Saturday, January 17, 2009

Ask the Editor -- Word Count

QUESTION: HI. My name is Elizabeth Schechter, and I have a question. My writing partner and I have recently finished a novel, entitled Midnight Moon. It's quite a bit longer than is acceptable for novel length (over 200,000 words before we started to revise). My question is would an editor rather read something that long and offer suggestions as to where it should be cut down, or should the author attempt to cut the book prior to submitting it to an editor? Our still-so-new-it's-shiny blog is located here: Thanks!

ANSWER: Hello Elizabeth. Congrats to you and your writing partner for finishing your book. That is such an important first step. As to your question, in today's tough marketplace I would suggest not sending an editor something that gives him or her a reason to reject it out of hand. Not to mention the fact that many editors at publishing houses no longer have the time to do that kind of editing. Just like with marketing and promoting, more and more of the editing is falling to the authors, which has led many of them to work with professional freelance editors.

Before sending your manuscript off, I would suggest you consider whether it could be two books. If it really is only one story and one book, you can do a careful edit and see where you can cut the wordage. I remember thinking that was nearly impossible early in my writing career, but then I had the challenge of taking a 2,500 word short story down to 1,500 for a contest, and I was amazed at how much better the story was for the cutting. It was a challenge, but well worth the effort.

For tips on how to cut, you can refer to my previous posts on editing. Lipposuction and Fish Cleaning Approach to Editing. Those were techniques I learned in my effort to cut that short story down to size.

You didn't say what genre your book is, but from the title I suspect it might be a fantasy. If so, you may not have a problem with word count. I know a fantasy novel can be much longer books than some other genres.

Good luck!


Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Her latest books are One Small Victory and Play it Again, Sam. Visit her Web site for information about her books and her editing services. When she is not working, she loves to play "farmer" on her little ranch in the beautiful Piney Woods of East Texas.

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  1. Good advice! And that's exactly what I did. My first novel draft was 200,000 or so and I cut it in "half" and worked on the first "half" -which will now be published - the second "half" of it will be the second book in a (hope to be) trilogy.

    That said, I still cut a lot from the first "half" and still will from the second. It doesn't seem as if you can cut, but you can - step away from the ms for a while and then go back to it; things will come clear.

    Nice blog - will follow you!

  2. My problem is the opposite. Probably because I took journalism in high school and at one time freelanced for the Daily Herald newspaper, I tend to weigh my words as I go along. I have to struggle to get my word count get my word count up. I'd love to have the opposite problem!

    Morgan Mandel

  3. Thanks so much for your helpful advice. I'm currently trying to cut my novel from 82,000 to about 60,000. Even with the small amount of cutting I've done, it reads much better.

    Also I wanted to let you know that I follow this blog for it's helpful advice. I've given you a blog award. If you're interested, you can pick it up at (look in the 1-17-09 posting).


  4. I've only just learned this from a fellow writer. 126,000 in my revised manuscript last Friday, and now chopping it down to around 90,000.

    At first, it hurt like crazy. But now I see the emerging MS as clean and unmuddied.

    I'm keeping the dissected chunks for future work. Recycle, recycle...

  5. Very good advice.

    If you have trouble cutting and can't see where you can do it, give the manuscript to trusted readers who have never seen it or to a freelance editor. These "outsiders" won't have any stake in the book and will look at it with fresh eyes.

    Good luck with the manuscript!

    Helen Ginger

  6. It's also important to consider which publishers you plan to submit the story too. Most publishers have guidelines for each genre and will not accept manuscripts that exceed those limits.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice.