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.

 

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5 reasons why I don’t aspire to be a famous author

I used to be like that. I used to have fantastic dreams about my books becoming best sellers: Oprah told everybody how good I was; I made money hand over fist; I went on talk shows, and all the eyes staring at blinking cursors spent half their time hoping to emulate my success and half their time resenting it.

I’ve changed. The more I thought about it, the more I realized fame and fortune would be too much hassle. I’m content being a regular guy with a modest income. People leave me alone. Sure, my kids will have to collect 47 scholarships to be able to go to college, but it’s good to establish goals early.

Here are five reasons why I can’t be bothered to become a rich and famous author.

Paparazzi

I can’t have people chasing me around with cameras, waiting for me to do something embarrassing. They wouldn’t have long to wait. An individual as socially awkward as I am would become a feeding frenzy for the press. People forget all my gaffs because I’m just some random guy. They just shake their heads and walk away, and that’s how I like it.

Spain

All my new, hoity-toity friends would be constantly hounding me to go back to Spain again this year. “That little villa overlooking the Mediterranean you took last season was just so charming, you simply must rent it annually.” I’m used to driving to my vacations in a minivan. I don’t think there’s an interstate to Spain from here. Plus, “I’ll turn this private jet around right now!” rings hollow as a threat to bickering children.

Charming as all hell, but where do I park the minivan?

Mega-Signings

People lined up out the door, all of them wanting their books personalized, and the names people have today. I can’t spell any of them. They’d have to spell them out for me, and my penmanship is bad enough when I’m not distracted by trying to listen. At my little signings, there’s a short line and it moves fast, because everyone gets a book inscribed “To Jim”.

Impatient fans

Everybody would always be wanting to know, “When’s your next book coming out?” With all the mega-signings, Mediterranean vacations, and remembering not to pick my nose in public, when the hell do I have time to write a next book? As it is now, I have a much less stressful relationship with my public. By unspoken agreement, they don’t ask me when my next book is coming out and I don’t ask them if they bothered to read my last one.

Complacency

I’d get so wrapped up in carting my big royalty checks to the bank, I’d lose my fire and start writing lazy prose instead of sharp, insightful pieces like this one. I’d wear pajamas for a way-too-large segment of the day. Maybe I’d just do underwear. Not being distracted by constant trips to the bank, or Spain, and not having to worry about how to spell multi-syllable names, leaves me plenty of time to be thoughtful and stay hungry. For example, right now I’m thinking about how hungry I am. I bet the famous guys haven’t had gritty, real-world thoughts like that in years.

Fame? Who needs it?