My novel outgrew its stretchy pants

Having written a novel too long for its own good is a situation relatable to many writers. The following is not intended as a “how to” essay. It is my plan to solve my own long book problem. I offer it as inspiration to keep chipping away at the good story within.

Diagnosis: Book Obesity

About a decade ago I finished writing a historical novel I thought had potential. Having potential is a characteristic of things that are not yet ready. As much as I liked the book, it was not what I wanted it to be. Something stood in the way of the potential I saw on the horizon, but I couldn’t tell what it was.

I put the book away and moved on to other projects.

A year ago, I got it out again and read through it. Maybe it’s a sign of me getting closer to reaching my potential, or maybe I’d just acquired the necessary distance, but a big problem jumped right out: the book was too long. In short, there were too many words.

A Surfeit of Words

Some books are too long because the plot can’t sustain the length, and some books are just too wordy. My book was an example of the latter.

I still liked the story, so I decided to do some work on it. I cut out unnecessary words, of which there were plenty, and rewrote scenes to streamline them. Instead of over-explaining the history, I let the characters reveal period points through their dialogue and actions.

I cut out about 10% of the words, improving the pacing, and smoothing the flow. Still, at nearly 500 pages, it remained a long book. The modern world does not embrace such behemoths. Some readers won’t touch them and even the publishing process is slanted against them.

Considering the length limitations of POD paperbacks, and the conflict between keeping the finished product’s price attractive to readers and still reaping some sort of royalty on sales, long books can spell trouble for Indie authors.

tree measuring

Measuring a likely tree to determine if it will yield enough paper for the proof copy.

Make a Long Story Longer?

Having rewritten huge portions, I struggled finding ideas to make the book shorter still. At the height of this struggle I was struck by inspiration: why not make the story longer? By making the story longer, I could turn one overweight book into two manageable books.

I realize this is not the answer for every long book, but my novel covers a span of years so it would be easier to divide it in two. This would allow me to turn my lemon of a long book into the lemonade everybody loves these days: a series.

Prognosis: The Surgeon is Cautiously Optimistic

Two books do not make an epic series, but it is a series. I’ve never written a series of any sort, so the prospect is exciting.

Of course, every solution brings its own problems. Now I have to tease this book apart without leaving wrong scenes in wrong books, while making both offspring self-sustaining. I also have to write some new scenes to balance the ends and ease the transition between books.

These issues are daunting. I may fail miserably. If I succeed, I’ll have a sequel ready when I publish the first book, and that seems like a nice position to be in. I’m going to give it a try. Wish me luck.

 

Advertisements

Goodreads losing ground to scotch whiskey in the battle for my soul

I mention Goodreads often in this space. The part of Goodreads I write about most is the giveaways. After this, I probably won’t write about Goodreads Giveaways so much. If you are a Goodreads author or publisher, you can probably guess why. If you aren’t, I’ll come right out and tell you.

Goodreads will start charging authors and publishers to give away their books starting in January, 2018. For $119, or $599 for the premium package, you can give away (as in “free”) books to Goodreads members. The difference between this new system and the current $0 giveaways appears to be mostly that Goodreads will hound the winners into leaving reviews of the books they’ve won. This, it should be noted, is the exact activity Goodreads had prohibited the sponsors of giveaways from doing up until now. Perhaps they were just saving all the fun for themselves.

Goodreads has every right to charge whatever it wants for any of its services. Likewise, users have the right to stop using services deemed not worth the price. To me, $119 is way not worth the price to give away books.

Goodreads Giveaways seem mostly a tool to give Indy Authors something to look at besides stagnant sales. The giveaways result in, at best, sporadic reviews. They grow “to read” counts, which may make authors feel a little better, but don’t put any money into their pockets. The correlation between “to read” counts and sales is tenuous to non-existent.

I confess to running Goodreads Giveaways as a pick-me-up in the midst of sales boredom. For this purpose, it is occasionally worth the price of a book and postage to get the book into a potential reader’s hands. If I actually made any money on giveaways, I’d have done them a lot more often.

A short-term morale boost is not worth $119 – $599 to me. I’d rather spend the money on a good bottle of scotch and keep the change. The scotch would last longer than the giveaway afterglow.

For temporary relief of sales anemia. Take as necessary.

I think Goodreads miscalculated how much people will pay for the right to give away their stuff. It may also have misjudged how much money authors who are not selling books have to spend on services that don’t lead to selling books.

But that’s Goodreads’ problem.

My problem is now I really want a good bottle of scotch and I don’t have $119 to spend on it.

Meanwhile, I am taking advantage of the grace period before January to run one last giveaway for old time’s sake. I’m giving away one copy each of three of my books, which is kind of a splurge for someone with my sales numbers, but why not go out with a bang?

So, if you want to be part of the farewell party . . .

Click cover to go to giveaway entry.