The pain in my ass for today is: word count.
Last week, Shauna (You will see me mention Shauna a lot. Shauna is my wife.. just so we’re clear..), received a response from one of the agents we queried. Most of the queries were coming back as “thanks but no thanks.” The nicer agents would give me great feedback on the query letter such as, “Your dialogue is very intriguing, but I just don’t think I’m the best person to represent this project.” While others would just send a boiler plate “pass” email, if they responded at all. We were prepared for all of that.
Early on, I dubbed Shauna the agent query person. I’m highly sensitive, so even though I know that LOGICALLY this is a long process.. (as everyone says, look at JK Rowling!) I still am sensitive, and can’t help to deflate with every no. Again, I know my project isn’t for EVERYONE, so it’s just finding that 1 person who believes. Well, last week, we got a bite from an agent. (Who shall remain nameless.) She actually asked us to resubmit with a word count. As soon as I saw the email, my stomach dropped.
I’m going to refrain from putting the word count out there right now, because it’s still being edited and the hope is that it will come down a bit. But let’s just say, it’s 50 chapters and…. let’s just call it— thorough. Just like when I’m verbally telling a story, I add detail. I want the reader (or listener, depending on the medium) to feel like they were there; or to feel like they are witnessing the events. I want the reader to connect to the material on more than an imaginative level… I want an emotional connection.
I am a very emotional person… It sucks.. especially in times like this.
So, my word count is rather high. Sure enough, when we sent the agent my current word count, I got the “yikes, WTF woman?!” email. Well, okay, not really… I got the whole, “industry standard word count is about 100K words.. blah blah blah…” I knew it was “too long” before Shauna resubmitted the query, but my wife is the most supportive woman I know, outside of my mother, so she was hopeful.
I was blessed to be put into contact with an independent editor who I LOVE. When she began editing the manuscript, she was going chapter by chapter and recommending edits. We quickly realized that perhaps the better way to do this would be for her to read the whole manuscript first, then work with the edits. This would help her determine what parts may be frivolous or unnecessary and what parts are pivotal to the story arc.
I absolutely LOVE my editor.
So today she gave me a summary of her thoughts on the manuscript. Point one: She liked it. This bodes well for my self-esteem because she’s the first person who doesn’t know me well to have read the book. The few friends and family who have read it love it, but I’m realistic enough to realize that they also love ME, so… you know… not that their praise isn’t appreciated or desired, they also LOVE me. Therefore, finding someone who doesn’t know me and likes my work adds a different kind of encouragement. But then, she brought up the dreaded 2 words of the day…
She was very delicate and wanted me to know she was just telling me what was standard. She went on to tell me that while most large books can sometimes come across as wordy with fluff, she found that my story holds up for the length…but it’s still long. I assured her I already knew that, and so we would analyze after we do some edits on the content.
This led me to consider this whole “industry standard word count” malarky. (I never use the word malarky, so you know I mean business…)
Based on my research, the math conducted for how many pages a book would be is: word count/how many words per page. “Industry standard” (I freaking hate that term now) is about 350 words per page. So a 100K word book would be about 285 pages. When did that become STANDARD and who decided that people cannot read a book past 285 pages?!
My favorite book of all time, (which will likely have its own blog entry at some point) is “From the Corner of His Eye” by Dean Koontz. Now, I LOVE Dean Koontz, I dare say he’s probably in my top 5 favorite authors. His storylines tend to be so detailed putting you in the setting with the characters, caring about the characters, wanting the best for the characters and so forth. I think of all the books of his I’ve read, (and I’ve read them all, save the Odd Thomas series, but that’s cause I have a weird thing about ghosts) it is his most complex and complete story that I have ever read. The whole book is a work of poetry in my eyes. AND the book has a word count of about 233K!
War and Peace, a literary classic, has a word count well over 550K! Atlas Shrugged, (which I will readily confess I’ve never read, but I know it’s an important work to many) has a word count of 561K words. East of Eden by Steinbeck is 225K words.
Now, I would NEVER EVER EVER EVER put myself in the same realm as most of the authors mentioned above. I haven’t even published my first book; I wouldn’t dare compare my work to those literary masters. That’s not the point here…. My point is, when did we decide that readers should only get 285 pages?? When did we determine that’s as long of a book as the human mind can digest? Who decided this?!
To me, if the story is good, you want it to go on. You want to be fully engulfed into the world. You want to know how the protagonists think and why. I want you to read my novel and then consider people in your own life and determine if you have yourself a Dom or a Layla or a Rose. I want you to really understand these people.
Now I’m faced with deciding whether or not I want to divide the current manuscript in to two books. I’m not against the idea per say, because I do want this to be a series. However, I do not want to leave any reader wondering “WTF?!” If I were to just end it randomly.
Yes, this whole literary business is far more complicated than I anticipated. But one thing I know, if I want to keep the integrity of the current novel, I will have to do so without representation. I’ll have to do so with the hopes of developing a following of people who want to be engrossed into a story and take their time to get through it. People who appreciate the journey. If I’m going to do this, I have to decide will I let my nemesis beat me? Or will I continue to be who I am, wordy and all?