Thursday, November 19, 2009

Go To Your Happy Place: Your Writing Desk

I’m an aspiring author with one magazine credit and a fabulous agent. I’ve recently had some good news, an editor from a major publishing house is interested in my manuscript (the joy, the terror). She’s currently circulating copies to her colleagues and I’m waiting for news and trying not to hold my breath. I’ve had a lot of positive feedback from other editors (via said fabulous agent); however, the outstanding concern is that the manuscript might not be long enough for the age group (I aimed it at 8-12, though some publishers felt it would be better as a 9+). The manuscript is 32,000 words long. I do know this is short, however it felt like the natural length for this specific story. It’s a long preamble, but I would love an editor’s honest take on this situation. Is a short story just too costly to print? are they unpopular/unsaleable? or are they trying to let me down easy? I’ve indicated that I’d be more than happy to write more (provided it was more that added to the story, not just more words to bulk out each chapter), and that I would be thrilled to have an editor’s opinion/brainstorming power to help me with some ideas. Besides that, is there anything I can do?
No, that's the right approach to take. In your position, I would assume that those editors who simply rejected it on the grounds that it's too short didn't have any particular ideas (or at least, ones they wanted to share) for how it might be longer.

It's possible you will find an editor who will be willing to publish this at its current length (it's on the short side, but I can think of shorter things published for middle school), or you will find an editor who's interested in brainstorming ways to make it longer.

If I were you, I would be thinking hard now about how you might make it longer (in a way that, as you say, serves the story rather than just padding it). If you're feeling stuck, ask your agent what she feels are the primary strengths of the manuscript and then concentrate on what you could do to develop those more.

Waiting and worrying are probably the couple of worst things for authors, but the good news is you have something to do that prevents both of them! That is: writing.

9 comments:

Kurtis said...

Charlotte's Web is almost 32K words, as is The Tale of Despereaux. So it's not that short, but maybe the editors feel that it would actually get shorter with editing... the author admits to a long preamble.

So what if the preamble is actually developed to being more story-like, and part one of the adventure?

Kurtis said...

Upon re-reading, I realize "long preamble" referred to the letter, not the manuscript. That's what I get for skimming.

Anonymous said...

I think the author was referring to a preamble in her question, not the manuscript itself.

I wouldn't worry too much about length until actually speaking with the editor. Maybe illustrations would fit the story; maybe an afterward or some other kind of back matter would be appropriate to fill out the book; maybe there are specific places (as mentioned) that the story itself can be fleshed out more.

EA is right that the author should be thinking right now about all kinds of ways to "fix" this; though I'm not convinced it's a problem.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Also, some publishing houses consider 20K-40K to be 'normal' MG length, at least according to CWIM.

I wonder if the complaints that your book is 'too short' are not ACTUALLY about word counts? Could your plot be too rushed? Could you be leaving out description/reactions/subplots that actually make the story RICHER?

After all, the Clementine books only have 13,000 words, and noone is complaining that they're too short!

So I'm guessing the 'too short' is less about sheer number of words than it is about world-building, plotting, and character development!@

myimaginaryblog said...

Kurtis, I thought the questioner was saying that had been a long preamble to his or her question (not a long preamble to the book.)

Cyndi said...

I think the long preamble the author refers to is in the email to EA :)

I could be wrong, though...

Chris Eldin said...

LOL at "Go to your happy place."
Now, on to read your post...

Author, sounds exciting! Good luck!!!!!
:-)

Sarah said...

Thank you for your reply and all of the comments (author here, by the way)

Deirdre Mundy you were spot on. I have since had a meeting with said editor, and she wanted to see the plot go farther, and was not so worried about the word count per se.

So, I am back at my writing desk (it's questionable how happy a place it is at the moment-much gnashing of teeth and rending of hair going on) doing the requested rewrite and with some luck and some hard work I will have something workable by January which will lead to signing the ever elusive contract.

Anonymous said...

this is among one of the best question / answer exchanges on a publishing blog (of the one's I've read) - the question makes sense & the answer reflects the nitty gritty of editorial thought (The Publishing Borg??) I esp. liked your comment alluding to editors possibly having ideas but not necessarily being willing to share them (reality) AND the encouraging, solution oriented wrap up.

Thank you