I have lost count of the number of times that someone has told me that I should take my long manuscript and split it into two (or three) and call it done. This particular conversation comes up every single time I mention to anyone how long my manuscript is, and it’s actually not outrageously long — it just happens to be over 100,000 words. But let’s face it, my work is high fantasy, and I would struggle to think of any high fantasy novel that wasn’t over 100,000 words (a high fantasy intended for adult audiences).
Often those that mention this idea of splitting the novel to me know nothing about my story. They’re typically thinking in terms of different genres/categories and don’t get that I’m writing something that is along the scales of George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. It’s epic to the extreme and is planned out that way.
The idea of splitting a novel into two, just because of its high word-counts sounds like cheating to me. A writer can keep cutting a manuscript into smaller chunks, but instead of cutting a manuscript up, why not actually edit it and remove any unnecessary sections or words? Make the writing tighter. Edit that manuscript to a point where it doesn’t matter that a manuscript is of the length it is — because anything else wouldn’t make sense and leaves the reader feeling unsatisfied.
Here’s the thing… Whether you are writing a single stand-alone book or the book in a series, the main story thread of that book needs to be complete. Yes, you can leave some plot elements unfinished. Yes, you can have loose ends. In fact, I prefer stories with some loose ends. The authors that attempt to ties up all the loose ends at the end of their novels frustrate me. I don’t need to know every little detail of what happened to every single character. Who cares? I just need the main story and related sub-plots to be finished.
So those writers that decide to go down the path of taking their manuscript and splitting it into two (or more) without rounding off the story elements are actually just serializing their stories without any thought of the reader. If the next installment was going to come out the following month (in the next issue of the magazine), then readers can survive. Charles Dickens’ novels were originally released as serialized components in the local newspaper. But in this day and age, where we want to see the novels printed, it can take a year. There is no way a reader wants to wait an entire year to find out if their favorite character survives that fall off the cliff. If you do that to them, they’ll never bother reading another one of your books again.
If I was to split my manuscript into two, that’s exactly what I would be doing. My characters would be preparing for an attack, the attack would begin, and… The reader would never know the outcome of the battle. Reading a book like that would infuriate me to no end, so why, oh why, would I ever do that to a reader?
Yes, I worked my ass off to edit this massive manuscript down to something that is a bit more palatable for agents and publishers. I’ve hired another professional editor to help me. Will my manuscript ever be under 100,000 words? Unlikely. Will the language in my manuscript be so tight that there is no other way to tell the story? Definitely.
I long ago resigned myself to the fact that my novel was going to be on the longer side, but as long as the writing is so stellar and the story is so gripping, it shouldn’t matter. We’ll see what happens along this road toward publication.
(The particular novel in question, while it is finished and ready for publication, it has been shelved, along with the other manuscripts that follow after this one. Instead, I’m working on a whole new story, one which will be much sorter and intended as a standalone. Eliminate the debut writer status and the issue with word counts disappears.)
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© Copyright, Judy L Mohr 2017
“Eliminate the debut writer status and the issue with word counts disappears.” – There’s some truth to this. According to my editor, high page count books are a higher risk investments than shorter word count books and if you have author credentials that say your books sell, they feel there’s less of a risk. After my second book came out, I found offers for my larger projects became more frequent.