Thursday, August 23, 2012

Manuscript Length A Thing Of The Past

I was speaking with a friend yesterday who asked me what I did with my writing. I was confused at first with the question before realizing that he didn’t read my blog, didn’t know much about that aspect of my life. After a silent and brief sulk, I told him about my blog.

He then revealed he was writing, scribbling as he said on note paper, and not knowing what to do with the poems and stories and true-life confessions, destroying them for lack of an appropriate alternative.

I suggested a blog or publication.

He returned with the comment that presenting his work to the masses was akin to walking around naked; not appealing and certainly not an option.

I thought, What’s the problem?

Of course, I had the same hang-ups, the same fear of being judged before coming to the conclusion that my fears were an excuse not to try and that in the end, any embarrassment was tolerable when weighed against the alternative of failing due to simple inaction. If people think my writing is crap, then so be it, but at least I’ve given it a chance to be judged, to be weighed and measured.

Being enlightened and refined, I of course said none of this to my friend. Instead I told him to just do it, using the stand by psychology I learned from Nike in my formative years. I’ll share in my writing, but mushy face to face stuff? No thank you.

Rub some dirt in it and stop crying, Man!

Damn the torpedos!

You know what I mean, Folks? Manly shit between manly men. I ain’t talking about fears and such with a friend, no way. Besides, I’m pretty sure that the phrase, just do it, implies all that anyway.

Getting past the mushy minefield, we moved into the merits of publishing, as blogging was met with an instant disdain. The question arose as to length of manuscripts. What is the correct length in order to publish? I’ve been thinking of this question for awhile now and this is the simple answer I gave:

Whatever length you want. If you self-publish.

The conversation veered at this point but my mind still worked on that question of length. It was the first time I had vocalized my thoughts on manuscript length, even if briefly. Manuscript length is no longer valid in the digital age tied as it was to production cost more so than any other factor and shouldn’t be a top consideration for writers any longer.

If my friend wants to publish a two page short story or poem or laundry list and charge $1,000 dollars to the public, then why the hell not?

I want to explore this more, but for now, what do you Folks think? Does anyone care about manuscript length or should they? Shouldn’t the writing take precedence rather than the business?

Or did I plant a seed in my newly writing friend’s mind that basically screwed him before he even begins?


Julia Rachel Barrett said...

Hey, we're all scared. Always.

MT Nickerson said...

Exposing ourselves via our words sometimes leaves us more naked than going without clothes.

Richie Earl (AKA Gwayne) said...

I'm on the 2nd draft of my sequel to The Legend of Finndragon's Curse. This is the final book in a 2 part series and I've been told by 1 or 2 successful Indie authors that I should make it a trilogy.

But I don't think there's any score for a 3rd book so that's it, I'm sticking at 2.

Book 1 was 90k words and so far book 2 is just 76k. I'm worried that it's too short, but don't want to dilute the story with irrelevant padding.

So I think quality above quantity is what's important.

Has anyone got an opinion on this?

MT Nickerson said...

Richie- Forced writing is easy to spot so if you try to pad a story with unnecessary content, the readers will reject your writing no matter whether you conform to a traditional trilogy format.

That being said, even though I do believe that manuscript length is a thing of the past, we still find ourselves in a transitional era in publishing. People still have expectations created by traditional publishing that may be difficult to overcome.

So, 76K may not be what Folks expect, there may be some who won't be happy and those who will think a series has to be three books. Stick with what you think the story needs. The story is the most important thing because good stories find readers no matter the format, the length or the number in a series.

Sissym said...

Hi Michael,

I have come to return the visit on Twitter, cos you are following me there. As I can not do the same, I'm following you on your blog.

Browsing the blogs is much better, because I'm curious and I like to read interesting written.

On the final question: you should not be discouraged your friend. But you must advice him to use common sense.


Vegetarian Cannibal said...

Length of your manuscript should align with the genre you're writing. You can't write a middle grade book at 200K+ words. Duh. Kids don't have the attention-span for that! However, if you're writing a High Fantasy story (a la Game of Thrones) a 200K+ novel is fine. Research other books in your genre and plan your word length accordingly. Word count doesn't matter all that much for self-published writers, but if you're going to swim with the query sharks, then definitely pay attention to genre conventions. Just my 2 cents. Prosit!

MT Nickerson said...

Why can't you write a middle grade book that's 200k+ words, though Vegetarian Cannibal? Harry Potter was far longer than that (counting the the series total) and there are many other series for younger kids such as the Anne of Green Gables books, the Judy Blume books ect.

Certainly publishers still working in print will turn up their noses, but genre length is meaningless in the long term because self-publishing is the direction publishing is going and so much is going to change.

Genre length is a creature of publishers and their concerns with money. Genre length has nothing to do with quality work and writers should ignore old conventions devised by the dying print industry.