Yesterday I wrote those deeply satisfying words, The End. At least, metaphorically I did. I had reached the last words of the last chapter of my current work in progress, the second book in the historical fantasy series, Warrior Bards. It felt pretty good to be finished after months and months of work. I posted something on my Facebook author page to the effect, and readers shared my delight at reaching the milestone. I let them know that at around 155,000 words the manuscript was well over the contracted length and that my next step will be a rigorous edit and polish, including making major cuts before I submit it to the publishers.
Some readers were disconcerted, and I got a few questions about why I need to comply with a requirement to stay within a certain word count. Back when I started off as a published writer (twenty years ago now) my publishers were happy to accept a longer fantasy novel – my longest was a whopping 220K – and some of my most loyal readers find it surprising that what was acceptable in 1998 is considered too long now. One possible explanation is that publishers believe reader attention spans have dwindled with the rise in digital technology. Another is that bigger books are more expensive to publish. At one stage I was told that longer books don’t fit on the display shelves in one of the major retail outlets in the US (I have been unable to verify this!)
Harder to explain to readers was the fact that the manuscript simply isn’t ready to go to the publisher in its current form, despite the months of work I have put in and the many revisions I have already done. This isn’t a first draft. As I write, I stop after around three chapters and revise. Then I write the next three chapters and revise the whole thing. And so on until the last few chapters, which more or less write themselves. That means the earlier parts have been thoroughly edited by the time I reach the end. Yes, I’m way over at the plotting and planning end of the spectrum.
My previous novel, The Harp of Kings, underwent a painful editorial process which I have blogged about before. It, too, was over-long in its initial form. Even after I had performed my own pre-submission edit, it had some major flaws that were pointed out by my editors at the publishing house, firmly but kindly. Their structural report was even lengthier than usual. I took a good hard look at it and found i agreed with them on most points. I did the work, which involved a major rewrite, and resubmitted. The proof of the pudding will be after that book is published in September, but advance reviews have been extremely promising, and I know it is a much better book for its painful reworking. What did I learn from that? [Read more…]