Although If a Butterfly went through many revisions before it was complete, it shrank and grew as I worked. It was at its heftiest (in terms of size) in March/April 2012. At that point it weighed in at 311,032 words, and was 1,151 double-spaced pages long. To be fair, many of the pages in the first draft contained copious notes (“cut the strike-throughs in this paragraph,” “move this to Chapter 22,” “find a better way to say this,” “talk to someone at NASA”). The notes padded the number of words somewhat, but didn’t account for more than a half-percent of the total. The book was clearly too long.
When I finished the second draft early in June, 2012, I had reduced it to 280,762 words, and 1,093 pages (a loss of 30,270 words and 62 pages), and – yes – I killed some of my darlings.
After the WLT Agents Conference near the end of June, armed with much feedback, I charged into the fray again, and spent another couple of months killing a few more darlings (see Trimming the Beast Down), and this time ended up with a word count of 252,879 and 960 pages (another 27,883 words and 133 pages slimmer), although the darlings fought harder this time.
I decided to take one more stab at trimming and polishing before I sent it out into the world, so part of September and October were spent discovering that a few chapters could go completely, or their essence could be covered in the space of a few words or a short sentence or two the next time that character appeared. Most of it was harder, though. I spent the majority of the time looking at each sentence, trying to see how I could tighten a phrase, or throw away an unnecessary word, but still maintain the integrity of that sentence and its place in the world of the book.
Tough going, but this time I ended up with a book that’s 236,797 words, and 908 pages. Is that too long for most agents to take a chance on it (especially from a first-time author)? Probably, yes, but it’s a far better book than it was six months ago. Am I going to shelve it and banish it from the light of day (which in this day and age means burning it to something more permanent than a hard drive – even though it’s backed up onto three external ones already – and sticking it in a box behind some other CD’s)? No, I’m going to send it out. One agent expressed (enthusiastic) interest in it, and another said (somewhat generically) they would like to see it. Neither of them probably knows how long it is, and that may kill it with them, but their feedback could be valuable information when I decide to what to do with it next. And, who knows, they might like it enough to take a chance on it. Hope springs eternal…
Next up for me is working on the second draft of my thriller, The Jagged Man. It is shorter, and genre (with a bit of a twist), and I did have some interest in it from the few agents I pitched it to at the WLT conference.