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To What Extent Are You Willing To Make the Good But Painful Choices on Your Manuscript?

“So, Mom, what do you think???”

Before sending my finished manuscript to the copyeditor, I asked my mother to read it first. She was the target audience of my first solo-authored book, and brimming with wisdom, so I wanted to hear what she had to say.

“Well,” she began. “It’s very good, but it seems a little too negative to me.”

Crap! I knew she was right.

I spent the next two days extracting the negativity and inserting a little humor.

Today, for our final installment in our seven-part series on finishing your manuscript in 2020, we’re going to discuss the hard decisions every author must make.

Here are the previous six keys:

Essential Key #1: Remove Your Distractions

Essential Key #2: Practice Self-Discipline

Essential Key #3: Follow Your Body Rhythms

Essential Key #4: Take Advantage of Writing Tools to Save Time

Essential Key #5: Hire a Coach to Finish Strong

Essential Key #6: Self-Edit Your Manuscript

As a reminder, to help you hit your writing goal this year, our staff is offering free no-obligation consultations through the end of 2020. Since the year is coming to a quick close, I’m sure we can extend the free consultations into the first week of 2021.

A number of you have taken us up on this offer. Brainstorming book ideas is a hoot for us, so please don’t feel intimidated. Click on the links below:

Mike Klassen Schedule NOW

Larry Yoder Schedule NOW

Karen Bouchard Schedule NOW

Okay, let’s dig in.

Probably the best title for our time together today is “It Hurts So Good.”

Working out can be painful, but in the end, you get stronger.

Practicing your violin can be boring (it was for me when I was a kid!), but in the end, you become a better musician.

Wrestling with the hard questions surrounding your manuscript can be painful, but in the end, it will ALWAYS make your manuscript better.

Here’s the deal: all too often we fall in love with our manuscript and totally forget our audience. You need to make the hard decisions so your audience will love your book as much as you.

What does this look like?

Be a Man or Woman of Few(er) Words

Let’s start with word count. Not all words are created equal nor is every word in your manuscript divinely inspired.

If your word count is too high, you need to cut it down to size. Here are my general recommended target counts:

  • 40,000-50,000 for basic nonfiction
  • 60,000-70,000 for memoir
  • 70,000-80,000 for fiction

If you can bring them below that minimum number, all the better. Here’s why:

  1. Your readers are riddled with ADHDand will be easily defeated by a longer book.
  2. I hate to break the news to you, but you’re not famous, so (apart from your mom) your readers won’t give your manuscript the benefit of the doubt if it goes longer than it should.
  3. A high word count translates to a high page count, which raises the price of your book.At this point in your writing career, you don’t want to surpass the $20 retail price on your title. It’s a mental barrier that very few authors can overcome.

Trust me on this. Keep your word count on the low end. Your readers will thank you for your generosity. When you become a famous author, then break all the rules.

If your manuscript hovers around the 20,000 word mark, I suggest you beef it up to at least 25,000 to 30,000 words.

About 15 years ago, a publisher contracted me to ghostwrite a nonfiction book and gave me a manuscript that was 180,000 words (you read that right), and told me to pare it down to 65,000 words. My first run-through, I reworked the manuscript, studiously removed all the wordy phrases and redundancies, and reduced the word count to 90,000 words.

Then I realized the problem with most lengthy manuscripts involves the organization of the book. So, I spent a day mulling over the table of contents and realized that most of the chapters weren’t germane to the author’s message. After heartlessly cutting every unnecessary chapter, the manuscript finally reached its optimal word count.

But the manuscript was soooo much more focused.

The author whined for a while, but the book sold 35,000 copies, which calmed him down in a heartbeat. Book sales far surpassed the publisher’s expectations which led to more ghostwriting contracts.

When writing nonfiction and you need to seriously pare down your word count, consider cutting chapters.

If you’re writing fiction, consider cutting characters from your manuscript. Ask yourself, “Does each character play a pivotal role in moving my story forward?” You could also rephrase it this way, “If I removed this particular character from my manuscript, how would it affect the story?” If the answer is “It wouldn’t,” then you might want to remove it. If two characters in your story play similar roles, you might want to combine the two into one character.

Then ask the same question about every scene. If a scene does nothing to move the story along, give it the ax.

It hurts so good (with apologies to John Mellencamp).

Now that we’re warmed up, let’s dig a little deeper.

Ask—and Then Answer the Hard Questions

You need to make the hard decisions and be totally committed to your audience.

Every chapter I write, I ask myself a series of questions that include:

  • Is my book interesting?
  • Is my writing compelling?
  • Is my message unique?
  • Does it meet a felt need?
  • Do I have something to say?
  • Does my story have a point?
  • Am I keeping my reader engaged?
  • What am I missing?

If you’re too close to your manuscript to be objective – which is likely the case – then you need to find someone you trust, someone with a no-BS personality, who fits your audience demographic, who will tell you what they think.

That, or you can enlist the services of one of our book coaches.

Here’s another tough one: Am I writing to myself or to my audience? That’s where I almost tripped when I sent my manuscript to my mom. If I had been overly negative, I would have driven my audience away from my manuscript.

Digesting the answers to these questions may require a healthy dose of humility. But in the end, making the hard choices will produce a much more readable book.

It hurts so good.