Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Trending Shorter Manuscripts

Painting by Brian Kershisnik
One of the most exciting things anyone can say to an author is, 'We would like to publish your book,' which is often followed by the most heart-sinking one, 'We want you to cut the manuscript by 10-20%'.  Once that reality sets in, all an author can do is grit your teeth and make every scene in the novel count.

Currently I am making drastic cuts to three manuscripts to meet editorial requirements, thus agonising over my carefully composed prose, believing it's bound to make the story thinner or make the characters two-dimensional. However, as a wise editor once told me - readers won't be aware of anything you have deleted.

Bookbuyers once regarded anything under a 500 page paperback meant they weren't getting their money's worth. The onset of digital print has meant this attitude has changed and publishers are running with the 'short is good' trend and want manuscripts of around the 70k - 90k mark.

There is also the increasing demand for novellas for those who want something short and sweet [or spicy] they can consume during a plane or train journey. A panacea to their stressful lives without having to wrestle with long and complicated plots. The ideal is a 40k romantic novel e-book priced at 99p which can be downloaded onto a smartphone or e-reader and read in the doctor's waiting room or queue at the bank.

I took a London Tube ride last week, my first for months, and around 90% of passengers were glued to i-pads or reading on their smartphones.  Not e-mails either, they were reading books. I got a few odd stares as I peered over shoulders to discover what they were looking at, but a pleasant smile counteracted that in most cases. Either that or it was 'humour the madwoman who smiles on the tube' The i-pod culture appears to have dwindled to one or two of the younger passengers.

Short, however does not necessarily mean 'easier' for the author. Historical fiction requires eras which may be unfamiliar to the reader, thus the 'hit-the-ground-running' style doesn't work when a reader cannot visualise the culture within the first few lines. Writing longer is more natural for me, though I now subscribe to the need to keep a manuscript to a commercial, fighting weight.

I shall have to keep the 'short is good' premise in mind with my next wip, on the basis it's harder to cut a story that to expand one.


Susan C. said...

That's good news to my ears, because I'm the type of writer who actually starts off with a short ms and has to expand!

Anita Davison said...

I agree, Susan - your Dorset Gothic novel would be perfect

Diane Scott Lewis said...

My first three novels were terrible large, over 130,000 words. I cut one in half to have it published. The others are large ebooks. Now I vow to keep my books under 100,000 words.
I have the opposite issue with a novel I'm working on now, it's too short, and I need to add words. Back to the drawing board.

Petrea Burchard said...

The first time around I didn't have any trouble coming in at 85,000 words. I have no predictions for my current WIP, however!

Anita Davison said...

Brevity isn't my strong point Petrea, I have to work on that!

Anne Gallagher said...

However, what I've also noticed (as a self-published author) is that shorter works (novellas, short stories) is that the return rate is higher (on Amazon). They get to the doctor's office, download, read, and then return.

What can you do? Take the good with the bad, I guess.

Anita Davison said...

I agree Anne, we are all affected by market forces and not necessarily a bad thing

Lisa Elm said...

I think you make a great point, Anita. Make every scene count. No filler. However, sometimes it takes more words to paint an unfamilar world. Especially in historical fiction.

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