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View Full Version : How do I murder my darlings after they're on stage?



KCathy
01-29-2007, 09:28 PM
I read several books and articles on proposal writing; spent a few hundred hours researching, writing, and revising; and then let several well-educated friends (including a professional writing teacher/published author whom I paid) help me see flaws so I could spend maybe another 100 hours revising. I'm not exaggerating; I've been at this almost daily for four months.

My idea would make for a longer-than-typical book: 500 pages. After another 50-hour week researching agents and the authors/books they have represented, I sent out three queries and three proposals (both mentioning the book's proposed length), depending on the given agents' stated preferences.

I found AW and posted a question on the non-fic book board about whether to explain the 500 pages or wait until asked. The answer I got was don't explain, cut. As Maprilynne just said in the new writers advice post, "Listen to advice. Especially advice you don't like."

Suddenly I realized I might as well be asking a magazine editor to print an article twice as long as what's in their guidelines, which I would never be silly enough to do. What made me think a book would be any different just because the guidelines are what's typical instead of something printed in Writer's Market?

Ugh. This reminds me of art classes, when you get done with all the shading and details, only to step back and suddenly notice one of the arms you drew is too short. It's excruciating to be honest about needing a new sheet of paper instead of squinting so that the arm looks normal.

Anyway, one agent wrote back asking for the full proposal and I had intended to send it this morning. What do I do? Send the proposal the query described? Or spend a week re-working everything, send the new, similar proposal, and explain myself in the cover letter? Or not explain at all and hope it just sails through in the 200 other proposals she'll be skimming the day she gets around to mine?

victoriastrauss
01-30-2007, 12:07 AM
You really can't know in advance how many pages a book will be if published, because publishers have all kinds of ways of manipulating things to get larger or smaller page counts. What's important is word count. Are you projecting a word count of more than 120,000? How did you come up with 500 pages?

- Victoria

KCathy
01-30-2007, 02:50 AM
Thanks for the thoughtful question!

The currently proposed book would have a 2,000-word introduction and 15 chapters, each describing a given birth method (Lamaze, planned c-section, hypnobirthing, etc.) or birth location (homebirth, birth centers, water birth, etc.) in two ways. First, I would write a 2,000-word overview of the method/location described in a given chapter. Next, 5-7 mothers who used that method/location would tell their first-person birth stories, averaging about 11,000 words per chapter for stories. This all adds up to about 200,000 words, which I understand translates to about 500 pages.

Although I was guesstimating at first, when I multiplied by 15 the average length of the two sample chapters I've written and for which I've collected the birth stories, I came up with almost exactly the same numbers.

My plans for cutting the book would probably include cutting the introduction to 1,000 words, the average overview to 1,500, and the birth stories to 1,000 (some of those I have now run up to 3,500; others are under 500). That would take me to 113,500 words, or about 285 pages.

Please feel free to correct me if I'm making a jumble out of my page number estimates! I'm basing my 400-words-to-page ratio on Larsen's How to Write a Book Proposal. (Most of my proposal structure came from Maisel's The Art of the Book Proposal, though.)

victoriastrauss
01-30-2007, 06:16 AM
Forget about page count. You really can't estimate that in advance of publication (as I said, publishers have all kinds of ways of manipulating page count, and that's a decision that's made at the production stage). Nor does anyone expect you to. Stick with word count, which is the standard pre-publication length estimator.

Based on your description, I see why you're estimating things the way you are (i.e., so many words for each section of the book). 200,000 words is definitely too long. Your lower estimate is in the generally accepted target range (80,000-120,000 words, with some wiggle room at either end).

Other people might offer you different advice, but I think what I'd do would be to send your proposal as is to the agent who requested it, with a cover letter saying that you're aware that you've projected a very lengthy book, and would be willing to cut the word count down if necessary. Then re-work your proposal to reflect the lower word count, and query with that from now on.

- Victoria

KCH
01-30-2007, 08:05 AM
Chiming in to agree with Victoria. Present your project as planned, stating range, not firm word count. And express flexibility. Except for plugging in the low/high end numbers, I wouldn't tinker much with the proposal now. You've given this proposal admirable thought and work. Messing with it now, while an agent is waiting, might delay things. You want to strike while the iron is hot.

