Pub Rants

A Friday Funny Sort Of?

 30 Comments |  Share This:    

STATUS: TGIF. I cleared some contracts off my desk by finishing them up. I always feel accomplished after that.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? MACK THE KNIFE by Bobby Darin

I got a hilarious email via our query inbox today, but I’m thinking the writer didn’t mean for it to be funny.

The writer asked if I thought revising a manuscript was worthwhile in this current fiction market. Was it worth the time and effort for the writer to pare down a 200,000 word manuscript into 100,000 word manuscript?

And the writer was not writing fantasy either (where at least a heart-stopping book length could reasonably be argued).

Now what exactly could an agent say to that? I’m really curious as to how this writer thinks we would reply (and we only reply to queries so we won’t be responding actually but for the sake of argument). What are we going to say? For you, no, definitely not worth the effort.

Sheesh. If you’re passionate and serious about writing, wouldn’t any revision be a worthwhile one? And I know you guys will come back with the idea that the writer was only trying to gauge market viability but that is a moving target of a question. The market is forever shifting. Not to mention, there wasn’t any description of the novel the writer wanted to revise.

I know, I know. It shouldn’t make me smile when the writer is only trying to figure this all out but I just couldn’t help it.

30 Responses

  1. ~Aimee States said:

    Well, posting things like this helps other people learn. I’ve made some pretty bone-headed moves in my time. I love that I found all these great agent blogs out there in cyber-space. I’ve learned more what-not-to-do than I would have thought existed.

    If I ever meet any of you guys it’ll have to be from across the street. I’ll probably act like a Beatles fan and it’ll be awkwardly embarrassing for everyone if I’m too close.

    Hey, I am NOT ashamed of my inner geek.

  2. Sarah Laurenson said:

    I think that some people don’t realize how much work is done on spec in being a writer. Getting to a certain point – like 200K – and realizing it won’t sell as is, perhaps this person was looking for some reassurance that delving into major edits would be worth it in the long run.

    Only there are no guarantees; just hopes, dreams, and the ever-present blood, sweat and tears.

    It’s a crazy business to get into in the first place and, with the recent upheavals in publishing, it’s just gotten crazier.

  3. DebraLSchubert said:

    I just started writing a YA fantasy novel last week. I’m at 13K words. I’m wondering if I should write another 60K words or so. Wouldn’t want to waste my time if you don’t think it’s worthwhile in the current fiction market. 😉

  4. Wendy Sparrow said:

    If you can tell the story in 100K, why would you go on for another hundred thousand words? I don’t get it. I don’t think I could cut any of my manuscripts by half if I tried… though they’re not anywhere near that length. Wow.

    I liked what Jazz said. 🙂

  5. ~Jamie said:

    I don’t get this whole ‘no, I won’t revise’ attitude at all. I would do pretty much anything an agent or editor asked me to–because they know more about the market than I do. I mean… isn’t that kind of their job?

    I come up with the story, the basic plot and provide the most important part–the VOICE. But, I should listen to THEM when it’s time to get it all marketable. Why don’t writers get this?

  6. Kimber An said:

    It’s funny, but only in a sad way. And I don’t mean that in a derisive way either.

    Polishing a manuscript for submission requires an extrordinary amount of time and energy. The person who asked this question now realizes this. He or she also realizes that after all is said and done, his or her odds are very bad no matter how good the story is.

    Heck, I put months into researching the historical background for my last Queryland novel and just got it rejected, in part, because the person thought I made it all up and it wasn’t believable. (((sigh)))

    Now, I’ve finally begun polishing the next novel, but only after carefully examining every option and pro and con. When your time is limited, you have to budget it wisely.

    So, why do it at all? Maybe that’s what the questioner really needs to figure out.

    I do it because I can’t not do it.

    I hope the questioner finds an excellent critique group and does the revisions. If he or she loved the story enough to keep it going for 200,000 words then he or she must love storytelling. She only needs to learn how to deliver the goods.

  7. Liana Brooks said:

    We all start somewhere. At least they didn’t try to attach the 200k MSS in hopes that you would read and do the revision for them.

    And, to be fair, my first novel clocked in a little under 150k. I knew books were about 500 pages long (the ones I read in fantasy and sci-fi). So I aimed for 500 typed pages. Oops!

    That’s a drawer novel now. I keep it for the days I need to remind myself I’ve actually improved.

