Monday, March 5, 2012

Self-Pubbed Freedom

If I hadn't decided to try out self-publishing (and if services like Amazon's KDP and Smashwords weren't around to make that choice possible) I never would have been able to get stories like Swordsman of Carn Nebeth or Three Fingers of Death published. Even though they are perfectly good and I'm sure lots of people will like them, they're just too awkward a length. I can't think of even one professional venue that publishes novella-length fiction, though I imagine there are a couple out there.

I've been thinking lately of another little detail that self-published authors don't need to worry about as much, and that is cutting their stories down to size. Story length matters a lot less in digital publishing in any case. Printing costs are nonexistent and shelf space is unlimited (at least, in the physical sense).

I mentioned in my last post that the mantra of the writing world is "cut, cut, cut." Beginning writers are often told to cut every last unnecessary word out of their story. This always struck me as odd. We are writers, not chroniclers. Arguably, if a 'word' is entertaining then it is necessary. It certainly wouldn't do to simply state the cold-blooded events of a narrative - that's not a story, it's an outline.

I've always wondered how much of that pressure comes from the publishing industries worries about cost versus how much comes from actual concern about the best methods to tell a story. I'll bet that a lot of really good passages and wonderful character development has ended up on the cutting room floor over the years. It's the same thing that happens with movies: to hit a target 'theater length' a lot of scenes have to be cut out and the movie often ends up as a sub-optimal specimen until the inevitable (in these days of DVD releases) "Editor's Cut" is released. A lot of the time? Those Editor's Cuts really ARE better.

Might not the same be true of novels? How many writers have had to cut out perfectly good material because it wasn't essential to the plot? As I've said, very few things in any novel are truly essential to the plot. The element that matters is whether or not it will entertain the majority of the readers - if it adds to the quality of the book.

That being said, it makes it all the more imperative to know what adds to the quality of the book. For damn sure there still needs to be some cutting going on. It just doesn't need to be as drastic. The publishing industry impressed on us the need to do things with as few words as possible - it would be easy to fall into the trap, when self-publishing, of disregarding the value of a good lean piece of storytelling for something pudgy and fat.

Now, I don't want my stories ultra-lean or fat. As always, the optimal spot lies in between. "Fat is flavor" but it isn't substance. I'll do us all a favor and leave the meat metaphor behind (it was making me hungry anyways) and summarize that point I'm slowly realizing: Cutting is still important, but maybe we can afford to lighten up with the knife.

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