Paper, scissors...rock

I'm wondering what happens when the author and the agent differ on what the book should be. For example, what if the agent suggests a large cut to the work, almost a quarter of the book, but fails to specify what exactly should be cut. As an author, I would rather have the manuscript pitched as is or broken in two books. Not that my prose is golden, but I strongly feel that cutting the manuscript would leave it crippled.

Let me guess. Your manuscript is more than 160,000 words?
Big fat manuscripts give me the hives.
Unless you're writing in the fantasy genre, they're also MUCH harder to sell.

Your agent, in telling you to cut, is giving you advice about improving his/her ability to sell this tome. In telling you to make the choice of where, s/he is respecting your ability to make tough choices.

You, in your reluctance, are thinking art not commerce.

I am an agent, thus commerce wins 9 out of 10 falls. My thinking is this: it doesn't matter if it's great art -no one will read it if I can't sell it.

I've had this exact conversation with potential clients. I won't take anything that's much over 100,000 words for a first novel. The plain truth is I have lousy lucky with big fat novels like that.
Maybe other agents can do it. I haven't.

In the end, this is your book. If you can't stand to perform a pageectomy on it, you need to either: find an an agent who will take it as is; write another, smaller, book; or, publish it yourself and prove everyone wrong.


Rick said...

By all means, cut.

My original ms was - wait for it - 300,000 words. Okay, it's a fantasy, but not an Endless Quest Fantasy. I was advised to cut it to 135,000. Agonizing, but I did it, and the end result has turned out to be a better, tighter book. Whether it will pay off I don't know yet (my agent is waiting to hear back from the editor who has it), but at minimum it's given the book a new lease on life.

Another Author said...

When unpublished authors ask for advice on length, I tell them anything can be cut at least 10% (based on the advice of Stephen King in his book.) Some people don't want to hear that. I then tell them "even my agent" says when you start getting over 120,000 words for most first novels you limit where you can submit. They don't like that, either. You can only give advice; you can't make people take it.

Cutting 50%? Yikes. You are a better man than I, and I hope you sell, Rick!

brainlesionssuck said...

I cut my novel from 72,000 to 57,000 words, while adding a plot line and making several other scene changes. All of this was based on my agent's advice. At first I couldn't imagine cutting one word, but as looked at my writing I saw I would say the same thing in several different ways. I cut only one scene out of the book...but went line by line shaving away what wasn't necessary. The book is so much better, tighter, funnier, because all the garbage is gone. I trust her. She's the one with the experience and I'm so glad I took the plunge and just did it.
Kathie at Housewifecafe.com