The sad reality for most unknown or lesser known writers is that there is generally a bigger limitation on manuscript size than for the Stephen Kings and George R. R. Martins of the world. This differs from genre to genre, but for fantasy it tends to be around the 120,000 word mark. It’s difficult to equate this to book size pages, as every publisher lays things out a little differently, but that’s around 480 pages if we expect an average of 250 words per page, not counting blank and title pages. This is half of what some authors get published, but the problem for the publishing industry is that more pages equals higher printing costs and, like it or loath it, a publisher is not going to take that risk on a relatively unknown.

When I began investigating the various avenues for publishing my novel, The Call of Agon, I found that pretty much everyone I talked to thought it was too long for a first novel. It was 145,000 words, 25,000 more than the limit set by a number of publishers. Several agents I contacted also suggested cutting things down, with one saying 100,000 would be an even better target. One publisher suggested cutting the book in two, which unfortunately would not work given how the book is structured (and the fact that it is already part of a series).

So, the last month was spent axing 21,000 words from my manuscript (I had already cut 4,000 before that), bringing it down to 120,000 words. This was no easy task, as it forced me to evaluate every single word. I had to constantly ask: “Do I need this?” and “Can I reword this to be clearer and more concise?” My experience as a journalist helped me considerably in this regard, as chopping extraneous words is part and parcel of the job. Ultimately it was a rewarding experience, as I now have a much tighter manuscript that reads smoother than before.

I found single words here and there that could be axed without impacting things, while larger scenes also faced the guillotine when I found that they were good for world-building, but weren’t essential for the story. I also added words where things needed to be beefed up or better explained, but I was cautious not to detract from my primary duty as headman. It did mean being cold and cruel, and I dare say some of my characters have probably taken a disliking to me as I’ve forced them to zip their mouths every now and then, but they’ll thank me when they see the light of day instead of just my stuffy office space.

Some of the things I’ve axed, including an entire chapter, will make it into other works. Some will go into the sequels, others into short stories, and some of it will just be mashed down and recycled. Words never go to waste and a writer can never have too many of them. I expect that some of them will show up on this blog or on other parts of my website, so check back soon and you might find a headless sentence with a decapitated word rolling across your screen.


Jason · June 3, 2011 at 12:12 am

So you won’t be producing anything to the size of the Wheel of Time series? (Thank goodness for that!)

I didn’t realize fiction had that tight a word count.

I studied screenwriting in college, and found it hard to do plain ol’ fiction writing after that, because the writing in a screenplay is quite sparse. The focus is more on dialog and action, rather than excessive description, aiming for 120 pages.

Sounds like you were okay with “murdering your darlings,” though, so good for you!

Incidentally, your new blog here looks good.

Dean · June 3, 2011 at 12:34 am

Hey Jason, thanks for the comment.

Oh, most definitely. I certainly intend to finish my series before I die too, though of course in Jordan’s case that was a very unfortunate turn of events. My plan for the Children of Telm series is three novels, with a possible second series following the events of the third book, along with several spin-offs set in the same world (one of which I’ve already started and looks to be promising). I think I’d prefer to write two 500 page books than one 1,000 page book (and I know that many publishers would prefer that too), but obviously that depends on the story itself.

The word count really does vary from genre to genre and from author to author. A publisher isn’t going to refuse a successful author’s 300,000 word book, but the impracticalities of really thick books means even the big names like Tolkien and George R. R. Martin have been forced to split their work in two, purely to stop them from falling apart. I also find that larger books usually employ smaller print, which makes them more difficult to read.

I also studied screenwriting in college (albeit briefly as part of my overall Audio Visual Media course), but I could never really fall in love with it, since it restricts my ability to use language the way I want to. I adapted my novel into a screenplay for the course and got a good result on it, but it had to be badly butchered, axing characters and subplots, since the story was far too long and complex for the screentime limit I was given.

Murdering my darlings is the best bit! 😉


    Jason · June 3, 2011 at 12:46 am

    I remember reading your older blogs, and it’s neat to see where your professional goals are taking you.

    I will watch for your successful published books on the shelves. 🙂

      Dean · June 3, 2011 at 12:51 am

      Thanks Jason. My other blogs will be updated at some stage – I just don’t have enough hours in my days anymore!


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