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Author Topic: who does the hacking?
Member # 7977

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This is related to the "word count inflation" thread, but sufficiently different that I thought it merited a new thread rather than just a response.

I've often heard the 80K - 100K word count number bandied about as the "sweet spot" for the length of a submission, particularly for unknown/unpublished writers (like, say, me). I also was an editor back in my student days (for student media), and I know someone who was in the film industry, and so I can say that one of the first things many editors do to a work they like and plan to publish/film/etc is go at it with a great big axe (or a fine scalpel - don't mean to offend the editors) and cut out that which isn't necessary. And no matter how awesome the writer thinks every single part of the story is, there is always something that the editor can cut to make it better.

In fact, I have also heard that a back-of-the-hand algorithm to start your cutting is to have the goal of making the final word count approximately half the count at the start.

Of course there's a ton of BS behind that idea, but I was under the impression that there is a kernel of truth. I certainly intend to put my own work on the chopping block to cut it down to size before submitting it (after I've gotten it finished, and therefore way too much up to size), but I was also under the impression that the editor is going to want to cut it down too.

So - what is the ideal submission size, and does that differ from the ideal size at publication?

Of course the "real" answer is that you put the minimum number of words to get from your start to your finish, but for the first-timers... okay, for me... it helps to keep in mind the little things that can send my manuscript to the trash pile without a read. I think of it somewhat similar to a resume. If I'm hiring a programmer, I really don't care if she can spell. But if she sends me a resume with a misspelled address, I'll likely send it to the shredder without a second glance. After all, I'm looking through resumes all day, and if the candidate can't take the time to perfect something like that, it shows she doesn't care, yadda yadda yadda.

From what I understand, editors have tons and tons of submissions from people just like me, and if my manuscript is 200K words, I could totally understand a busy editor thinking "Why bother with one that I know is just going to yammer on forever," and going on to casually hit the delete key to more quickly get to the 500 other submissions she has that day.

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Member # 2733

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Ideally the writer should do most of that cutting before an editor ever sees it, especially an unknown. It seems to me I've read that in the modern business, editors rarely edit in the traditional sense due to their workload, and that often the guidance to get the story honed into shape happens in working with the agent.

50% seems excessive. Stephen King was advised early on that the final draft should be about 15% less than the previous version, if I recall correctly. It's hard to imagine an editor taking on a manuscript that's twice the size it should be from an unknown author then spending hours hacking out the equivalent of every second word.

Different markets have different preferences for word lengths. I've seen fantasy houses that prefer at least 120k words, and ask not to receive submissions under 100k, so sometimes it's a minimum rather than a maximum.

I think the rule-of-thumb that advises new novelists to keep their length modest is more a matter of keeping the project managable (by limiting the number of characters and subplots and overall complication)and within their abilities.

[This message has been edited by dee_boncci (edited January 18, 2010).]

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Member # 7277

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I don't know about for novels, but for my novelette the editing process actually made it longer. Yeah, a lot of stuff can get cut, but other stuff might have to be added in, too.
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Member # 6757

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You sold a novelette, Kitti? What length, genre and to whom did you sell it (if you don't mind me being nosey)? Also will it be in print or online?

[This message has been edited by skadder (edited January 19, 2010).]

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Member # 7277

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Skadder - np, not nosey at all. I've been meaning to put it up in the pubs & reviews section anyway (which I will do now, so we don't accidentally hijack the thread).
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Member # 2442

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I recall reading that OSC said that when an editor told him he needed to cut stuff out, he would go in and ADD stuff. The request to cut comes from the content not being relevant to the story. Make it relevant and it won't need to be cut.

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Pyre Dynasty
Member # 1947

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Well I know on one edition once there was this huge story that we loved. (We loved it so much that we were ready to fight tooth and nail over it, and were relieved to find out that we were fighting for the same story.) Anyways it was too big, and even trimmed down we were still oversize. (Which with our budget was impossible.) So we called all of our contributors and asked them to trim their stories down. And you know what it made all of the stories better. Most of the changes were minor, one of them it was condensing a paragraph into a single line. (One girl didn't quite get it and only changed the margins on her word file, which made us laugh.)

Not that that should mean cutting down should be a rule to make a story good, because it doesn't.

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