When I began writing my first book, I planned to weave an epic saga, entrenched in a world with a storied history. I assumed that many thousands of words were required for such a reading experience. A lot of words in a novel would be a good thing, right? I had a lot to learn.
When I completed my first draft, The Buried Symbol had over 132K words. I was sure that I had the makings of a novel that everyone would love. In September of 2015, I began submitting query letters with sample chapters to literary agents. Soon after, rejections began landing in my lap. Not to be discouraged, I sent out more letters, usually having about fifteen submissions in play at a time. Rejections would bounce back anywhere from two days to four months later. Some agents never responded at all.
After receiving about a dozen rejections, one kind agent noted that my book was a bit heavy on words, suggesting that I trim back my novel to make it more efficient. Yes, famous authors like Stephen King release books with FAR more words than I had, but I’m not Stephen King. I’m not a well-known novelist who has fans waiting for my next tale to appear at Barnes and Noble. This agent recommended that I try to get close to 100k words to make my book more marketable and to appear more approachable.
I then put my book on a word loss diet. If you don’t know that that is, look it up. After a series of edits, I had it trimmed it down to 110K words. Feeling good, I pushed out more queries, not just to agents, but also began to approach indie publishers. Of course, I continued to receive rejections, but they came with comments and SOME level of interest. I was onto something.
Deciding I wasn’t done, I began pouring through the book with more edits, resulting in a word count below 105k words. Again, I submitted to agents and publishers. After more than thirty rejections over a five-month period, I finally received a contract offer. I soon signed the contract and was on my way to becoming a published author.
Of course, my work on The Buried Symbol wasn’t finished. I hired an editor and made additional changes. My publisher offered further suggestions, and the edits continued. My novel is now far tighter, landing at about 102K words. Somehow, I had shaved over 30,000 words without changing the story, reducing character depth, or affecting the vibrancy of the world that I had created.
As a creative art, storytelling was the part of writing that I felt strong about when I began. However, writing is more than just storytelling. The art of writing fiction lies not in just the story you tell or how you tell it, but also lies in making it compelling while using the fewest words possible.