Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The trouble with not looking closely enough

My full-length novel, Roses for a Diva, being published next November, was finished and sent to my publisher months ago. I could once again sleep through the night content that I had fulfilled my contract and delivered what I hoped might be a very good novel. (One never knows, when the twin fires of creation and revision are burning hot, exactly how good your masterwork is – or at least that’s been my experience.) All was good.

However, fate had a big raspberry ready for me. My new editor called to ask if I’d read my contract. Now I have an agent and together we’d gone over the contract pretty carefully, so I was surprised by her question. The reason she was contacting me was because there was an 80,000-word limit on my submission. I had delivered 101,000.

I looked over my contract (so did my wife) and neither of us saw it, so I called back. It was at the very end of the first paragraph. You know the one, often called the boilerplate paragraph: “The party of the first part, herein called…”. Once pointed out its location, I wondered how we could have missed it.

Obviously, I had a major problem.

Now I really don’t overwrite. I don’t indulge in all that much description. Matter of fact, I’ve been told a few times that I should use more. Once, an editor even made me add description in a few spots. So basically the ms I’d submitted was solid plot and not overly-wordy dialogue, not much description.

“Do what you can, and we’ll see what happens from there,” my editor told me.

I crossed my fingers and set to work. Not having looked at the ms for several months certainly helped as I read it through. My editor/great friend, Cheryl Freedman, who always generously takes a peek and lends her expertise when I’ve finished a novel suggested one plot sidebar I could lose and that gave me a drop of around 1500 words, a drop in the bucket, really, considering the mountain of prose that needed to be scraped away to get me close to the promised land.

I set my sights on doing a line-by-line edit of the book to tighten things up and then see where I stood. At the same time, I’d mark down any thoughts that might help reduce the mass once I’d finished that task. Could I drop a whole section? Dump a character? Reshape the plot in some way?

The effort was long and arduous. I certainly found many places where sentences could be streamlined, phrases dropped or run together with a resulting economy of words. I found a bit of redundant dialogue, or maybe I should say dialogue that drove points home possibly too hard. I also found a few paragraphs of description that could be reduced, a few that could be eliminated, but not many.

In the end, I only managed to torch 6100 words. That’s still 15,000 above my publisher’s stipulation of “approximately 80,000 words”. I spent a bad day yesterday stewing about it and looking long and hard at my creation as a whole. Can I lose more and not seriously damage the storyline?

By this morning I’d come to the conclusion that I couldn’t. It’s time to send it off to my editor. Perhaps she can see something I haven’t. If not (and I suspect that will be the case since I was very hard on my “deathless prose”), I don’t know what will happen. I would hope my publisher would say they’ll rethink the price point and we’ll go from there, but I can’t be sure of that.

It’s pretty disheartening, though, regardless. In thinking about it, I don’t think I could have written this novel effectively in anything less than 95,000 words. Certainly I would have tried if I’d seen the contractual stipulation, but I don’t know if the plot would have worked as well as it does now. Novels sometimes need a little breathing space, and heaven know, there’s not much of that left in this one.

Through this entire process I’ve been beating myself up. How could I have been so stupid as to not notice those three fateful words? I’m still faced with an awful prospect: the novel might be rejected. I hope this isn’t the case. It would be almost too much to bear because, of all the novels I’ve written, I’ve worked hardest on this one and, as it’s turned out, the longest.

Wish me luck everyone. I’m about to send it off…


Rick Blechta said...

If I can pass on one helpful hint to any writer faced by a new contract (regardless of whether you have an agent or not), it's this: force yourself to read every single word that's on it, and probably doing it out loud would help.

This has been hell – and it could get a lot worse.

Joan Hall Hovey said...

I've got a good feeling about your novel, Rick. There comes a time when - to paraphrase Shakespeare - the play's (or story's) the thing. Wishing you all the best!


Barbara Fradkin said...

I agree with Joan. There will likely be some back-and-forth to pare it down a bit more, but it's not outrageously out of the ballpark now. Good luck!

Rick Blechta said...

Thanks all!

Karel Blechta said...