Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Make Every Word Count

Cut 22,000 words? …You’ve got to be kidding!
True. (See Two Truths and a Lie)

I pitched Breathing on Her Own as an 80,000 word book.

When I finished writing it –the day I turned it over to my publisher, it was 82,000 words.

After some serious editing, where the story was “tightened,” I was feeling pretty good about the 79,000 word finished product.

Then my editor sent me a text…the publisher wanted to cut it to 60,000 words.
Credit: AlisonWilliams

Why? I emailed the publisher and posed that very question. After all, he offered me a contract for the 80,000 word novel, right?

The publishing business is ever changing. +Eddie Jones at Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas stays well informed of trends in the industry. That’s one of the reasons I like him.

I understood from the beginning, the book would be released as an eBook. An eBook can be as long as you like, but the trend for purchasing a print version leaned toward a smaller book for a first time author. Anything over 60,000 words would put the print version out of the price point for most customers. They would pay $15-$20 for someone well known and popular, but not for a new author.

It was important to me to have a print copy. Mostly because it was my first book… and I wanted a copy for my mother and my children.

When I first heard I needed to cut my word count, I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t mention it to my husband or any other member of the family. I needed time to mull it over. This was, after all, a learning process. I wanted to learn all I could about writing and publishing. I decided my publisher knew more about this business than I do, so I made the cuts. I made the cuts and I realized the story was stronger in many ways for it. I had to eliminate some of the details I had about a couple of the minor characters, but decided I could always tell their stories in another book.

I learned. My words are… just words. There is nothing particularly special about them. Some authors want to hold onto every word they’ve written as if they are sacred. The same is true for me. And you. Writing a book is like being a parent. You want to believe your child is perfect, but if you love him (or her), you will discipline and teach and weed out the stuff that won’t help in the long run. Your manuscript is your baby. If you want to publish, get over it.

The process reminded me of when I was a professor. I would give an assignment. Inevitably one of my students would ask, “How long does it have to be, Dr. Waters?”

 I usually answered with “Until you have answered the question” or “Until you think you’ve addressed all of the issues. Then revise it. I don’t want to read a bunch of fluff, just to meet a certain word count or a certain number of pages.”

Whatever the length, make every word count. Eliminate weak verbs, useless adverbs, and words that tell instead of show. Say what you need to say in the simplest form possible. Flowery language is passé.

That said, I think it’s important for writers to have a word count goal –a sense of direction. Most full-length novels are 80,000 or more. Short novels area in the 60K to 75K range. You have something shorter? Think novella, short story, or even flash fiction, which is usually no more than 1000 words.

I’m interested in what you’re writing. What is your current work in progress? What word count [range] do you expect from the finished product? Finally, do you find posts such as this one, helpful?


  1. Thank you for this information! I'm writing a middle grade time travel mystery and will need to go back and cut a lot of words. I'm letting the words flow at this point and not worrying about word count. This post is very helpful since this is my first novel.

    1. First, congrats on writing your first novel! And yes to keeping those words flowing now. As long as you are prepared to trim, prune, and chop, you are in great shape. I want to hear more about the book. Sounds like something my grandsons may enjoy!


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