“What’s wrong, Paul?” I asked a co-worker as we passed each other in the hallway. His slumping shoulders and the pouty look on his face let everyone know that he wasn’t a happy camper.
“Oh, my publisher is telling me I need to cut down my manuscript to a third of where it is right now. They just don’t understand.”
His manuscript was 200,000 WORDS.
Now, if you’re unacquainted with the concept of word count, a 200,000 word manuscript translates to over 750 pages in your average 5 ½ by 8 ½ paperback.
As a general rule of thumb, a nonfiction book should land below 55,000 words and a fiction book this side of 80,000 words. In my opinion, if you want people to actually read your book, try to park your word count well below those numbers.
In my experience, the biggest mistake aspiring writers make is they assume all words are created equal.
Unless you’re God dictating Holy Scripture from the Temple mount, some words are more important than others.
Good writers evaluate every sentence, paragraph, detail, and chapter and ask themselves, Is this really necessary? Delete every frivolous word. Every writer has them.
My nemesis is the word “that.” Somehow it appears in the most unwelcome places.
William Zinsser, in his classic On Writing Well wrote:
The secret of good writing it to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb which carries the same meaning that is already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what—these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence.
Do you need to include that detailed description? Does it substantively contribute to your premise or story arc? Does your audience really care?
As writers, we tend to invest our egos into our work. In the process, we mistakenly make ourselves the audience rather than the people to whom we are trying to reach.
Read that last paragraph one more time…
- Less is more
- Not all words are created equal
- Have mercy on your audience
- You are NOT the words you write
Lastly, if you’re wrestling with an overly long manuscript, consider deleting chapters rather than just words, sentences, and paragraphs. Ask yourself, Is this chapter really necessary to make my point or tell my story?
In our commitment to excellence, Illumify offers book coaching services to people who wrestle with answering these questions. We also employ PROFESSIONAL copyeditors who will help you communicate your message or story in the clearest way possible.