It wasn’t in the draft submitted to the publisher (a cold submission, with no agent, pure slush to a tiny publishing company), which is amazing, because the final, published word count for Lifers was 39,616. Thirty-nine thousand words. This barely qualifies as a novella, much less a novel. So the fact is, the book was even shorter when I originally submitted it. The fact also is, I am a lazy, lazy man. If I ever become supersuper famous and powerful as an author, expect my novels to start being about 5,000 words long and written in bullet-point fashion, in huge 24pt type. Or possibly expect to be contacted by my people to write some novels for me, which might be better, if slightly more expensive.
But I digress.
When the publisher contacted me about buying the book, they were looking at it from a “Gen-X” point of view. For those of us too young to be Gen-X, this was back when being a twenty-something in the 1990s meant you were automatically a desirable market. As opposed to being middle-aged in the 2010s and realizing no one wants to sell you anything. YOU BASTARDS! MARKET YOUR AWFUL ENERGY DRINKS TO MEEEEEEEEE!!!
When I spoke to the editor on the phone about the book, he told me he thought the only thing the story needed was, in a word, sex. This was his sole editorial note. Looking back, this should have been some sort of warning sign for me.
Anyways, I was delighted with the offer to publish, of course. They were offering me $1000 as an advance, which in 1999 dollars was actually like $1003 today, and as a percentage of my gross annual income was about 75%. So, yeah, I was excited. Do you know how many packages of Ramen Noodles you can buy for $1000? LOTS.
I thus took his sexy suggestion seriously, though I wrestled with it for a bit. After all, I’d never been seriously edited before, and was generally convinced of my innate genius. The book was perfect! This clashed with my desire for the immense riches my debut novel was sure to generate for me (HA!), so I decided I would read the book over, see if there was a place for such a scene, and if so, write it. Then I could decide if I’d just ruined a perfect story, or improved it, or maybe just left it neutral.
In the end, I wrote a scene wherein the narrator has a one-night stand. It’s ridiculous and humiliating in that he’s almost not a voluntary player in it, and I ended up liking the scene a lot, as it speaks to the character a bit and it’s also one of the few scenes in the book where the narrator is apart from the other main characters. It ended up being a good addition to the story, though I don’t give that much credit to the editor at my publisher, who, I don’t think, even read the new manuscript when I turned it in. For him, he just wanted some sex in the story because young people like sex. End of story.
Of course, I was not put on this world in order to write erotica. Believe me – please! – this is not my purpose in life. We should all, in fact, take a moment to bow our heads and offer a moment of thanks that I have not been asked to repeat this experiment.
The lesson there, if there is one, is that any feedback or revision to a story has the possibility of improving the story. It doesn’t matter what the genesis of the note is. All that matters is what you do with it. That and that you can, apparently, sell a 40,000-word “novel” without an agent, a clue, or any clear idea of what a contract means. Incompetence, ho! And also, too, writing a sex scene involving stuffed animals, shame, and painful regret is not, apparently, sexy. At all. Or so I’ve been told.