Friday, October 30, 2009

Tips for Authors - 200 or 400 pages?

Back in 2000 when I was thinking about publishing my first book, I had the opportunity to send the manuscript to a friend's book agent. My friend had used his connections to get my book looked at and I was thrilled. The agent told me up front that he didn't work with book's in my genre (pre-teen) but he'd be happy to read/comment on it. A month later, I received a call from the agent. He was very nice, gave me lots of compliments, but said that my book was too long. "Too long," I asked. "Yes, you need to cut it by about half." How was I going to do that? But after getting over my disappointment, I set to work on my manuscript and realized the agent was correct. I'd put in too much information. It all seemed important when I wrote it, but going back through the text, I realized much of it had to go. And go it did. I worked (chopped, really) on that manuscript for another several months. Eventually, my book was published and the story had a happy ending (20,000 sold of that one title and winner of The International Reading Associations 'Children's Choices').

We get a lot of books in for review that are just too long. This doesn't mean that it takes the reviewer too long to read, that we'd rather have a shorter book. Instead, it means that the author, like I did back in 2000, put too much into his/her book. After you've got a first draft, go back through and see if you've included too much extraneous information. For example, if you're describing a minor character, unless it plays an important function in the plot, does the reader need 5 pages of background history on that character? You might feel it is important but your reader(s) may feel a big yawn coming on and put the book down. Keep the writing crisp and keep your reader turning the pages.