Cutting a novel down to size? Here’s how!

Everything I have heard on the circuit is to cut your beast below 100 K. The reason is: It cost’s x amount of dollars to hard cover bound a book under y amount of words. It costs more for them to bind a book over y words. You are looking for someone to invest in your words. Over 100,000 words on a debut novel is a risk. Some one may be willing to risk it but chances are you will have to search longer and harder. Just know what you are asking of them.

I saw that twilight was being offered as a ashiney glimmer of hope. It has caused much debate. It has been said by the agent that she didn’t realize the WC otherwise she would have probably passed (total paraphrase)

There are exceptions to every rule but why not be EXCEPTIONAL following the rules?


There are some tried and true ways to cut word count down…

Dialog tags are a big one.  You can probably eradicate 70% of your “said” if you use them.

Too much back story.  These are all good things for you to know as the author (and you can save them for your website) but only use what you need for your reader to understand what is happening.   Ex:  You have a character that has been in jail three times.  The first for petty theft, the second for beaking and entering, the third for grand theft auto.  You can describe each of those in detail and explain how they changed your character as a person or you can summarize his/her three trips to the slammer and say he has been to the jail all three time for theft.  Started small, but his needs got greater.  All he learned was better ways to not get caught.

Go back and write an outline of your story in detail.  That will give you a better idea of what is needed and what isn’t.  Every plot point should point to the next one.  ALWAYS.  there is no running around in a long novel.  Get to the point.  give your character the straightest path possible without your story becoming lame.

Check for repetitive words:  I use the word “that” way too much.  Do a find function on word.  Look at every repetitive word you use.  DELETE with reckless abandon.

Check for words that don’t help your story (aka passive words)  again search for any word ending in ly.  You would be surprised how many you can take out without effecting the story.

Still struggling to drop some word count?  It is time to get serious.

Find one character you can cut out completely.  Many times you can have another character pick up the slack.  If you do this you get to cut the into, the different mannerisms and descriptions.  That aught to save you 500 words or better.

Find 2 chapters you can merge.  (this is my favorite when I am desperate)  If there are two chapters dealing with the same scene merge them and force them to coexist.  In order to do that you must drop word count.  You learn real quick what is necessary and what isn’t.  You chapters get rearranged some because some of the dialogue you fell in love with you will want to use some where else or a small scene that would work in chapter 7 instead of 4.  Merge another set if you can and watch your WC dwindle!

You have done everything you can and you still have a WC monster on your hands?  All right… this is bad.  Very bad.  It is time to grab your box of kleenex and your red pen.

Pick a goal.  You want you book under x amount.  EX:  100,000 words.  You have 27 chapters?  Your average chapter length would be 3,703…  Get ready with your red pen and get as close to that average as possible.  Give yourself a goal.  No more than 300 words over.  If you have a chapter that needs 500 make your self lose 200 somewhere else.

You can do it.  It will be hard but that is what the kleenex is for.

Now go shrink your book!

If you have any ideas to share leave a comment.


2 comments on “Cutting a novel down to size? Here’s how!

  1. I tend to write short. My current novel is just under 77k. However, I’ve realised I need to add in a bunch of stuff: character/world building. The problem? I’m self-publishing and Createspace charges a certain amount per page on a finished print book. I have to keep my novel under 90k, preferably under 87k, or I won’t be able to price it attractively for my readers. Same problem seen from a different direction. I hope to god I won’t need that kleenex.

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