Cutting Words: The Challenge of Dividing a Manuscript

Cut it in half.

That’s essentially what the New York agent said upon reviewing my current manuscript, “Eros and the Sacred Masculine.” After two years of writing and another year of editing, this wasn’t exactly the news I wanted to hear. Her professional opinion is that a large book will be a difficult sell because publishers want a book half that size due to price restraints, making it competitive, and what most consumers will buy.

While it’s true that the publishing world is changing rapidly (especially with the advent of digital publishing and e-books) and that the playing field is being leveled in favor of authors, there are still advantages and disadvantages on both sides.

For now, the fact remains that a book has more clout when a traditional publishing house puts it into the world. There is also a larger initial print distribution (including the ability to actually find a physical copy in a bookstore). On the downside: for an unknown author the advance tends to be minimal these days; the author earns approximately a dollar (or less) a book; and the publishing process will take roughly two years before the book hits the market.

With the changes in the industry, seventy-five percent of all books are now self-published. Though the burden of promotion lies solely with the author, he or she earns significantly more from each book sold and retains all the rights (rather than the publisher). Once it’s edited and has a compelling cover (this is still essential), it can be available almost immediately thanks to print-on-demand technology.

For a couple of days, I sat somewhat dejectedly with the agent’s advice and found myself leaning towards self-publishing. It has been very difficult for me to conceive of drastically shortening the book, as I felt any significant cuts (say, omitting several chapters) would compromise the overall vision. Yet simultaneously, I trust that Ms. New York Literary knows the business of writing (and sales of books) far better than I do. Even if I self-published the book, perhaps there was merit in attempting to scale it down to make it more accessible, price friendly, and competitive.

There’s a saying among writers: Kill your darlings. In fiction, it’s generally taken to mean kill off your favorite character(s). On a wider scale and in non-fiction, it means be wary of any piece of writing you’re especially attached to… because you may have difficulty being objective about it.

Until two weeks ago, I thought the book was essentially finished and ready for a publishing house; now I realize that if I truly want it to succeed, it needs a whole new format. And a new title. A revised business proposal, too. It also needs to be firmly rooted in one genre rather than bridging multiple different ones.

Pondering how I might shorten the length while emphasizing the key messages, I reached the (reluctant) conclusion that the manuscript should actually be two books. The ‘takeaway’ of each could then be razor honed and concise, not lost under too many layers, words and pages.

How ironic. I thought I was approaching the finish line but I’ve just crested the hill and discovered there’s another hill yet ahead. Maybe it’s the last one on the race, or maybe not. Surprisingly, I’m willing… and somehow I have the strength, energy, and determination to go on.

Still, I’m afraid it’s a case of ‘kill your darling’.

I’m choosing to significantly revise the work, scaling it down. I will offer a few tempting dishes rather than an elaborate twelve-course feast that simply overwhelms. I have always had a deep-seated trust and conviction that the book will find its way into the world, and that the guidance for that process will be clear. And because of the curious, organic way this has all unfolded, I trust in the mysterious guidance leading me forward to a very different sort of book.

As with so much of the creative process, the manuscript did not evolve in a linear, planned process but rather an organic, spiral one—always Nature’s preferred shape—and it changed me considerably in the process. My entire worldview was altered and expanded in the writing of this book. And through the kind words of a trusted and wise friend, I realize that the process is still spiraling me forward in my personal evolution.

Our visual sense tells us that the things we perceive around us are ‘objects’, rather than an ongoing, changing ‘process’: life is a constant stream of energy. As a Soul Artist, my task is to remember—and embrace—that everything is an evolutionary journey.

I’ve learned more from watching water flow than anything I ever gathered in school. Rather than resisting, clinging to my precious vision, or plowing ahead with my own stubborn will, I choose to flow like water around this seeming obstacle and continue forward pulled by the unseen force of gravity. Or mystery, fate and grace.

When the book(s) is finished and out in the world, I trust that I will look back on this decision and say, of course it worked out that way, it was exactly what needed to happen.

In the meantime, stay tuned: “Eros and the Sacred Masculine” is about to begin tracking forward again on its evolutionary spiral, carrying me with it.