You’ve slaved for countless hours over your masterpiece to make every bit of detail precise and perfectly worded. You’ve slashed, edited, and rewritten dozens of times, and now you think your manuscript is just right. But you keep on receiving rejection letters from all the publishing companies you submitted your manuscript to. You feel like you have done all you can, but still you are falling up short. Where are you going wrong? Why isn’t your amazing idea coming across to publishers?
Publishers Are Overwhelmed with Submissions
Publishers have a huge amount of submissions to slush through. It’s highly likely that with such enormous number of submissions, future bestselling novels fall through the cracks. Margaret Mitchell, author of literary classic Gone with the Wind, received thirty-eight rejections from publishing houses. J.K. Rowling received twelve rejections before Bloomsbury accepted her bestselling Harry Potter series. One of the thirty rejection letters sent to Stephen King told him that his story Carrie would be incapable of catching an audience’s attention; when a publishing company finally accepted his manuscript, it sold over one million copies in the first year alone (Litrejections; Huffington Post). Some authors take criticism and revise their stories, maybe even rewriting them altogether. Others just keep submitting until someone takes a chance on them. For some hopeful authors, persistence may win out in the end, but it could take years upon years. There is a way to improve your chances of earning that treasured acceptance letter.
Killing Interest with Excessive Detail
You’ve created an amazing backstory for your protagonist, spent hours crafting perfect scenery, and rewrote the main character descriptions over and over. You want it to be just right. Well, sometimes this can be the problem.
Of course, detail is essential to a story. Readers need to know where they are and who is talking. However, bombarding your readers with pages and pages of detail without any significant action will almost always make them put your book down. Readers do not need to know on page one that your main character hates potato salad because of the time in third grade your main character vomited for hours after eating potato salad at a picnic. Readers actually might never need to know that, unless for some reason potato salad is an important plot point for your story.
Even when the detail is meaningful, too much of it at one time can backfire. For example, if your novel takes place in some alternative universe, do not use every foreign term on page one. Readers must be eased into it, or else they will likely abandon your book for something else. In the case of publishers, they will throw your book into their large rejection pile, and that is what we are trying to avoid.
Using the Pace of Revelation to Your Advantage
How do you find the right balance between providing enough detail and not overwhelming your audience? The trick is to find the right pace of revelation, or the speed in which you reveal important plot points and character backstory. You should not reveal all of the juicy tidbits of your protagonist’s life in the first page or first few pages, but dropping in one or two details will catch the reader’s attention.
This is even more true for scenery and world description. If you are writing a fantasy, dystopian, or science fiction novel, you likely have new terms or even a whole different world to introduce your readers to. This doesn’t need to be tackled within the first page. Follow the same idea of proper pace of revelation. Use maybe one or two new terms within the first page or two, and make it clear to your readers that this world is entirely different from modern day Earth, but focus mainly on plot and action before description. Your readers will catch on gradually to the new world as the story unfolds. Even if the world description is fascinating and beautifully written, most readers start to tune out when they read pages of description without any reason to feel attached to the book yet.
The bottom line is that you can use the pace of revelation to your advantage. The best writers will dangle interesting information in front of readers, giving just enough to keep readers sated but dying for more. Think of all your favorite books. You’ll find that most likely all of them exercise this same writing trick. Now it’s your turn to experiment with it (especially of the first page).
5 Steps to Removing Excessive Detail
- Read your first five pages as if you were a first time reader without any of the background information you have as the writer. Underline any instances where readers may become confused or overwhelmed from the amount of detail being used.
- Examine every sentence you underlined. Put a star next to any passage that you find essential for the reader to know from the very beginning. Most likely, much of the detail can come slowly at later times. However, some of the underlined material needs to be introduced from the start for your story to make sense, and this is the detail you want to keep.
- Remove the unnecessary information and reread your first few pages to get a sense of where you are now. You might have cut out a large amount of words, but that is okay. The next few steps will help boost your word count.
- Further explore those few descriptors you starred. Expand those ideas and make them more interesting. You only need one or two of your main brilliant plot points to initially gain the reader’s attention.
- When in doubt, add in action. Characters and worlds are typically best built through your characters actually being in motion and interacting with the world around them.