In my last post I mentioned some slashing and hacking happening in the BTSAT Racetrack book. It may sound a bit dramatic to be chopping out a third of the book, but it's actually pretty normal. We cut at least that out of Jo's Journey, a way more difficult task as that was a work of fiction and it's kind of tricky to excise big chunks of a story without things feeling rushed or choppy. In the case of Jo's Journey, we needed the length to fit within the Orca Young Readers format. These are short novels with a large typeface intended to encourage readers who may still be feeling a little intimidated by fat novels. The books also include a few interior illustrations. Interestingly, Orca doesn't restrict content or vocabularly, so these aren't really hi-los, but rather, they're just short. Granted, in a short, short novel there isn't a whole lot of room for sub-plots, but it's amazing what one can fit into a little book like that.
The Behind-the-Scenes book is being cut for slightly different reasons. F&W is publishing the book in full colour with lots of photographs. The design is also supposed to be nice and open, with lots of white space on each page, plenty of sidebars and so on. I can't tell you how delighted I am with these decisions. A non-fiction book for horse-loving kids should have lots of photos of horses and horse stuff... and these days, black and white just doesn't cut it any more. Neither does a cluttered design with great long blocks of dense text. The plan for the book is all fine and dandy aesthetically speaking, but there are very real fiscal restraints at work. The cost of printing a full colour book, even offshore, is high and the costs rise with each signature added. Meanwhile, back at the retail end of things, there is only so much a consumer will pay for a book. If the book is for children, that amount drops. So..., despite the fact my original manuscript (pushing 100 pages) went down very well (remember an earlier post in which I said the editor felt we could proceed directly to the copyedit?) it was just too long.
Rather than slashing whole chapters (that would have been too easy!), I pruned the designated 30% evenly from the entire text. The first 5-10% was easy - most manuscripts easily contain that much fat in the guise of adjectives, repetition, passive verbs, and sentences that can be easily rewritten. The next pass was a little tougher - that's when each sentence is examined to see if it is really necessary, how much it adds to the text, if there is some way to combine one section with another to get the same information across. Another 10-15% was lost with that kind of process. The final cuts were hardest (by this time, I'd already lost 25 pages from the manuscript and it really felt like there wasn't anything else to lose!). Red pen in hand and bandaids close by, back through the manuscript I went again, removing some stuff I really liked but which wasn't, strictly speaking, absolutely necessary. On this draft I did quite a bit of shifting of information out of the body text and into slightly longer captions, getting rid of any duplication that might have existed between the captions and the text. The final section (additional resources) I cut completely, thinking that perhaps we could incorporate that into a teacher guide or on the website (which reminds me, I must get Dani to add a new section to my website. She has been busily re-designing it as the design was really looking pretty old and tired).
So at the end of it all, I have a much leaner manuscript that still has plenty of information for kids curious about life at the racetrack. Now we'll see what the editor thinks!