Going on a Diet

There are a number of situations where bigger is better.  Here’s just a few examples, and I’ll try to keep them safe for work:

1.) Sodas – For just x (% of original price)  more, you can get (x*2)% more soda.  Sure, it’s not good for you, but the volume discount adds up quickly.  This happens with a number of foods, and they’re just dying for you to do the math and think that you’re coming out ahead.  In instances such as soda, the added cost is mostly for having a larger container, as the cost of the soda itself isn’t that much per ounce.

2.) Trucks (or so I’m told) – “I have no need for your flimsy four cylinder engine.  I have a V-12, and I could tow the space shuttle, if I was asked.”  Okay, while I know people who are like this, I’m just fine hauling my bike with my puny four cylinder, thanks.

3.) Movies – Imagine a deep voiced dude saying this: “Twice the explosions. Twice the superheroes. Four times the gore. Ten times the love.  This summer, spend enough to feed your family for a week to take your family and see…” The sad reality is that this advertisement, given the right backdrop and the right actors, might just draw people to this movie in droves. A movie trailer with the flavor of the month in a spaghetti strap top will almost guarantee it.

4.) Food – If you’re absolutely starving (and eat meat), which of the following sounds better to you — everything else being equal: a 16 ounce porterhouse steak or a 6 ounce cut of veal?

5.) Football – A general manager has a choice between two tight ends who performed identically in the 40 yard dash, caught as many passes in the combine, and have a very similar percentage of body fat.  Which one are they more likely to choose: 6’2″, 220, out of Sacramento State; or 6’4″, 260, and out of Ohio State?

Why aren’t books the same?  Yes, there are many notable exceptions to the rules, but the books that sell, or at least the books that sell to publishers, fit a somewhat precise model: a certain length for a certain genre.  The problem with having these hard and fast rules for new authors (because, let’s face it, the Danielle Steeles of the world can do what they want, when they want) is that so many of the truly exceptional authors don’t adhere to these rules.

For instance, I was told that my novel should be between 90,000 and 100,000 words.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with this measurement, this is somewhere in the realm of 290 to 330 pages, average text size.  As you consider this figure, consider the books that you’ve read recently.  Also, consider that my book is targeted toward adults (definitely not for the kiddies).  How many books have you read that are less than 290?

Here’s just a small sampling to try on for size:

George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones, 298,000 words (the shortest)
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s / Sorcerer’s Stone, 76,944 (the shortest)
John Steinbeck, East of Eden, 226,741 (one of his longest)
Stephen King, Cujo, 126,685 (one of his shortest)

The preceding list are all good books, all popular books, and each greatly varies in terms of word count.  I can see where Martin is a bit long for some, but the first book is one of the shortest in the Song of Fire and Ice cycle. I might be in the minority here, but books like the Sorcerer’s Stone and Cujo feel like sprints to me.  Meanwhile, I can invest more in the worlds of King’s longer works, which top out at nearly 500k apiece.

There are many books — many excellent books — that top out at 50k.  Animal Farm, for example, is under 30k (by some estimates). I wouldn’t dare compare myself with a titan like Orwell, or put his work down in any way, but there are times where I want a book that I can finish in a couple of days, and there’s times where I want to return to a book, week after week.  If binge-watching shows on Netflix has taught us anything, it is that people like to invest in a story, and often like to do it so much that an episode or two is not enough.

I am in the process of querying agents. I hope to write more on this process later.  In the mean time, I’m going on a diet; I need to lop off a gigantic portion of my book in order to fit into most agents’ criteria.  In doing so, I will have to take away the depth of some of my characters.  At least one will go from a strong secondary character to a blip on the radar.  It’s an interesting exercise nonetheless, and makes me hope that someday I can publish it “complete and uncut.” And I’m doing all of this because bigger isn’t better.  No, not at all.

Just ask the publishing industry.


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