A few months ago I was offered a novella in a collection to be published by Silhouette Romantic Suspense this fall. My editor ran through the requirements: had to take place at Christmas, had to be a reunion romance (people who’d been together in the past), had to have a suspense thread — and, oh, yeah, had to be 20,000 words. I was nodding, going “Uh-huh,” on the phone after each requirement until the last one. I would have laughed hysterically if I hadn’t stopped breathing.
I don’t “do” short. Never have. I have turned in four manuscripts in my career that were in the 140-150,000 word range. If they ask me for 90K, I give ’em 100K. Right now I’m supposed to be doing 60K books, but darned if I don’t have to struggle to get them down to 62,000.
This book came in, with my best efforts, at 22,384. So I spent the last day before shipping it reading through and cutting, cutting some more, cutting even more. I emailed my editor and asked if there was any wiggle room, and she said she could let me have an extra thousand words. So I cut more.
I love cutting other people’s words when they need it. My friends have a standing offer when they just can’t find any more to cut. But when it comes to my own . . . I lovingly wrote those words . . . or pulled them out of my uncooperative brain one at a time. It’s really hard to see what’s not necessary. A brief exchange may be funny or clever or telling about the characters, but when you’re in a word crunch, it’s got to go. And it’s hard sometimes.
Granted, by my second-go through the manuscript, when I still needed to ditch 600 words, I’d pretty much lost all attachment to the words. Hero telling heroine “I love you”? Heck, that saves me three words. Heroine’s little warning speech to the bad guys that saves the hero’s life? Can’t she just say, “Run, Josh”? That cuts another thirty words.
What about y’all? Do you tend to write short or long? (If it’s short, I hate you.) Can you set a specific word count and arrive dead-on or nearby, or do you not know how many words your book will be until you’ve written the last one? And how do you feel cutting? Love it, hate, a necessary evil of the job?