As for where you'll be able to murder your darlings....I'd wager that you'll find plenty opportunity in the mothers' stories. Presumably, these are not professional writers, so there's likely to be lots of fat you can (and probably should!) cut to the benefit of the book, not just word count. I'm thinking 5-7 stories is probably overkill too. 4-5 maybe? And on the lesser-known and not-as-prevalent methods, perhaps 2 or 3 would do.

Good luck! And congrats and the request for proposal.

blackpen
01-30-2007, 12:42 PM
you book sounds very interesting, lol. for a nonfiction book like that, i'd say the longer the better. the consumer is getting more for their money! also, books are different from short stories in the sense that you're not taking up pages that could have held someone else's story

aruna
01-30-2007, 04:02 PM
As for where you'll be able to murder your darlings....I'd wager that you'll find plenty opportunity in the mothers' stories. Presumably, these are not professional writers, so there's likely to be lots of fat you can (and probably should!) cut to the benefit of the book, not just word count. I'm thinking 5-7 stories is probably overkill too. 4-5 maybe? And on the lesser-known and not-as-prevalent methods, perhaps 2 or 3 would do.

Good luck! And congrats and the request for proposal.


This is exactly what I think. Prune those mommy stories drastically!!

Maprilynne
01-30-2007, 09:13 PM
Other people might offer you different advice, but I think what I'd do would be to send your proposal as is to the agent who requested it, with a cover letter saying that you're aware that you've projected a very lengthy book, and would be willing to cut the word count down if necessary. Then re-work your proposal to reflect the lower word count, and query with that from now on.

- Victoria

I think this is great advice. As with most long projects, we often think they are going to be way longer than they actually end up being. You may be surprised at how long/short it actual is when you are done. Like Victoria said, don't miss this window of opportunity. Send in your proposal and if the idea and writing are strong enough, the agent will work with you on the word count.

Good Luck!!!!!

Maprilynne

KCathy
01-30-2007, 09:44 PM
I'm thinking 5-7 stories is probably overkill too. 4-5 maybe?


As with most long projects, we often think they are going to be way longer than they actually end up being.

Because I have no knock-em-dead credentials (BA in Spanish, anyone?) and knew the proposal had to be fan-frickin-tastic to get an agent or editor to consider it, I decided to track down all my first-person birth story writers BEFORE sending the proposal. I just signed people up for a list in the proposal, though, and wouldn't let them write their stories ahead of time just in case an editor wanted them longer or shorter or in Greek or with a note about the writer's profession. I also told the writers of stories for my sample chapters that they were the most likely groups to get stuck re-writing. I had the bare minimum amount of sense to repeatedly warn all concerned that the theoretical future editor would be boss, not I, so I couldn't make any promises about anything at all.

I have signed up 5-7 authors for each chapter, but if you've been in charge of many voluntary group projects (one of the few credentials I could emphasize in the author section of the proposal), you know that a full fifth to a third of those who sign up just never get around to finishing. That principle held true with the ladies who wrote for my sample chapters. So even though I currently have 5-7 signed up per chapter, there's a great chance that I'll end up with 4-5 anyway. I did make sure to mention that in the paragraph introducing the stories list, so that's something I could easily bring up with an interested (please-oh-please-God) agent.

Nathan Bransford
01-31-2007, 10:18 PM
I wouldn't overthink word and page counts when you're sending out queries - in fact, I don't know that it's necessary to mention them at all (not sure what other agents have said elsewhere). As victoriastrauss mentioned, page count changes a whole lot, and it's impossible to know how long a finished book is going to be before it's written.

Honestly, when I see word count I mostly just go, "oh" unless the word count is over 150,000 words, in which case I duck for cover and run. I'm a believer in very short query letters, so word count is something that I consider one of the first things to eliminate when you're paring down a letter. It's just not that important.

Toothpaste
02-01-2007, 01:51 AM
And bigger isn't better. Because you have no credentials as you say, don't try to over sell things by going too far. More than 120 000 words is automatically suspcious, and often times the mark to an agent or publisher of an amateur. It's great that you got all the people signed up and things, that's really wonderful and I am sure will reflect well on you.