The manuscript in question, INHERIT THE STARS (coming out this November through Ace/Roc) was accepted by the publisher at 128,000 words. At the time I thought the scope and breadth of my story justified such a length. This was my space opera, my Stars Wars meets Dune meets 2001, dammit, and I wanted to make sure the reader knew every little friggin’ detail.
But what readers want is a story. World building is secondary. Again, I tried to justify the extra information because this is the first installment in a series, and hey, I needed to establish the setting’s details, right?
Um, no. What readers still want is a story.
It started with each successive draft I’d revise—every time, I ended up with a higher word count. But I felt good about the story, the characters. I doted on the little moments, added a little extra detail to that planet, or increased the drama by adding more stakes. The sad part is that I was doing this with every novel I revised. I now realize I’d gotten too close to these stories. I was like a mason building extra towers onto a castle—that already had plenty of towers.
When my editor mentioned that the manuscript for INHERIT THE STARS was too long, I was afraid of how much she’d want to cut. Now, I knew the publisher would expect some editing, but I assumed it wouldn’t include any huge changes. Still, I grew anxious, fearing they’d want a stripped-down 100K novel. So I got started on the revision, using my editor’s advice, but right before I received her line-edits.
The process was so easy, I almost didn’t believe it. I sliced out sentences, sometimes whole paragraphs. Passages jumped out at me that didn’t need to be there, that slowed the narrative down. I trimmed down on all the excess body language and background minutiae. When I got my editor’s line-edits and looked over them, I realized I was cutting the very same things she thought could go. But, I was also trimming more than she suggested. She said her edits were but a guideline, and since I could feel the story getting tighter, I forged ahead without worrying about cutting too much.
Upon completion, the manuscript was over 17,000 words shorter—but the plot remained the same. No character had been excised; no subplots eliminated. I finally understood that I didn’t need all the extra description, my characters didn’t need to be spoiled with extra internal monologue, and my story certainly didn’t need to be clogged with obscure references and names most people couldn’t pronounce.
For the first time I had REALLY edited a novel. And damn, it felt good.
This was a major learning experience, which I’m going to apply to my other overweight novels. And I’m excited to do so, because I know each one will be the better for it. I’m just glad I was able to see these problems for myself at last. A year ago, I might have disagreed with my editor. Now, I know my craft has improved, and that I’m more willing to compromise.
I find this is just as important as the book contract itself. Because, unless I grow, there might not be any more contracts.
And because, in the end, all that matters is the story.