You know that thing where you’ve edited a book so often you’ve cut all the life out of it? Yeah, that.
I’ve been reading the last hardcore edit I did on Shivery Bones with an eye towards e-booking it in some future when I magically have the time and wherewithal. I haven’t read it in a year and a half. This is the first reread where I think the edit has actually damaged the book. I went from 122k to 109k and that seems to have stripped some of the flow and life. Understand, we’re talking about a first draft that came in around 150k, which was definitely bloated and in need of cutting. But I think now that 122k version may actually have been pretty tight. The last edit cut into bone.
Certain parts of the manuscript are better for that cutting, but other parts have a disjointed, lifeless feel. I’m considering going back to the the non-eviscerated versions of those scenes/chapters.
Some books can be cut down to bone and still retain life, but not all. I recently read a novel by an author I love. Her series tend to be magically imaginative and inventive, and her books are usually big. It doesn’t matter. I love being in them no matter how long they take to read. But she’s not on the bestseller lists, not quite, and I’ll bet you anything her publisher started blanching at those big manuscripts. I say that because the current book, part of a series I’ve loved as much as the author’s other books, is much shorter than previous ones. Throughout the reading, it felt incomplete to me, missing beats, wanting something that kept slipping through the fingers–cut to the bone and unable to quite articulate itself as those bones clattered along. A large part of the life had been taken away. I intuited that it had once been there, but no more.
In the current publishing climate, this is happening quite a lot to midlist writers. Even to some bestsellers, I hear. It’s a dirty, crying shame. These are half-books, not allowed to be what they naturally are. E-books, in the other hand, don’t have to be as skinny as paper books to “turn a profit.” (Though, don’t get me started on shaky publishing accounting. Better you should read this post by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.) (Thanks, safewrite, for the link.)
E-books don’t care if you go a little long. Which is not to say they shouldn’t be edited and made as tight and crisp as possible, but you don’t have to kill them in the process. They don’t have to rattle along like a defleshed skeleton struggling to keep itself in one piece.