OK, we knew this was coming… 120,000 words is too many for a commercial book these days, especially for a first-time author. It makes the font smaller and the book thicker and more expensive to produce and ship, not to mention intimidating the average reader. Or so the logic goes.
Personally I like longer books (as long as they’re good). It provides more space for setting up and playing out scenes, and more scenes to play out the larger narrative. Eat Pray Love has about 120,000 words (if my estimation based on words-per-page is correct), and a fairly small font, and I didn’t hear many readers complaining.
Then again, she was already an established midlist author.
Anyway, I got my manuscript of Fast Times in Palestine back from the copyeditor at Seal, thinking it would just be a glorified spelling and grammar check. How wrong I was! It’s true that it was mostly small corrections for style and consistency, but mixed in were a large number of comments, suggestions, and changes that really improved the overall text. It was truly a joy to see an excellent copyeditor at work — a joy and an honor. The hours I spent yesterday poring over her edits will, I think, help me become a better writer.
She mentioned in her notes that after going through it once for style and clarity, she was asked to go through it again with an eye toward reducing the word count from 112,000 (I had already reduced it a bit by the time I sent it to Seal) to 90,000. A reduction by 22,000 words means cutting approximately 60 more pages (out of 330, which I had already cut down from 350). Ouch.
She didn’t quite get there — she cut about 15,000 words and left the rest up to me. Here’s what she’s proposing to cut so far:
Anwar Mecca restaurant in Amman and the “bill-paying ninja” line
The wedding in Ramallah where I borrowed the slinky amethyst gown
The letter from Rita about Christmas in Bethlehem when she was a kid (you can read the full letter about one-fifth of the way down the page here)
The New Year’s trip to Jericho (based on this story)
The part about the rich Palestinian’s mansion in Nablus (included in this blog post)
Gunpoint (where two friends and I are held at gunpoint in a taxi cab)
Thuglife (where Darna gets shot up by Palestinian guys with guns, included in this blog post)
Bab al Shams (where I watch a movie that encapsulates modern Palestinian history, including the Nakba)
The visit of my Jewish friend Cameron to the West Bank, including Hebron
Dinner with a Suicide Bomber’s Family
Israeli Musicians Discover Ramallah (based on this article and my own experience)
Sultans of Swank (comparing the PA to a Vichy regime)
Also she didn’t like the name of Chapter 5: “Ramallah — Palestine has its own beer?” She wants to call it just “Ramallah” or something similar.
It’ll be tough to lose all of this, or any of this. But I think a slightly smaller book will be better for sales (and for my back when I’m carrying boxes of books for events). And most of these stories can stand on their own and be published elsewhere, possibly to help market the book.
But I do have a couple of things in mind to fight for.
And I’ll be happy to hear your thoughts!
P.S. As I’ve mentioned before, I will have to stop selling the self-published version of my book on August 1. So these next few days are truly your last chance to get the full, complete, and unadulterated version of my book.
You can get the paperback here, and the eBook here (for only $2.99, with lots of color photos). People in the UK and Europe can buy the version printed in the UK and pay only local shipping here. Happy reading!