you going to try and go the trade route? In which case length is a factor, but paying for an editor is probably not something you should do. The whole point or one of them at least, is if you get an agent and publisher, they pay for editing. Note that before you submit you should probably consider looking at word counts. If it ends up at 200K etc and agents are therefore unlikely to touch it, your better option is probably not to go trade, rather than savaging your work.

    Alternatively if you decide to go indie, now you need to get a proper editor. Someone who - especially if this is a first novel - will do a development edit, looking at plot etc. Brace yourself - this is expensive! But that's when you start worrying about word counts for story pacing purposes.

    Hope that helps,

    Cheers, Greg.
     
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  20. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    There's a third option: Trying to sell an oversized novel as something other than your first novel.

    Improve it, tighten it where it needs tightening (I've read that one of the reasons why an oversized first novel is often rejected is because agents can't trust that the author has yet learned to cut out the fat), make it as good as it can be made within the author's power, and then write another novel that's deliberately designed to be somewhat more marketable. Then go back to the oversized one to see if it's salable as a second novel.

    But, @Dodgy Dan , you still haven't given us any hint of what the novel is like. Is it possible to un-weave plots?
     
  21. Rzero

    Rzero Member

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    Yes. This.
     

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