This blog provides advice to writers on their literary work.
See the end of this post for links on these topics: How can you get the full benefit of workshops? How can you work best with your mentor? What, when, and how should you publish?
Friday, May 18, 2012
Putting Together a Book Manuscript, Part 1: Write More Than You Need
If you’re writing
a book, no matter what the genre, you probably have a page length or word count
If it’s poetry you’re writing, your target is probably 50 to 70 pages.
about how long a novel should be. According to Deborah Ritchken, an agent at
the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, “There really is no set
rule but the average novel runs about 110,000 words. Obviously, there are
novels where the word count runs much higher!”
If you’re J.K. Rowling, then the
sky’s the limit. (Some might argue that the later Harry Potter books needed a
good editor.) A book of nonfiction should also clock in around 100,000 words. I
would think a collection of short stories should be closer to 60,000 words.
Whatever the genre,
you should write much more material than you actually need. You want to have
the luxury of cutting work that isn’t up to the quality of the rest of the
book. For my collection of poetry My Mother and the Ceiling Dancers, to arrive at 50 pages of published poetry,
I wrote about 135 pages. I cut two thirds of it. That wasn’t easy for me. There are
still poems in that 85 pages of crossed-off material that I get a twinge of regret
when I read and remember that I couldn’t include them in the book. But I know
the book is better off without those deleted pages.
The trick is to
write more than you need but not to get so attached to what you write that you
refuse to part with the sections that are weaker, or extraneous to the direction
of the book as a whole. Ultimately, it’s the reader’s experience you have to
prioritize, not your affection for your own words.
All writers create
bad drafts, and/or writing that is not up to
their best work, or doesn't mesh with a current project. The challenge is to keep
that work somewhere private, rather than try to publish it.
I have a file I
call “Uncollected Poems,” which is my euphemism for poems that never made it
into any of my books. Ultimately they didn't make the grade or fit in
the collection I was working on at the time. I’m not throwing those poems out.
Some of them I continue to polish. I enjoy revisiting many of them. I occasionally will send one or two out to magazines or anthologies. But I realize they rarely end up in any collection of my work.
In the literary
world, the quality of your work is judged not only by what you publish, but by
what you don’t publish. If you
establish a consistent standard for your writing and keep to that, readers will
see that sheen in your work, and be drawn to it. If you don’t keep to that
standard, you risk being judged by the worst of your creations.
Zack, I have a related question. How does one search for and solicit cover art for a manuscript? Is there a common language used in approaching artists for this type of collaboration? Thank you. KerstenReplyDelete
Wow, great post.ReplyDelete