Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Writing Update #10

I'm closing in on the finish line. Current total pages stands at 375, down 1 page from last week. Currently editing page 362, up from last week's 348. That gives me a 15 page increase for the week, gets the pages remaining down to 13, and puts me at a bottom-line completion percentage of 96.53%.

I'm happy with my progress, though I have to admit in terms of pages edited that progress seems kind of dismal. It's enough to make a less-determined person give it up. Fortunately, I think I've been doing this long enough (few years now) that I know how small the steps in writing a novel can be at times. Also, this is a first-pass edit which, for me, is really the most work (besides writing the novel itself).

I might be making slow progress, but it's steady progress. With only about 1 1/2 chapters left to edit, I'm about there.

Another thing I like is the total word count, which stands at 110,599, down just a little from last week, but on target for the limit I had previously investigated.

Here's the pages edited/remaining chart:

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And the percentage outlook (with a smaller range on the Y-axis to better demonstrate progress):

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More writing progress next week when I hope to announce the completion of this first-pass edit.

Writing Update #8

A funny thing happened yesterday. I had begun editing chapter 22, which just so happens to be the second to last chapter in my book. Because of some scene shuffling, re-ordering, and previous edits, I had to change the way in which the chapter starts. I was really hoping for a big writing day. What I got was borderline writer's block for much of my writing time, to the point where I was sitting at my desk, staring at the computer screen, and nothing was happening.

Now, I don't believe in writer's block. In my case, it wasn't even so much that I wasn't coming up with anything. It was that I wasn't coming up with what I wanted. In other words, starting the chapter wasn't the problem. The problem was that I couldn't figure out how to start it the way it needed to be started. It screamed for a very particular type of start, and I just wasn't coming up with it.

So, in order to combat this, I closed my laptop and did some other things around the house: played with the dogs, treated some ant hills that had popped up after last week's rain, had some lunch. Finally, I returned to my editing, but instead of hitting the computer again I took a pen and a notepad and went outside. The weather has been beautiful out here in Texas lately, so why not? I tried different openings, free-handing it until I finally came up with what I thought was "it". I went back inside, typed it in, and started to move on, only to realize it wasn't "it". But, somewhere in that process of getting away from the computer, it finally hit me. I had it! Amazingly, the beginning of the chapter flowed from my fingers across the keyboard and onto the screen like water gushing from a spigot. It was both a defining and satisfying experience all at once.

So, given that, where does that leave me in terms of progress? Unfortunately, even with yesterday's success, my progress was not great. Here it is:

I increased my current page editing from 332 to 343 while dropping the total page count from 385 to 381. Here's the graph:

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Total percentage completion broke 90% (barely):

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Total word count is now 111,995, down a lot from last week (114,564). That's probably the best news of all because it gets me more inline with what might be considered a saleable range. This is tempered a bit by the fact that I know I need to go back and add some more detail to one character in particular, possibly even giving him an additional scene or two of his own.

More progress next week, and I think a post discussing writer's block in more detail might be forthcoming.

Writing Update #7

This previous week I think I hit on some nice writing progress. Overall, 22 pages closer to finishing this first pass edit.

I achieved that from both sides, both increasing the current page that I'm editing from 316 to 332 but also decreasing the total page count from 391 to 385.

Here's the graph:

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A little hard to see that the total pages came down, but the increase in the pages edited is easy enough to see.

Here's the percentage completion graph:

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Unlike the previous week, where it very nearly flat-lined from the week before, this time there's a nice gain, putting me at a completion percentage of 86.23%.

So, what changed this past week? I was more focused. I made a conscious effort to remove distractions and make some good, solid progress. I hate to think that 22 pages in one week is "good" progress, but this is something I do in addition to work, family, house, dogs, and so on. Still, I need to do more, and continue to stay focused on finishing. I'm enjoying the story immensely; it's by far better than my previous novel, both in content and style. I hope it's a sign I'm maturing as a writer and that I'm closer to getting published.

