Looking over my reader reviews, the one criticism that is appears repeatedly and seems reasonable is that Stonewall Goes West was a short novel. A couple have even gone so far as to accuse me of making it deliberately short as a cheap sales ploy. There are three reasons as to why the novel was a bit on the short side, and only one is even partly about sales.
As I described in a previous blog, the novel is about 83,000 words, and word count is always a better measure of book length than page count. That is because page count can be manipulated through formatting. The standard novel length is usually quoted as 90,000 words, so Stonewall Goes West is shortish, true, but not so short as to merit fair complaint. The book is not a novella, or anything like one.
However, we could have pulled the wool over some people by manipulating the format and adding as much as 20 pages to the page count. Instead, we went the other direction and compacted the book down by over a dozen pages, so the paperback version would be cheaper. The result is the book looks a little shorter than it really is.
Editing: Where To End?
Another reason the book is shortish is because I had to chose where to end it. The next natural stopping point in the overall story arc is at the end of Act V (Mother Earth, Bloody Ground’s Part II), approximately 60,000 words later. That book would have been a book of roughly 145,000 words, and even with the compressed formatting style, it would have been at least 450 pages long.
If my book had been published with an imprint of a Big Six publishing house, I would never have been allowed to produce a huge novel like that. They would have done exactly what we did, and for good reason. A big book like that is totally inappropriate for a first-time novelist.
Editing: Eliminated Characters
The third reason the book is the length that it is has to do with direction from my editors. From the earliest drafts of Stonewall Goes West, I was told over and over again that there were too many characters, and that having so many would confuse the reader. As a result, I worked hard to pare down the number of supporting and minor characters that appear in the book.
This process of cutting down on names and faces went on almost up to the very end, and a demotion and a postponement resulted in serious size reduction during the final drafts. J.P. Smith was originally a supporting character on the same scale as Sandie Pendleton, but he was demoted to a minor character. I also had a Federal “grunt” character on the scale of Nathan Grimes who was supposed to have been introduced in SGW’s Part III, and his entry to the story was postponed until Mother Earth, Bloody Ground. The result cut several thousand words out of the final draft.
So here is my last word on this subject of the novel’s length. If I’d kept J.P. Smith as a supporting character and introduced my Federal grunt as originally intended, my guess is the word count of the book would have been something like 91 to 92,000, dead on for a typically sized novel. My editors told me to cut, so I cut.
Had we not cut, that would have increased the page count (using the same, compact formatting style) up to about 275. If I had used the trickery of an expansive, puff-up formatting style, the page count would have gone up to around 300. Yet that would not only have made the paperback more expensive; it would also have been deceptive.
Some publishers routinely go that route. I see it in books I read every year. We didn’t.