Friday, 15 October 2010


Now here's a question I've been wrestling with for the past few weeks: what price artistic integrity?
Which leads to the next question - why do I write? - and leads to a basketful of other questions, all raised by one simple but rather thorny issue - wordcount.

Leaving aside the resounding silence following the submission of the completed book to Publisher #1, identifying the next publishers on the list to be graced with my submission raised a persistent problem - wordcount. A typical submission criteria required by those publishers most suited for my book often includes a maximum wordcount, which Witherstone in its final and unabridged form exceeds by quite a bit...
...and having in those same few weeks been persuaded by an insistent writer colleague to enter Witherstone into a certain competition, the questions have been compounded as there is of course a maximum wordcount for said competition which comes a good 2 chapters before the end of the book.
A serious (and I mean serious) edit of the whole manuscript in the subsequent weeks has got it down pretty impressively, losing some bits n bobs but keeping the story & its integrity intact & something I'm still happy with - but still way over the submission criteria.

So what next?

Don't bother with said competition & publishers with maximum wordcount criteria? That's certainly an option, but I do actually want to get it published. And I console myself that if I did manage to get Witherstone published, and it sold well enough, then said publisher would be happier for the subsequent books in the series to be a little longer (eyes glancing at ever-increasing girth of certain well-known series for younger & cross-over readers as each book came along as I speak...)

So, currently tinkering with earlier parts of the story as alternative endings - not such a major problem in a significant respect as the earlier finish would merely mean that the excised two chapters or so move to the beginning of Book 2 instead, and there are a couple of really good places Witherstone itself could finish quite well. And it would be foolish to ignore a goodly batch of potential publishers, and a relevant and prestigious competition.
But. Where it finishes at the moment is the best one. That's why it finishes there. The alternatives all have merit, and merely mean that the next part of the story begins in Book 2 instead of ending Book 1. But. Still BUT. That's not how I want it to end. And that's not how my daughter thinks it should end (she was gasping for Book 2 as soon as she put down Book 1, which is, of course, exactly the effect we wish to create). And the book itself thinks it should end there too.

So... not a fun pun but rather ironic all the same. Do I write for its own sake or write to be published?



  1. Hi,

    I need a purpose to provide the motivation for writing, the prospect of being published (or winning a competition) is that purpose.

    I do write short pieces for a monthly writers' circle. Even then, I'm always thinking about those pieces as potential competition entries.

    I do like being my own boss when writing. No-one's telling me what to, unlike the day job. I can be very pragmatic when there's a publishing opportunity, though. Flambard Press wanted 'Scars Beneath The Skin' cut from 76000 to 70000 words and I can't remember thinking about artistic integrity!

    I'd guess that many people run out of words before reaching novel length. Surely it's a better position to be in, to have too many rather than too few words?


  2. hi Andy,

    thanks for this. I'm going with the cutting as I guess that's what we have to do. Interesting that you had to cut "Scars" by so much as you wouldn't think so when reading it, so that makes me more hopeful.
    I seem to be taking your advice all over the place - I'm doing the lists of prospective publishers so I can note any feedback I get when the rejections come rolling in, as you said you do when we were chatting at Word Soup at The Continental a couple of months ago... you'll have to start an advice column!

    cheers Andy,


  3. I treated every rejection letter as a full stop and a signal to start a new sentence (ie send out another submission). I think I might have become donwnhearted if I'd run out of agents and publishers, but I still had a lot more to work through when I got the good news.

    Handily for me, there was a 6000(ish) word section in the middle of 'Scars Beneath The Skin' that was almost a self-contained short story. I liked that section, the publisher liked it a lot, but we both agreed it wasn't essential to move the story forward. If anything, it delayed the entrance of Lucia, the lead female character, and her appearance is way too delayed as it is. I've subsequently submitted that deleted section, with some slight edits, for the Guardian Short Story Prize and the BBC Short Story Prize. I'm quite keen on recycling where possible!

    Really wanted to go to the Halloween Word Soup, by the way, but had an interview for an IT job the following day. Bit too much on my mind for a night out, it's the first interview I've had after a few months of sending out my CV. Hope it went well, looked like a great line-up.


  4. It was a great night - despite some supernatural technical Gremlins. Hope the interview went well!