The Pain of the Long-Cutting Novelist

I finally did it, fretting and stewing and twisting my long socially distanced hair — I cut my verbose science-fiction novel down to a more acceptable length.

Originally I claimed it was a mere 168,000 words long, although in reality it was more than 10,000 words longer than that.

As a rough rule of thumb, a typical novel might be around 90,000-100,000 words (and shorter in some genres).  In the science-fiction genre, it is acceptable for it to be longer due to world-building requirements.  Around 115,000-120,000 might be an upper limit, I’ve read.

So I’ve spent the last couple of months “murdering my darlings” as such severe editing has been described, shrinking the manuscript down to a more publisher-friendly 116,000 words.

As result, I think it is better paced and focused, while keeping the main threads of the story that I wanted to explore.  But it was a definite challenge.

Prior to that, I had been sending query letters to literary agents in North America without any response other than occasional form letters of disinterest.  (This is understandable as their time is valuable and apparently out there resides an earnest horde of would-be novelists.)

I wanted to improve so I sharpened up my short and long synopses, and developed a much better pitch in the body of the query. (A beta-reader and friend helped me with these efforts.)

My pitch now is:

A thousand years in the future, the Earth is failing, and civilization barely hangs on. A young archaeologist, Nick Himinez, desperately eludes a ruthless politician’s clutches by escaping to space after the man murdered Nick’s parents. Nick vows to bring him down while the politician rapidly gains global power and pursues Nick relentlessly. As they confront each other on a moon of Saturn, Nick is forced to choose between fulfilling his revenge and embracing a last-ditch opportunity for humanity offered by a powerful, but dying, alien race.

A literary agent very shortly after I made these changes to my queries responded to me as a living human being!  She strongly suggested that I really needed to shorten the novel.  She made no commitment but said I could re-query if I could get the novel to lose its wordy weight.  That was so heartening, even if it goes nowhere.

So back to the query-letter fray, and see what happens.

And also back to working on a second novel — got to keep writing! — set in the same universe as the first but in a much earlier era.  I have missed elaborating the characters and story of that while forced to pursue the loneliness of the long-distance writer (to go off on one of my elliptical references).  And with a little more prep, that first draft will begin!

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