There are millions of people around the world who are making New Year’s resolutions to lose weight. Almost all of them will fail.
I had a long relationship with someone who was overweight. I got to see the process first hand, played out year after year. The current diet fads. The yoga. The countless celebrity exercise videos. Quack diet pills, wasted gym memberships, a progression of workout machines (the last one was not used even once, I believe), weights, jump ropes, online self-help groups, books…
None of it ever worked, of course. I tried to help but it was no use. Her personality was simply hardwired to obesity. It was a sad time when I finally had to tell her she was just too fat and it was time for me to start a new relationship.
By the way, I’m not talking about fat people. I’m talking about fat books.
Obesity in manuscripts is almost as prevalent as obesity in people. This is when the story branches off into unnecessary digressions, wordplay, social commentary, subplots, descriptions… A book should start at the beginning, tell what happens, and then stop. If you are doing more then you are overeating.
Sometimes when you are blinded by love for a book you don’t see it is too fat. I needed an editor to tell me the harsh truth. That book was morbidly obese. No one would ever pick her up at a bookstore.
At first, I tried to get my manuscript on a diet to get her to a healthy weight. It was the literary equivalent of a fat camp or seaweed diet. I tried calorie counting: cut out adjectives, adverbs, every instance of the word ‘that’ and unnecessary metaphors. That didn’t work so I tried liposuction and extracted a subplot and supporting character. This might have succeeded if my book was simply a bit chubby, but it failed because she was hardwired to obesity.
The problem with this editing approach is the same as the problem with the diet fad approach with people. At the end, you still have something obese. You know what I’m talking about. Probably everyone has read a book that only had 100,000 words but was still too damn fat.
Instead you need to start fresh. That doesn’t mean you have to completely reject your book like I did, but it does need a new life. This is exactly the same as how an obese person needs a new life to really lose weight.
But wait, some of you are saying. This is intolerant. This is prejudice. This is fat shaming of worthy chubby literature, you say. What about literary social justice? What about fat book acceptance? Some of us just happen to like every sweaty kilo of our Victor Hugo and all of Ayn Rand’s chins. You take your anorexic Albert Camus and bony little Amélie Nothomb and get the hell out.
I concede that there is indeed a market for big books. But most big books aren’t fat; they are just larger than normal. Think of a professional basketball player: they are gigantic, but they aren’t obese. The Count of Monte Cristo is enormous, but I don’t consider it fat. Don DeLillo writes big books, but they aren’t unhealthily chubby. True obesity has an extremely small literary market of fat book fetishers.
Normally big books are accepted once you know the author. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is much larger than Philosopher’s Stone, but by the time of its publication we knew J.K. Rowling and were willing, if not eager, for a bigger book. Once you have the relationship you can afford a little flab.
If you are taking your manuscript on a first date with a reader, it is a good idea to make sure it is slim and in shape. Let’s be honest. At first glance there aren’t many readers who will be interested in a waddling, gasping novel. But they will give consideration to something with prominent hip bones and a nice thigh gap. As do we all.