Writer and critic Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch once famously penned this piece of advice for aspiring writers: “Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it – whole-heartedly – and delete it before sending your manuscripts to press. Murder your darlings.”
This was later rephrased by William Faulkner as “Kill your darlings.” In both cases, they are exhorting writers to not get too attached to their writing that they leave in fine sentences that add nothing to the overall work. Get rid of them, even if it hurts. Especially because it hurts.
This is generally applied to sentences and bits of paragraphs. A nice turn of phrase will stick around because we love it, not because it adds to the story. It also applies to those large swaths of our works that get pared down during the editorial process. That 140,000 word manuscript? Your editor demands you make it 100,000. For your own sake and printing costs, you might want to pare down your self published work in similar fashion.
I was discussing this with an author here at WorldCon (his name escapes me), and we came up with a few alternatives made possible by new publishing tools. There is something we can do besides murder our darlings, something that only makes sense in the digital age.
The first thing we can do is remove entire chapters and plot arcs and turn them into short stories. Published digitally, these sidequels (as Matthew Mather dubs them) can offer extra story to print readers and serve as entre and samplers to digital readers, perhaps leading them to the larger work. Instead of murdering your darling, tell her it’s time to move out and get a job.
This second option really appeals to me: The Director’s Cut. You might publish a 100,000 print edition and a 140,000 e-book. This would only work if you’re able to give away the digital edition to all print purchasers, though. I wouldn’t want to force readers to double-dip. But this way, they could get a signed copy or something to keep on a bookshelf and still get the larger story on their e-reader.
Or what about printing the first handful of chapters via CreateSpace in a separate edition? A 40 page book printed via CreateSpace costs less than $3 to the author. People here at WorldCon are handing out bookmarks and flyers that aren’t cheap to print. How about a sample of your book, instead? Hand out a hundred of these, signed, to the sort of rabid fans WorldCon is known for. Cheaper than advertising and probably more effective. Next year, you might see me at WorldCon handing out copies of the first WOOL book in lieu of business cards. Or maybe I’ll be resurrecting the chapters I’ve deleted over the years, the darlings I’ve murdered, and send them out, reanimated, to shuffle into your e-readers.