Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Adventures in Publishing

I wrote another book. It's about the trip to Paris. I don't think that surprised anyone. I wrote a short book about a short week in Bali. I almost had to write about a full month in Paris.

The Bali book is short for a few reasons, not just because I was only there for a week. The Paris book turned out longer than I expected, not just because a month is longer than a week.

People always tell you that size doesn't matter. Sometimes that's true. Bruce Lee was a little guy, but he could wipe the floor with any of today's steroid action stars. But sometimes size is the most important thing in the world.

When you publish a book, the first thing they ask you about is word count. Not the story, character development, setting, whether it's funny, sad, inspirational or full of magical realms. Word count determines everything. The price of a printed book is obviously going to be higher the longer it is. More pages cost more money to print. But that does not mean publishers want the longest books possible. Charging more money means making more money per sale, but it also means fewer sales. Printed books are expensive and e-books are becoming more and more popular. They want whatever sells the most, not what sells at the highest price.

My book about the Paris trip came in at just over 350,000 words. That translates to about 1,100 pages, depending on format. The experts said it was entirely too long. Maybe it was. I don't know. I'm not a marketing expert. Maybe people really do only want to read 300 page books.

So I took my scissors and trimmed a little off the top and evened out the sides. But it was still too long. So I took an axe and went at it like Jack Nicholson trying to get into a bathroom. I got it down to just under 1,000 pages. Excising is definitely not my specialty.

I had two choices. I could keep cutting away until it was a reasonable length. That would probably take a very long time and cause me more than a little pain. Or I could divide it in half and release it as two volumes. That just sounded like a bad idea to me. I actually laughed when it was first suggested.

I suppose there was a third option. I could shop around for a publisher willing to print over 1,000 pages from a completely unknown author who does not write about teenage zombies. Here is my sales pitch:

“It's three times longer than the public wants, which will obviously make it more expensive. There are no action scenes, explosions, mysteries to solve or storming of castles. There are no vampires, zombies or children with magical powers. There is no setup for a sequel or long $eries of books. There is no sex, nothing overtly political and no one gets murdered. It is about 90% dialogue.”

Given my choices, I went with cutting it in half. I don't like that since it's now one story in two books, but at least it will exist. I consider that a major positive. Writing something that only a few people read is one thing. I'm amazed that anyone even wants to read anything I've written. I think it's great if only one complete stranger tells me they read something of mine and liked it. I don't want to be Stephenie Meyer or whoever did all those 50 Gray books. I congratulate them on getting what they want, but I don't want what they have. Even worse is writing something that no one can read because it's only on your computer.

Since it is in two volumes, we can assume that only people who read the first volume will ever read the second. That's a shame because, in many ways, the second half is better than the first. But the first can be read alone and it all makes perfect sense. There is a beginning, middle and end, and that could be the end of it if you never look at the second half. If you only read the second half, you might wonder why people say and do the things they do. It would be like getting into a TV series in the middle of the season. It could still be a great show, but you might wonder why Barney keeps saying “wait for it”.

4 comments:

  1. How do you get the time to write 1100 pages in like, what, less then 2 months since you have been back from France? Is it just like flow of consciousness writing? I mean, I think it is impressive, in terms of sheer of number of pages written in such a short time span.

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  2. Words flew out like endless rain into a paper cup.

    I kept a journal while I was there, more or less, so that was like a rough draft or outline. I started the proper writing as soon as I got back in May. It took three solid months of writing and another month of editing and hair pulling. Maybe that's too fast. I don't know. But all I did in that time was wake up, write, go to work, go home and write some more.

    I just broke up with my boyfriend, so I had a lot more time than usual. It's not as obvious when you're in a relationship, but once you're out of one, you can really tell how much time boyfriends suck up. It's like suddenly being unemployed. There are more hours in the day than there were before.

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  3. Oh, OK, I understand now. Yeah, it is true, after a break up, how much time you realize a relationship takes up. Good luck with sales of the book!

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