More progress next week.

Writing Update #5

This Monday's writing progress is coming in a little late because (1) today is Labor Day and thus a holiday and (2) my wife and I have been out all day biking and then celebrating my dad's birthday.

However, I do have some progress to report, so let's jump into it.

Let me throw up the latest graph:

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I'm currently editing page 329, an improvement of 16 pages over last week's status. That puts me at a completion percentage of 79.47%. Last week I was at 75.24%.

As you can see, my completion percentage over time is very linear:

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A few more stats: Total pages dropped by 2 to 414, word count dropped also from 123,508 to 122,866.

That's about it for this time. I'm still chugging away on editing, and I think based on some information I found and posted about regarding total word count I have a tough decision to make. I'm going to have to cut something fairly big in order to reduce the total word count down to where it needs to be. I have something in mind, but I need to finish the first pass, then take a look at the big picture before I make any rash decisions.

Till next time.

Fiction: How Long Is Too Long?

1028208_man_thinking Those of you who've been following along know that I am mired in a first-pass edit of my current novel. One of the main goals of this edit is to reduce the overall word count. Currently at 123,319 words, I still have some work to do. However, considering it peaked at 135,785 words before editing had begun, I think I'm doing OK.

Why care about word count at all? Because staying within the acceptable range is one less reason to be rejected, that's why.

Still, how long is too long? At what point do you know you're in the right, saleable range?

First, it depends on stature. Established authors have more leeway; they've got a proven track record, and a publisher is more likely to lay out the cash (longer books cost more to produce) because they are considered less of a risk than a first-time author.

Second, you have your first-time authors. Publishers want minimum risk and maximum profit, so they'll likely stick to their guns on word count unless you've produced a truly stellar, standout novel.

Third, it depends on genre.

Let's take that third one and break it down based on word count information gotten from Colleen Lindsay of the swivet blog, with an understanding that there are always exceptions to these numbers. Here's the data:

micro fiction 10-300 words
flash fiction 300-1000 words
YA fiction 50K - 80K
urban/paranormal romance 80K - 90K
mysteries/crime fiction 60K - 70K
chick lit 60K - 80K
literary up to 120K
thrillers 90K - 100K
historical fiction up to 140K
novella < 50K
space opera/fantasy up to 100K
epic fantasy 120K - 130K

I write fantasy, so the last two categories are of the most interest to me. I find those numbers a bit alarming because my book is not epic fantasy. It's more non-epic. Therefore, I need to cut out another 23,000 words??? I'm all for killing my darlings, but cutting to 100,000 words is a tough one.

Rachelle Gardner, an agent with WordServe Literary, has this definition:

Full-length fiction: 80,000 to 100,000 words is by far the best range to stay within. Some pubs will look at manuscripts from 70,000 to 110,000 words, rarely outside of that.

OK, so now we're at a maximum of 110,000 words. But she doesn't mention specific genre, which we know from above is important.

JA Konrath has this to say:

First novels have a better chance of selling if they are under 90k. The reason is wholly monetary. Your publisher will probably lose money on your first book. But a 150k book will cost more to print, more to ship, and less will fit in a carton. Cost of production figures heavily into a publisher's decision whether to buy or not to buy. 

He goes on to say this (highlighting mine):

Some genres, such as fantasy and historical romance, tend to be lengthier.

But he doesn't really go on to explain in more detail. That's OK. Joe's thing is mystery thrillers, anyway, not fantasy. (Consequently, Joe has some great advice in that post; go read it.)

So where does that leave me?

I could no doubt troll the submission guideline pages of my favorite agents and publishers and acquire more information, but I think the above more or less supports what I had originally thought on this subject. One thing is clear: I need to keep cutting. There comes a point, however, where the story itself becomes compromised. I'll have to cross that bridge when I come to it. For now, I have a new goal: 110,000 words.