Sometimes bad news is a very good thing.
A little background: my manuscript, WHISPERS IN THE CANYON, was (in what I thought was a cut and polished state, like a rare diamond if you will), 120,000+ words long. But feedback from many quarters said “That’s too long”, “It’s not the optimal size for publication”, “Agents will reject a first novel of more than 100,000 words”.
I needed to optimize my chances at publication, right? So I managed to cut the novel down to 104,000 words. And then the queries went out, the contests were entered, and a request came in for the first 25 pages. Wonderful news, right?
Not exactly. A few weeks later, the agent replied:
Thank you for the opportunity to consider WHISPERS IN THE CANYON. I like the tone you set in these pages and I can see the potential for greatness in the characters. However, I found the writing to be abrupt; I couldn’t become fully immersed in your story because of the brusqueness.
Wow! Characters with potential for greatness! WOW!
But abrupt? Brusque? Never heard that before. But then, all but one of my advisers and beta readers had looked at the long version. I didn’t wait for everyone to re-review it after the cut. Could it be true?
A very quick look told me, yes, it was true. In fact, I’d have to say the agent was very nice about it. The 25 pages I sent her read more like bullet points than a story. I had gotten so caught up in reaching the magical 100,000 word mark, I didn’t stop to let the true composition of the work affect me. I was blind to the fact that the essence of my style got away. I was paying attention to the number of words rather than their quality.
So how is this bad news good? If the agent hadn’t taken the time to give me her personal critique (which she was under no obligation to do), the short version of the manuscript would have gone out to every future requester. It would have continued to be rejected, and rightfully so. But I might never have known why.
I’m going back to the long version of WHISPERS IN THE CANYON, making some minor adjustments (because there were short scenes and some verbiage that actually absolutely needed to be cut). But if the end result is 118,000 words, then that’s what it will be. I’d much rather be rejected for a novel that’s too long than for one that’s poorly written.
So you’ll have to excuse me now — I have a thank-you note to write.