A Man, A Plan, A Contract: Cutting Word Count to Cut Print Costs


      Do you hear that?  It sounds like the shriek of grinding metal mixed with the sorrowful wails of countless tormented souls.  No, Cash Douglas didn’t hit the wall again.  It’s actually me.  When I finally completed my A Shot at Redemption manuscript nearly a year ago, I truly believed I’d dotted my last i and crossed my last t.  After all, the book is already published and available right now in Amazon’s Kindle Store.  I haven’t sold a ton of copies yet, but the reviews and feedback I’ve received have all been extremely positive.  That’s wonderful and I really do appreciate the kind words.   By the way, I encourage you all to get in the habit of writing reviews or at least rating the books you read and enjoy.  It makes a huge difference, maybe not to the Stephen King types but certainly to the authors a bit lower on the literary ladder.    There are a lot of us and we need all the help we can get (insert sincerity emoticon here). 

under construction     So back to my manuscript.  It’s under construction once again.  I am endeavoring to delete, cut, slash, incise, chop, trim, sever, or otherwise remove a minimum of 20,000 words.  Why, you might ask, would I do such a thing?  Simple.  The one question I’m asked more than any other is when will your book be out in print?  I don’t have an answer to that yet.  What I do know is that print costs are staggering.  I wrote a suspense novel.  The average length of a book in that genre is around 120,000 words.  Mine topped out north of 206,000.  The longer it is, the more it costs to print.  And for a totally unknown commodity  like by Michael Sova, that’s a double-edged sword.       

     With certain authors, I’ll say Ken Follett this time, it may take 100,000 words  just to get warmed up.  His publishers don’t blink an eye because they know anything he writes will  sell.  He backs that up by cranking out one great book after another.  In economic terms, that’s called low risk–high reward.  It’s an entirely different scenario for a new author with a debut novel a good bit longer than the industry standard.  Once you enter the realm of high risk–low reward, publishing contracts are a lot harder to come by.  In a nutshell, my hefty manuscript wasn’t doing me any favors. 

     As Billy Joel sang in The Entertainer way back when, “If you’re gonna have a hit you gotta make it fit so they cut it down to :3.05.”  That doesn’t just apply to popular music.  At first, I didn’t worry much about word count because I planned on pursuing one of the many print on demand options.  In other words, I was releasing a bootleg.  I really didn’t see the need for an agent or what’s now called a “traditional” publisher.  I assumed I could to it on my own and please don’t confuse me with the facts.  Can you say rude awakening?  I checked out a few different companies.  Based on the length of my book, I was looking at print costs ranging from about $9.00 to, and this one totally floored me, $34.00.  That’s cost only, and doesn’t take into consideration things like, shipping, handling, or something called profit.  If I have to charge upwards of $34.00 just to break even, what’s my price point if I actually want to make any money?  I may as well price it at $1,000 because no one’s going to shell out that much for a paperback anyway.  If print on demand is what I end up doing, and it is still a possibility, a shorter book will be better for me and likewise better for my readers.  And so, the revisions continue. 

     A Shot at Redemption is sort of a niche book because the main character is a short track race car driver.  You don’t see much of that in mainstream fiction.  Actually, I’ve never seen it at all.  Because of that, and because the manuscript took so long to finish, I didn’t spend much time trying to find a literary agent.  I decided on my own that it would be a tough sell, so rather than sending out hundreds of queries and then waiting around to be told what I thought I already knew, I went straight to self publishing.  I know now that I was a bit too hasty.  I recently had the opportunity to interview Campbell Award winning urban fantasy author Mur Lafferty and I asked her about the biggest mistake she sees new authors make.  She said, They ignore “the man” and run straight to self pub when their writing isn’t accepted immediately. There’s a fine line between self publishing something of quality because a publisher can’t find a home for it, or you have a readership you know you can reach, and rage-publishing your first novel after you get a rejection that hurts your feelings. The process of dealing with “the gatekeepers” does more than hurt your feelings, it makes you a better writer because it often points out things that are wrong with your writing.       

     For the record, my decision to self publish was not based on rejection.  I didn’t even give rejection a chance.  Yes, I have an audience I know I can reach.  I also believe in my heart that my book would be enjoyable to any fan of the suspense genre.  I was selling myself and my readers short by not at least trying to get a publishing contract.  I’m thankful to Mur for opening my eyes.  Once I find that publisher and the book is finally in print, Mur Lafferty will be near the top of my acknowledgements page.  In the meantime, I’m sending out query letters every day.  I’m working on the manuscript as well.  I’ve trimmed roughly 8,000 words so far.  I still have a long way to go but I know it will be worth it in the end.  The book will be stronger as well. 

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