This post from Bookends Literary about the preferred (or maybe acceptable) word counts for different genres justifies my efforts to cut 6,000-7,000 words from my latest finished manuscripts. Since word count is often the first thing an agent or editor sees, I was happy to be able to claim something more appropriate than 107,000 words.
Category Archives: Finding literary agents for writers
Interested in trying out an online pitch via Twitter? Some people find this process rewarding. Here’s a list of pitch fest dates I just discovered on Victoria Strauss’s Writer Beware site (check out her warning about due diligence when responding to an agent or editor after an online pitch).
Victoria Strauss at Writer Beware continues to let us know when new scams proliferate—in this case, crooks pretending to be literary agents who just LOVE our books! I have actually talked to people who take such come-ons seriously.
Here’s an example of why Jane Friedman ranks as an incredible resource!
The query letter has one purpose, and one purpose only: to seduce the agent or editor into reading or requesting your work. The query letter is so much of a sales piece that it’s quite possible to write one without having written a word of the manuscript. All it requires is a firm grasp of your story premise.
For some writers, the query will represent a completely different way of thinking about their book—because it means thinking about one’s work as a product to be sold. It helps to have some distance from your work to see its salable qualities.
This post focuses on query letters for novels, although the same advice applies to memoirists, because both novelists and memoirists are selling a story.
The very first line of your query has to tell the agent or editor how long your book is.
The execrable fact is that they expect certain genres to fall within certain limits.
When you’re an overwriter, like me, always able to stroke out one more metaphor, one more lilting phrase, one more neat character detail, hitting those word limits can be a challenge.
The problem intensifies when your writing groups and betas want “More! More!” Or when they push you to look at issues in your story that you glossed over before but now can’t leave unresolved.
So I faced querying a psychological-suspense manuscript at 107,000+ words and an accidental-detective mystery at 106,000+. I’m here to report that both books are now under 100,000 words.
I’ve read enough submissions in writing groups to know that I’m not the only one in need of a repertoire of tricks (okay, strategies) for corralling a manuscript that has bolted for the hills. I needed “Power Cutting” skills.
I know what a lot of us would say: Cut 7,000 words?!? That will destroy my book! My brilliant writing will win over readers no matter how long it is.
Maybe, but you have to get an agent or editor to read your brilliant writing instead of thinking, “That sounds way too long.”
In fact, my efforts taught me strategies, many of them simple fixes, that actually improved my books rather than devastating them.
Not only will these strategies help you catch bad habits, they’ll force you to think hard about your story: What is it about, what belongs and what doesn’t? At least, that’s what Power Cutting did for me.
Here are some of the big-ticket things I learned.
Have a word-count goal. Until you make up your mind that you MUST cut, you won’t. Watching that number at the bottom of the screen sink and sink inspires!
Cut hard now, reconsider later. You might cut too hard and scrape off too much voice, but storing your cuts in a separate, renamed file saves your original language, ready to reinstate after you’ve exceeded your goal.
Remember that no one but you knows what you took out. No one else will miss your golden imagery or your delicate dialogue exchange.
Cut via a complete read-through. You’ll spot problems like repetition that would not show up if you dove in at random, and you’ll maintain the continuity of your story.
Throughout, remember that clarity comes first. Always make sure, for example, that it’s clear who’s speaking before you cut a dialogue tag.
Ask first and last, what does this scene/paragraph/line add? Three cuts to look for:
- Work you’ve already done. Yes, certain themes and events should be kept before your readers, but when you find yourself thinking, “Didn’t he already say this?”, he probably did. If there’s no new twist to a scene or interior monologue, it can go.
- Dialogue exchanges that don’t further the plot. Banter for banter’s sake, no matter how scintillating, takes up real estate. Dialogue cuts better when it’s sharp.
- Piled up details/metaphors/images. In literary fiction, you can interweave whole pages of lyrical description with luscious introspection. In commercial fiction, most paragraphs drag after more than one detail or image, no matter how powerful. Pick the one that does the most work in the fewest and/or most evocative words.
I found some more specific strategies as I progressed with my cutting. I’ll share some of those in an upcoming post.