Every step in the process of trying to publish a book teaches new lessons. Faithful readers may recall that I sent out nearly thirty query letters for my novel Volve in September, and met universal rejection. I deduced, hopefully correctly, that the specific problem was my 130 thousand word length, which exceeds the upper limit accepted even for the fantasy genre. Well, after a couple of weeks of work, I managed to cut that length down to 119 thousand words, and I have begun once again to query literary agents.
Though Volve and I have been through at least six major revisions, I had never before sat down with such a clear goal: reduce the length of the work. I wound up learning a valuable lesson about my writing. When I first sat down, I thought I was going to have to approach the book with an ax instead of a scalpel. I started thinking about which chapters I could lose. In the end, though, I was able to cut 11 thousand words without losing much substance.
I did this by cutting away unnecessary adjectives (amazing how clearly unnecessary they become when one needs to cut away a tenth of the manuscript), losing redundant information, and approaching the manuscript with one question in mind: does this matter to the reader?
I found that there were many passages, spanning from a few words to a paragraph or two in length, that communicated little relevant information to the reader. They didn’t advance the plot or story, they didn’t reveal anything significant about any character, nor did they describe any physical aspect of the environment that was relevant to the reader.
This is the absolute best and most marketable version of Volve that I’m currently capable of producing. It’s time to move on to other novels and other ideas. I’m crossing my fingers that this query process leads somewhere, but even if it does not I can take something worthwhile out of the revision and rewrite process. I’ve certainly learned why agents generally agree that a writer must complete three novels before he writes one worth selling.