Trimming the Fat

Posted by on Jul 2, 2017 in Blog, writing | 0 comments

Trimming the Fat

I should really exercise and eat better. That’s a given. And someday soon I’m sure I will, hopefully before my arteries congeal and the sort of stupidity inducing aneurysm that seems to be inflicting our current resident of the White House happens to me. (I mean seriously, this man is mentally messed up, what’s WRONG with this fellow? But I digress…)

After attending my first writer’s conference and pitching to agents, it’s an event I’d highly recommend if you can afford it. I came away with three requests for more pages, though none wanted the ultimate “full manuscript” that I’d hoped for. I’ll run down the three and tell you where things stand.

Agent 3: Third on my list, generally represented young adult and middle grade fiction, though was open to adult. Did represent my genres.

I got a really bad vibe from this agent, who was the last one I pitched to during the conference. They made very poor eye contact, seemed distracted during my pitch, and didn’t ask any follow up questions. The vibe was so bad, that even though they requested the first twenty pages, I have yet to submit anything. This is a two-way street, and I want/need to like the person I’m working with as much as they want/need to like me. RESULT – nothing submitted.

Agent 2: Second on my list, generally represented young adult fiction, but was enthusiastic about adult fiction as well. Represented my genres.

I got a great vibe from this agent, the first one I pitched to. They were engaged, laughed at the appropriate funny parts, asked a couple of good follow up questions, seemed really enthusiastic about the romance portion of the fantasy story. They requested the first three chapters, the most of any agent. I followed their guidelines (from their website and from what was told to me at the pitch session) and submitted pages two days after I returned home. RESULT I received a form rejection two days later.

Agent 1: First on my list, represented adult fiction in my genre(s) (all genres to be fair) exclusively, and definitely hit all marks for me.

I got a respectful, courteous vibe from this agent. They were engaged, made great eye contact, laughed appropriately. At the end of the pitch, they complimented me on it, noting “it sounded like a query letter” (which it was, skimmed from my attempt to learn how to write a good query letter and modified to fit the time frame we had). They asked a couple of good follow up questions, but was blunt about the length of the work. 120k was considered too long for a debut fantasy novel. But they did request the first ten pages. I left pleased at the pitch, but feeling like I hadn’t managed to impress them sufficiently to get the result I hoped. I sent the requested pages (again following all the guidelines I received) the day after returning home. RESULT – Five days letter I received a personal note stating they liked the voice, but there were a few weaknesses in the writing. Asked me to revise the sample and resubmit.

Revise and Resubmit – this is actually a very positive result. It means (from everything I’ve read) that the agent sees there’s something there and wants to see if it can be improved and/or if you can take editing directions. In this case, the edits suggested were about word choices, especially “was”. A little too much passive voice. Definitely fixable. I made the changes and had the sample back to them in a few days and am currently waiting to hear what they think of the revisions.

In the meantime, I took that advise and swept the whole document to see how much I could edit from it based on those thoughts. They were right: I used passive structure a bit too often. Though I tried to keep my sentences active – looked, ran, jumped, stroked – I too often went with structures like “was jumping” or “was stroking” or “could see that”. I spent most of this week and all day on Saturday going through the document.

There was also a character with a couple of totally non-critical scenes I decided to cut. She made no sense in the narrative, and served more as a way of teaching Hammond what he already learned himself through the course of the story. I cut those two scenes out, working one that had some other important parts in it.

The upshot: I cut 12,000 words from the document in seven days. It rests at a tick over 108K. Right in line with market expectations. Other than re-working those couple of scenes, none of the cuts were painful. All told I saved around 7,000 words through line edits, and the other 5,000 were those scenes. I trimmed the fat of my story, so to speak, and it’s leaner and better for taking up the advice and putting it to good use.

Will it sell? That remains to be seen. But I’m cautiously optimistic. Re-reading it again, I still think it’s a good novel. Pretty damn good for a first (technically second) book for any author. I’d be proud to see it on book shelves and in the hands of readers. And more proud now that I’ve done a fifth round of line edits and improved it further.

Go through your novels. Look for weak verbs and verb structures. Look for the “was something” and “could have something”s that appear in it. Don’t waste your time and search for “was”, you’ll kill yourself because of the commonality of the word. Instead, read each line out loud. It really works in helping you find the weaknesses. Look out for overuse of “that” and “had”, you can trim many of those. For example:

He had placed a huge stuffed moose near the front gate and had a squirrel piñata hanging from the elm tree that stood in his back yard.

Trimming changed it:

He placed a huge stuffed moose near the front gate and hung a squirrel piñata from the elm tree in his back yard.

Those seemingly minor edits cut four words from one sentence, and tightened up the structure. You can easily find these when you speak them. Try the sentence with “had” and without, and you’ll see whether or not it makes sense without the additional word.

So, final thoughts: pitching good. Cautiously optimistic. Editing important. Revise and Resubmit a good result. Me tired after working in the hot, hot sun to hang my new flag. I’m going to go eat something fattening and lay down. I’ll get around to trimming my own fat later.

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