  8. Inadvertant Critic said:

    Hmm… yes, probably just looking for reassurance, or asking if the market really won’t handle a 200,000 word book. Probably hoping for “Oh, don’t worry, there are lots of 200,000 word books out there, I doubt it’s as bad as all that…”

    Now, hopefully, the person hasn’t actually written double the number words necessary to write the story, and the paring is more judicious than “Chop half.” I’m not a fan of what Stephen King calls “literary anorexia.” But most mss can stand some cutting, and it’s always worth looking at. I’d imagine that the person who advised wouldn’t have said it was too long if he or she had been too enthralled with the story to notice the time passing. Stuff like that would, I’d think, come when the reader has spent half his reading time checking his watch and seeing how many more pages there are in the damned thing.

  9. KayKayBe said:

    I think it’s great that this writer KNOWS that a revision is in order. It sounds like they just want a little reassurance. Personally, I overwrite. I’ll write something like “The sentence was just a little too long, too unwieldy, too tiring for the tongue.” and then pick the version I like in later drafts.

  10. Jill Edmondson said:

    YIKES. Thta is a funny story, except that I know the question was asked in all seriousness.

    I can’t imagine coming up with 200K words and then NOT taking whatever advice is offered.

    It’s a shame to have to “kill your darlings” and I sense that may have been part of the motivation in the writer having asked the question. Tough love, I guess.

    Cheers, Jill
    “Blood and Groom” coming in November 2009!

  11. Anonymous said:

    You should guide them to Query Shark, where Janet Reid just cut out someone’s liver because their novel was 160,000 words.

    Maybe then they can equate that 2+2=4, and expecting an agent to look at a 200k or 160k ms means they are going to get slaughtered in this business.

    I don’t fault them, though. s a new writer — and we’ve all been there — you don’t even know what you don’t know. Ya know?

  12. SlimShelly said:

    I can top that. When I finished my second novel it was 220,000 words long. And then I discovered that was wayyy too long (even for a fantasy, which it is).

    It’s now 100,000 words, and a much tighter, more cohesive, and better crafted read. It hurts while you’re doing it, sure, but in the end it’s hard to remember what you cut.

    I *think* most of what I cut was a long MC backstory (the intro that wouldn’t get off the ground) and an even longer denouement (JRR Tolkien has nothing on me). Plus tightening the writing, but those were the largest chunks.

  13. Hollie Sessoms said:

    I don’t get this. I know that the chances of my book getting published are next to nil, but I still want to make it the best that it can possibly be because I have fallen in love with the story. I even considered leaving my husband for my MC’s love interest until I realized that he didn’t actually exist!

    Yes, editing and cutting are tedious, but if it makes the story better and tighter, it’s worth it. And I have learned way more than I ever learned in sixth grade grammar lessons by doing it.

  14. Lucy said:

    Madison L. Edgar said…

    “Maybe the 200 thousand word girl should split it into 2 novels… make it a series.”

    Hey, I like what Madison came up with here, because maybe that’s exactly what does need to happen. If the writer is actually up for revisions (and no, nobody pays you to do revisions; you only hope they will someday), it’s an idea that I think is worth looking at. I’ve found several times with my own writing that a single book splits nicely into a trilogy, and tells a much fuller story without choking the reader.

    Wordver: jackwomb

    WHAT is with wordver today?!

  15. Coral Press said:

    (Belatedly) pleased to see you’re embedding the “What’s playing…” on each post! Gives even more character to your insight. 🙂

    And to be more relevant: Oh, how cruel publishing can be sometimes, behind the scenes!! I wonder if everyone in the business was once that snarky kid in English class, with the devilish giggles at the expense of others’ ignorance. 😛

  16. Anonymous said:

    I think you’re being exceedingly polite. This has nothing to do with measuring the market (though I’m sure he’s convinced himself of that). His book is getting rejected and it’s finally dawned on him maybe its too long and the rules apply to him too. But rather sucking it up, he’s run to you whining. This nothing more than a way to back door “its so unfair!”

    I’d send him a form rejection with a little addition:”Would like some cheese with that whine?”

    Though if he’s entirely clueless he might think this is a compliment.

  17. C.D. Reimer said:

    The rough draft of my first novel came in at 125,000 words. I’m starting to revise with an eye towards cutting 35,000 words (minimum). That shouldn’t be too hard since I was loose with the writing. The next two drafts might be harder to keep under 100,000 words, which seems to be the sweet spot for first time novels.

  18. Gordon Jerome said:

    If a person’s only goal is to write for publication, then it only makes sense that they would write the rough draft and then market the idea around. If it has no legs, then ditch it and write another rough draft of another story.

    If, however, like Hollie suggests, the story matters to them, then they must finish it no matter what. If it matters enough, they should delve into the world of self-publishing and get some copies out there through POD and get it on Kindle.

