If two writers move house, by far the worst job is transferring the books. When we did we hired two guys who cheerfully manoeuvred unwieldy items while we took the small stuff. Finally it came to our books. Hundreds of boxes of books, 20 years' worth of greedy collecting. It was like one of those biblical epics where slaves build the Great Pyramid, block by block, all day. For the first hour we joked with the cheerful chaps about how boring it was. For the rest of the hours after that, we wore lobotomised stares.
Publishers are well aware that moving books takes time and money. That - and hundreds of other factors including the size of book that looks good in a shop - means there are certain book lengths that aren’t profitable. As I found when I wrote Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and How to Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence.
Why I wrote a writing book
For years I've critiqued novels, helping new writers to polish their books to publishable standard. Invariably, many of the problems are in the structure. A character's arc peaks in the wrong place, or they don't have an arc at all. Back story is clogging the start. The middle is a mass of same-old scenes where characters talk and drink tea.
Whenever I mention this I know what comes next. Panic, and the words: 'how on earth do I do all that?' It’s like I’m telling them to start again.
But I happily disembowel my work and look for bold changes that will squeeze more out of my story. I thought the most helpful thing I could do is write a book about how I do it.
I also know a lot of people who start writing and fizzle out, so I added how to plan, research and organise the writing.
Voila, a complete guide to writing a novel. In 40,000 words.
My agent said: ‘it’s very good but can’t you make it 80,000 words’?
Tsk, but that wasn’t the point. Everyone has shelves of writing tomes that they mean to read. Like diet books, they sit on the shelf as displacement for the real thing. Nail Your Novel came out at 40k and it didn’t need to be any longer. For heaven’s sake, these people have books to write.
I self-published. On Kindle, its dinky size doesn’t matter. Ebooks can be exactly as long as the material requires. Even better, you can have it beside you as you write (no need to jam the pages open or crack the spine) and follow step by step. Which is exactly how the book is designed to work.
Or not too wee?
Not too wee at all, it seems. Rather like Goldilocks and the third porridge, it seems just right. I’ve had thrilled emails from readers saying ‘this gave me exactly what I needed’. ‘I never thought I’d finish a novel and now I have.’ Visiting an author friend, I found the print edition on his desk. 'You don't need that,' I said. 'I use it all the time,' he said.
It’s even crossing desks in high places. Another friend - a senior editor at a Big Six publisher - saw the print copy on my hallstand and said 'can I take this?' 'Get off,' I said, 'it's too short for you to publish'. ‘I don't want to publish it,' she said, because she's like that. 'I lose days every month writing letters to tell promising authors what revising a novel really means. All the writing books are incomplete or full of waffle. I'm going to tell them to buy Stephen King and this.’
And as Kindle has emancipated my writing book, have the Morrises decided to abandon the colossal paper library for an ether one? No. We buy books two ways now, and twice as many. May we never have to move again.
Roz Morris is a bestselling ghostwriter and book doctor. She blogs at www.nailyournovel.com and has a double life on Twitter; for writing advice follow her as @dirtywhitecandy, for more normal chit-chat try her on @ByRozMorris. She also has a novel: My Memories of a Future Life