Friday, September 18, 2009

Writing a "Big" book.

Just when I thought I was nearing completion on the editing for Noah Zarc, I read "Writing the Breakout Novel" by literary agent Donald Maass. He makes the argument that best sellers aren't made by good marketing and sales efforts, they depend more strongly on the writing. Duh! But it is surprising how often I read on the blogosphere about marketing, and how your novel will never sell unless you spend a vast amount of time promoting your book. Maass says a writer should be writing. If an author ever wants to move beyond average sales, or dwindling sales in the case of mid-career novelist, then they need to learn how to write a "big" story. He emphasizes this does not necessarily mean a long novel, but it should feel big. I call it "epic".

So, as I attempt to apply this to Noah Zarc, I find there are elements of "bigness" in it, but the plot could use some strengthening too. Where I'm struggling at the present though is with word count. Most sources I've read say that a middle grade novel should be about 30,000 to 40,000 words in length. Noah Zarc stands at about 54,000 words. I don't mind pushing the envelope a little bit, but I feel it is probably too long already and should be cut. However, I also have some ideas that I believe will make it much bigger, much more epic in scope. Except I'm sure those additions will push the word count even higher.

As I've said in previous posts, I am a firm believer of working within guidelines. That is why I became a graphic designer instead of a fine artist. One puts food on the table, one doesn't (as easily). So I'm not going to brush off the word count guidelines only for the sake of my "art". Nevertheless, I'm feeling pretty constricted by it, to tell the story I want to tell. Perhaps the answer lies in the sequel. Hint at greatness in the first book, but then really open the spigot on the second. But then I risk not snagging my audience (agents, editors, and readers) by writing a book that doesn't really get going soon enough.

As you can see I'm pretty conflicted on the subject. Any words of wisdom would be greatly appreciated.


ellsea said...

That's a pretty tough call. I think you should home in on the "big" (epic) elements and figure out how to bring them into the book, and then look at the "smaller" subplots/elements for those that can be cut altogether or significantly trimmed to deliver a single stonking read. Sometimes it's tricky to see where you can cut when you are close to a novel you're happy with ... maybe a good crit group and/or partner might give you some pointers ;)

D.M. Bonanno said...

It sounds like you've thought it through fairly well. I think the most important thing you hit on was the "feeling constricted" part. Don't let anything constrict your writing. The writing demons within you will revolt. Write the story, write what needs to come out and you can trim later. In my own writing, I let it flow, and trim out what is no longer important because as your muse digs out those gems, you may put a higher value on those than the ones you think you have. Give yourself room to work. Typing words really has no comparison to fine art vs. graphic art.

Good luck!! :)

Susan Quinn said...

I'm also writing a MG SF novel and have just typed those alluring words: THE END. I'm not as far along as you (I've just completed the first draft), but I'm looking forward to polishing it up and starting to query. I'm also curious about the word count issue (mine is skimming 60k, but will get shorter), and remember reading on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog that SF is generally expected to go a little longer, given all the world building involved:,guid,206b7c46-366e-4356-8cae-8d13621819e8.aspx

What do you think? And how goes the querying effort?

Best of Luck with your writing!

Susan Quinn said...

Also, what did you think of your local SCWBI conference? I'm signed up to go to one in November.

D. Robert Pease said...

Susan, as first-time authors, I think we need to very cautious when pushing the envelope on word count. Yes, I've read that SF and Fantasy tend to expand the boundaries, but I've never heard that in conjunction with "middle grade". Even in Chuck's article they are two different categories. I do not want word count to be an issue that might help a prospective agent decide not to request the manuscript. If down the road I become published then it most likely won't be quite as big a deal. It is my goal to get Noah Zarc under 50,000 words. That would still at the top end, but I think that, plus calling it "upper middle grade science fiction" might help justify the word count.

D. Robert Pease said...

Our local SCBWI conference (Northern Ohio) was wonderful. They had several publishers attend, and the workshops were fantastic. This was the first one I attended, so I didn't know what to expect, but I felt it was well worth my time. In the future I may try to get to a larger, national conference, but overall I highly recommend it. My only disappointment was there were no agents there.

Susan Quinn said...

I think you're right about not pushing the envelope and tagging it an "upper middle grade" - which is where my story really belongs, due to subject matter not just length.

I almost attended the Northern Ohio SCBWI conference! It's not far from IL. I'm hoping my MS will be ready to share by the time my local SCBWI conference comes around in November. An agent (Stearns) is running a panel, but mostly I'm just checking it out, since this is my first time through.

Keep in touch ( and good luck!

D. Robert Pease said...

Susan, if you are able, sign up for a critique session at the conference. If you can get one with the agent even better. Getting feedback from an actual person in the industry is huge. I signed up too late for the conference so I wasn't able, (although I got great feedback from a local author).

When you are comfortable, and have your manuscript through a round or two of edits, I'd love to read it. I've done a few novel swaps with other authors and find them to be very beneficial.

Susan Quinn said...

I would love to novel swap! I have a critique group, but most of them are not YA/MG writers, and I think it's very helpful to have someone in the genre look at your stuff, and have another YA fantasy writer I've done some exchanging with.

I signed up for a 5 pg MS critique (written), so I'm looking forward to seeing what they make of it. I'm going to try to be "pitch-ready" just in case there's an opportunity, but I'll probably just be making contacts, maybe hand out some cards.