09 Jan 36. How to Cut 30,000 Words from Your Book
Most new authors worry they won’t have enough to say.
But it doesn’t matter if you’re writing your first book or you’re an experienced author. You can still end up with a manuscript that’s too long for the genre you’re writing in.
If your manuscript turns out to be too long, that’s totally fixable.
In this episode, I walk you, step by step, through the process to shorten your manuscript–even when it hurts–and make your book the best it can be.
For more writing tips and inspiration, follow me on Instagram @candiceldavis.
Hey there. Welcome to Nothing but the Words, I’m your author coach, Candice L Davis.
Last week, I talked about how to deal with rejection, a reality every author must face, but I completely forgot I was supposed to address another topic first.
In episode 34, I shared how long your book should be, depending on the genre, so in this episode I want to share how I help my coaching clients and editing clients cut their work when it’s too long.
Right now, I’m helping a client cut about 30,000 words from her manuscript which is more than 100,000 words. She doesn’t want to publish a 400-page. And her book doesn’t need all that content to serve her readers.
I contend that having too much content is actually a good problem to have. She has more than enough for her book, so as we cut we can keep the A+ work and cut anything that falls below an A-.
It’s not always easy for authors to cut a story they love, a concept or a captured moment that really matters to them, but cutting the fat is doing your readers a favor.
They don’t want to wade through any fluff to get to the heart of the book.
Cutting also does you a favor because you’re likely to get a better response from your readers—better reviews, more word of mouth, and more book sales—when your book is no longer than it needs to be to tell the story or serve its purpose.
The way I’m working with my client to trim her content is the same way I advise other people to do it for themselves.
Before she started writing, my coaching client created a fairly detailed outline for her book. Before making the cuts, I had her actually go in and add more detail to the outline.
It’s a how-to book, and for some of the chapters she hadn’t included the case studies and anecdotes she wanted to share. So I had her add those to the outline along with the specific tips shared in each section.
Having all of this in one place gave her a global picture of the book. She can look at one document and see if anything is repetitive or redundant. She can see if anything can be combined.
If your book is too long and you didn’t have an outline to begin with, that’s not a problem.
You can reverse engineer an outline.
Before you begin this process, I suggest you take a week or two, or even a month, away from your manuscript and come back to it with fresh eyes. You’ll see things much more clearly.
If you already have an outline, just fill it in with more details.
If you need to reverse engineer one, start by making a list of all your chapters.
If you’ve written a memoir or novel, list every scene that occurs in each chapter.
If your book is narrative non-fiction, personal development, or professional development, list the scenes and events and the concepts covered in each chapter.
You really want to be detailed with this because it can save you a lot of time in cutting.
Get super honest with yourself about what needs to be in the book and what can go.
Keep your one perfect reader in mind.
Keep the purpose of your book and the message or theme of your book in mind.
Anything that doesn’t serve the purpose and support the message in a way that will resonate with your one perfect reader can be cut.
It doesn’t matter how much people love that story.
It doesn’t matter how cool that concept is.
If they don’t serve the reader, the purpose, and the message, they should be cut.
Anything that’s repetitive or redundant should also be cut.
So if you a story about how your grandma bought you your first laptop in chapter three and then you tell it again in chapter twelve, it probably needs to be cut from one of those places.
You may want to refer back to it in the later chapter, but there’s a better than average chance that you can sum it up in one or two sentences and not repeat the whole story.
Before you make any cuts to the manuscript, save a copy of the existing version, so you always have it to go back to if you need it. No need to panic if you realize you want to put something back.
As you cut, cross those elements out of your outline and get the full shape of it before you make changes to the manuscript.
I like to do this with Post-it notes on a whiteboard or index cards on a corkboard. It’s a visual, tactile experience and makes it easy to see what you’re working with.
Each chapter gets a column and each scene or story or concept gets a card or Post-it note. If you cut it, it comes off the board.
When you feel good about the shape of your outline, it’s time to start cutting from your manuscript.
If you have lots to cut, like 30,000 words, there’s a good chance that you’ll still have more cutting to do even after you’ve made changes at this high level.
Start from page 1, and read through the manuscript with an eye for cutting. If you took 5 paragraphs to say what you could’ve said in 3, cut.
If you find long, unwieldy sentences that can will just confuse and exhaust the reader, cut.
Look for repetition, redundancy, and irrelevance on this level. If the story is important, but a line or five in it are superfluous, cut. They may be beautifully written but if they don’t serve the content, let them go.
Don’t rush this process, and don’t rely solely on your best friend, who promised to read your book and is really good at writing, or even your editor to help you with this process.
Take ownership of your work. If you enlist the help of a book editor or an author coach, be very clear with her or him that your goal is to cut a certain percentage of the book.
Make sure your coach or editor knows who your book is for, how it should serve your reader and how it should serve you, and what the message of the book will be.
It’s so worth your time to cut anything that doesn’t serve your book well. The best books aren’t the longest—though there are some great books of every length on my bookshelf.
The best books are written by authors who care enough not to give their readers anything that can stand in the way of the story or the information in the book.
The best books have been honed down to include only what’s needed.
The best books are written by people like you, who were willing to put in the work even if it took a little extra time to produce something great.
That’s all for today’s episode. If you enjoyed it, come over and connect with me on Instagram @candiceldavis. I’m sharing writing tips and inspiration to keep you writing to “The End” over there, and I’d love to connect with you and see how your writing is progressing.
Thanks for listening to Nothing but the Words. I’m your author coach Candice L Davis, and I’ll see you next time.