Hey friends. It’s been a while. About a month ago I was fortunate enough to have a lovely and talented editor volunteer to read through NML and give feedback. Megan is a member of the Inkwell Council, which had critiqued my first three chapters earlier, and she liked the story enough that she wanted to read the rest. Basically, she’s awesome and generous and wonderful. Her edits and suggestions were invaluable and I think the story is much stronger now, plus I feel like I have a cheerleader in my corner who really wants this book to succeed, and that’s THE BEST.
As I prep to query this summer, I’ve done a lot of research on story structure, agent expectations, and query letters, and one issue that I got stuck on was work count. The expectations for YA word count varies more than most genres, especially for Science Fiction, and I worried that an inappropriate word count might lead an agent to skip right over my pages. But, how to decide what the word count must be when some websites say YA should never go over 80k words, while others say that a YA SciFi story less than 90k is a red flag. Ugh. No Man’s Land is technically “soft science fiction” or “SpecFic” or “dystopian,” which are each genres of SciFi that generally are less sciencey (made up word.) I often hesitate to label it dystopian (although it IS) because the word conjures visions of populations gone feral, burning rubble, etc, and No Man’s Land takes place in a shiny, clean “Utopia” with sinister undertones. Don’t they all have those, though? 😉 SpecFic is pretty broad and encompasses any story in a “what if….” future or alternate present. Straight up SciFi is generally more far-future, space ships, aliens, etc. Anyway, point is- it’s tough to get a read on ideal word count for this type of book.
So I pored over guidelines and agent Q&As and decided in the end that the safest bet was to aim for 80k, which fell right smack dab in between the “don’t you dare go too long!” and “don’t you dare go too short!” Chicken Little blog posts stressing me out the most. At the time of this decision, my manuscript was about 87,500 words.
I had already decided that I needed to get to the action faster in the story, so I knew where to start cutting. I spent a few days examining the first few chapters, emailing questions to Megan, and deciding where I could cut without losing the flow of the story. Once a few scenes were cut, and a lot of unnecessary description was trimmed, I went through the rest of the book and snipped and shaved off words here and there. The weasel words (that, was, saw, felt) vanished and the prose got tighter and more efficient. It was actually kind of fun.
In the end I managed to shave off over NINE THOUSAND words, while ADDING two scenes. *takes a bow* Thank you, thank you.
I finished that round of edits in time to apply to another contest. This contest pairs experienced editors with a writer of their choice for five weeks of intense editing. At the moment, each editor is compiling their short list of applicants and they will email requests for additional pages in the next few days.
So now I wait and refresh my inbox. Wish me luck.