Monday, August 8, 2011

PNWA Writer’s Conference Report



Drinks at the bar. (after pitching)

That pretty much sums up my PNWA Conference experience.

I was far more nervous pitching agents than having a job interview. And I couldn’t sleep, worrying about it. Yes, I’d love a job, but I’d die for a publishing contract. So I had 3-5 minutes to pitch some I’ve spent 2+ years on. No pressure.

I just spent the last four days working on and delivering my novel pitch (which I really didn’t change since WDC in January) and learning more about writing.But there’s one thing I learned more than any other lesson.

Write small.

I knew going in that my manuscript for Steam Palace was too long. I was terrified that they would hear that and not want to even hear my pitch. When they did ask the length, I said, “140K but I’m working on it,” with a smile. They replied, “well, I’d like to see it……after you cut it down to 100K.”


That’s a 30% reduction. I spent a lot of the conference asking authors or presenters about strategies on how to do this. I’ve come up with 4 main approaches:

  1. Trim scenes. Start them later. End them earlier. Combine two scenes into one.
  2. Cut subplots. Do we really need to know Aunt Beatrice had a crush on a guy 20 years ago and rekindles that relationship?
  3. Cut characters. Thomas was supposed to be Sophia’s love interest. But her real “love” interest is Viola. (buddy/family love) So why have two love stories?
  4. Line Editing. I figured I can reduce the ms by about 5% by removing extraneous then’s, but’s, adverbs, of’s, etc. This would be a final step once I get down to ~105K.

I think if I cut my ms 30%, I’ll actually improve it 100%. Less is more. I’ll concentrate on what’s important, leave out what’s not so important.

But once this editing is done and I send it out, it’s done. No more Steam Palace. Ever. Unless, of course, I get a publishing contract. Then it’s all Steam Palace, all the time.

Now to get out that axe and start hacking!


  1. Cutting that word count by 30% will probably make it 500% better.  My editor hammers me with this relentlessly.  Bob Dugoni has it right, I reduced my word count by 35% by just showing action instead of telling it.  Agents noticed that my pitch was succinct and invitations followed.  Carry on, you'll be great!

  2. Wonderful feedback, and thank you for sharing your experiences!  Best of luck with your WIP!

  3. Wish I had one of them editors. Jason Black gave a really good talk on show vs tell that I'm taking to heart.

  4. All four of those approaches are bound to help, Andrew, and I always keep in mind that EVERYTHING  must serve to move the main story forward (internal conflict + external conflict). That's a rule I have to consciously follow myself because I am also a big over-writer...

  5. I have the opposite problem -- most of my rough drafts are ~50-60kw, and a modern novel needs to be at least 75-80kw to catch a publisher's eye. I have to insert scenes, flesh out summaries, and add subplots, in order to beef up the novel.

    Maybe it should be write medium not small or large. It's the porridge that's not to hot or cold, but just right!

     - Eric

  6. Possibly one problem I have is too many subplots that are tangential to the main story.
    I'm revising another story and thinking about adding a subplot, but now I need to ask myself if I'm just over-adding to what's already a decent plot.

  7. My latest drafts are in that range, but they're very sparse, meaning that I'm missing tons of scenery and have a distant POV. I have a feeling upon revision they would grow fairly large without adding plot...which I'm bound to do since I love adding complications.

  8. Good luck with the editing axe!  The reception to your pitch sounds fabulous.  Keep up the good work.


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