You know—that manuscript you said would be impossible to shorten, even though it is nearly thirteen thousand words more than your publisher desires. Even though I’ve already explained about running the P&L and determining cost of goods and how the price is set when the book is contracted and changing these things—with Amazon, with distributors, with the buyers—practically takes an Act of Congress. That manuscript.
But you know, we’ve talked about this already. Probably the number-one problem agents and editors see is the manuscript is too long. And word count really, really matters to publishers—again, page count determines retail price—and to consumers too. Your publisher didn’t make these numbers up out of whole cloth, you know.
Anyway, please don’t tell me you’ve been over this with a fine-toothed comb and there’s no way it can be cut any further, because I know it can. John McIntyre over at the Baltimore Sun says, “Can’t be cut? Son, I could cut the Lord’s Prayer.”* I’m going to use that line from now on. :)
It’s true, my friend.
Twelve thousand words? How? you say. I don’t intend to part with a single scene. Relax. I don’t intend to cut any scenes either. I’m just going to tighten up everything. I’m going to take those words out one or two or three at a time, maybe a whole sentence here or there, and you won’t even miss them.
I’m going to start with all those extra thats and ofs and unnecessary dialogue tags. There’s quite a bit of overwriting here, so I’m going to tone that down. Don’t worry, I’ll be very careful with your voice. What I’m cutting isn’t voice—it’s repetition and logistics. I’m going to take a good hard look at your adverbs, and I’ll cut useless detail. And all that telling you’re doing? Gone!
While I’m at it, I’ll remove redundancies—not just repetitious words, but things you’ve already told us, concepts you’ve already explained, the continual reminding of who a character is or what his relationship is to the protagonist. Repetition of things we already know has the side effect of interrupting or stepping on the action of a scene. So you’re getting in your own way.
I can do this thing for a couple reasons. First, I know something you haven’t fully grokked yet: your readers are smart and they’re paying attention. Don’t overthink this, just run with it. If something’s not clear, Your Editor will say so. I can do this, also, because I’m not as emotionally invested as you. To me and my gimlet eye this is, simply, extreme line editing. And it will make the story better.
I’m actually the developmental editor on this project, though, so this is just a little something extra I’m throwing in because the publisher asked me to … after you said it couldn’t be done. Dude! Don’t you know that’s, like, waving a red gauntlet? :)
* You can see how he does it in The Old Editor Says: Maxims for Writing and Editing (Apprentice House, Loyola University Maryland, 2013).
Tweet: Relax. I’m going to take words out 1 or 2 at a time, & you won’t even miss them.
Tweet: The number-one problem agents and editors see is the manuscript is too long. So cut it.
Tweet: To me & my gimlet eye this is just extreme line editing. It will make the story better.
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