Rules are made to be broken

I just finished reading a review on a book that, unfortunately, I have no interest in reading.  What caught my attention was that the reviewer suggested that the author fix a couple of problems that editors might have a problem with…twice.  And that really rankles.

Don’t get me wrong, I think editors are a good and necessary evil when it comes to turning out a good product.  But they’re also one of the things about traditional publishing that I find offensive.

There are so many rules that authors must abide by, if they hope to be picked up by a publishing company.  Word count, a particular number of conflicts, a certain formula, format, font, margin setting… And if the author doesn’t comply during rewrites, if they’re even given a chance to do rewrites, they can kiss any sort of contract goodbye.

By today’s standards, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain) and The Time Machine (H.G. Wells) would be too short for most publishers, who seem to want books that average 50,000-75,000 words.  And Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell) would be edited from 423,575 words to a shadow of the timeless classic it has become.  Or, at the very least, broken up into a series of several books instead of one giant one.  Of course then I suppose the movie would have been treated the same, with parts 1, 2, 3….

These authors told the stories they wanted to tell.  And while I’m sure their publishers had some guidelines, I can’t imagine that they were as stringent as what ‘modern’ authors have to deal with.  I mean, really, can you imagine any publisher having the guts to tell Mark Twain that his books were too short?

What if ABCDEFG Publishing has a requirement of 50-55,000 words, but I managed to tell my story, and to tell it well, in 48,000?  Would I have to add a chapter’s worth of unnecessary prose in order to meet their exacting standards?

Or what if it took 61,500 words to tell the story that needed to be told?  Obviously I would have to do some serious editing to par the book down, possibly requiring the need to eliminate something I felt was necessary to the quality of the story.

And that’s why I’m falling in love with self-publishing.  Right or wrong, in a publisher’s or editor’s eyes, I can tell the story.  I don’t have to conform to a cookie-cutter formula.  So what if my word count is off by a few thousand, one way or the other?  As long as I start at the beginning and arrive at the end, as long as it’s a good and entertaining story, who cares how many words are living between the covers?

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