    However, if all they want is to feed the marketplace with another book, there is no point in doing any more work than necessary. In that case their manuscript is just another cow they raise for the slaughterhouse, not a child they raise to carry on their name.

  19. Gisele D'Avignon said:

    Maybe someone should just tell the writer that it doesn’t matter *how* long his ms is, or in what genre, because if it isn’t a celebrity tell-all, pet lit story or based on some insanely popular blog, no one will be interested in it.

    I really don’t get the current publishing phobia of anything over 100k. Someone tell Dan Brown his latest is too long and will never sell!!! Someone tell JK Rowling and Stephanie Meyer that if they don’t chop down their verbiage they will remain forever in the slush pile!!!

    Yeah, I know…it’s true that new writers often don’t cut and edit where they need to…but sometimes a story really IS a good story at more than 100,000 words and I personally don’t regard 200k as all that insane. Maybe agents and editors have the attention span of gnats when it comes to reading a novel, but not all of us readers do. My fave novels are David Copperfield, Quo Vadis, Gone With The Wind, Shantaram and The Journeyer (1k+ page novel about the travels of Marco Polo). What do all these novels have in common, kids? I mean apart from being rich and meaty in detail, well-drawn characters and involved plotlines? Trying doing *that* when you have to “do the math” before you put pen to paper and figure out how many chapters you’ll have, and how many words in each.

    A year ago I’d be inclined to say yes, the story probably needs to be cut down. But since the Big Crash, with publishers even less interested in fiction than they were before (not that I’ve seen any lack of fiction in readers’ hands around my big city), I become more and more convinced that it’s the publishers/editors/agents who don’t have a clue, rather than some of the writers.

  20. Anonymous said:

    Query Shark #133 is right on point. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with the agents’/piblishers’ tastes in this economy. It comes down to business. And, with the costs, it is just too long of a book to be taken on with an unknown. Tom Clancy, Stephen King, JK and others could get away with it…but, an unknown will not even get a read. That, is an unfortunate reality.

  21. Gordon Jerome said:


    You forgot one: the vampire romance porn.

    I’ll tell you, I am just so confused, and it’s a confusion that has hamstrung me every time in my life I have tried to write fiction: what is the point if it won’t be published?

    And my typical defense of retreating into the world of the artist who doesn’t care doesn’t really help much, because the end result is the same: obscurity.

    I go to Kindle, and I search ghost stories by the publication date, which means I get to see each new self-published ghost story that comes out, as well as any regularly published. The self-published stuff is mostly crap. I download the sample; I check it out, but I never buy.

    The professionally published is only slightly better. And half of that slightness is the psychological bias that comes from the fact that it is published by a major house.

    The more I read about the business, the more I feel I don’t have a shot, and frankly, I’m too old to think I’ve got an entire lifetime to get published. And even if I do get published, unless I’m a real hit, I will always make more money at my day job than I ever will as an author.

    So, I have to decide why I am writing. If it is for publication success, I might as well face the fact that it is basically a winning-the-lottery scenario. I can’t count on it, and it most likely will not happen, but I can still put some hope in it.

    If I want to write as an artist, then I shouldn’t worry about how many readers are left in the world, how much fiction is still being published, what confrence I need to go to, or how I can humbly approach agents with a big loser’s smile on my face. If I’m an artist, then I don’t ever have to worry about begging anyone to “validate” my existence by accepting my manuscript.

    But as Randy Russell mentioned in a previous post: I might be able to find some middle ground.

    So, I think I have. I think what I can do is simply expand what I consider part of the art process to that of the query letter as well. In other words, perhaps I can work really hard to create the next Sixth Sense or The Others (I think both were actually screenplays, but you get my point), I can write short stories to showcase my talent and enter contests and stuff, but when it comes to a novel, perhaps part of the writing also includes a really good query letter.

    Perhaps the query letter can be the frame of the painting, so to speak.

    After that, the rest is out of my hands and therefore beyond my need to worry about. The rest is the subject of prayers.

  22. Anonymous said:

    “what is the point if it won’t be published?”

    Uses for an un-published book??? I have two completed un-published manuscripts so I think I can answer this question.

    1. They’re great for collecting dust.
    2. They’re really good at taking up space.
    3. When I can’t sleep all I have to do is read one page and I’m out like a light.

    4. Seriously though, more than short stories or crit groups, they taught me how to write and how to edit. Knowing that I’ve completed the task twice (about to thrice whoot! Whoot!)makes me feel really good.

    5. Once shredded, they’ll my great stuffing from my coffin when I die.

  23. cator said:

    If you’re passionate and serious about writing, wouldn’t any revision be a worthwhile one?

    No. It’s important to know when to move on.