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Authors Seeking FREE Betas > Time slip love story set in First World War - good feedback from literary agents, but they want big cuts. Should I kill my darlings?

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message 1: by Catherine (last edited Aug 17, 2018 06:42AM) (new)

Catherine Taylor | 4 comments Hi there

I hope I am posting this in the right place - if not please do let me know!

I have written a literary/upmarket time travel love story set in First World War England and France. I’ve had quite a few full requests from literary agents, and a couple have asked me to revise and resubmit - which I’ve done. The novel now stands at around 134k words. The trouble is that it still seems to be too long for an agent to take on, and I am being asked to make further substantial cuts.

Now I don’t want to delude myself - I know that publishing is a business, and that agents expect novels to be in the tightest possible shape before pitching them to editors. And as a reader I myself can usually tell pretty much straight away where a novel needs tightening. But I have already cut my novel back from 200,000 words. The scenes set on the WW1 battlefield seem to be the bone of contention - the agents feel they are too long and don’t add much, whereas I love the scenes in question and feel they are pretty essential in describing my male protagonist’s - I have one male and one female protagonist- developing state of mind.

It would be amazing to get some completely unbiased feedback from Goodreads readers who enjoy speculative historical fiction, as opposed to publishing professionals. I would be happy to self publish if that’s what it takes. Please let me know if you might be interested in reading my novel and I will send it to you in any form you wish.

Thanks so much!


message 2: by J.R. (last edited Aug 17, 2018 05:27PM) (new)

J.R. Alcyone | 303 comments Hi Kate,

I'm not the ideal reader for your story because I read mostly straight historical fiction versus speculative, but I wanted to weigh in on your conundrum as a fellow author.

I think getting feedback from beta readers is a good idea. My understanding of the HF genre is 100K-120K is what agents look for. So my guess is you're getting rejected outright because of your word count. As you identified, publishing is a business, and the longer the work, the bigger the risk, and this is magnified when you're a new author.

On the plus side, they've identified where they think you should cut, and to me that says they see potential. On the negative side, you don't think those are areas which should be cut. While you want your writing to be tight and focused, you can DEFINITELY over cut a manuscript.

Ultimately, I think the way I'd approach this is take what you get from your beta readers and then think about what's most important to you. Traditional publishing means you don't have to cough up costs. There's a level of prestige and validation to getting picked up by an agent and ultimately a publisher. They'll help you with marketing.

On the negative side ... Well, you're seeing the negative side. You give up control and need to play by their rules.

Indie publishing requires you to cough up the costs. It's less prestigious. You have to work with free lancers and take responsibility for your project. But...You maintain control of your work. And if you were to say go with putting your book into Kindle Unlimited, you get paid by the page read by your book's borrowers, so a longer work isn't necessarily a bad thing (assuming it's not overlong for the wrong reasons). The book remains your book, the story stays your story, and you can do with it as you like.

So -- it may come down to ... How important is being traditionally published to you versus keeping your story the way you like it?

Just wanted to offer some things to think about; I've got a 108K word literary fiction novel I'm planning to go indie with; I didn't query because I didn't see an agent as seeing any commercial value in my story. That's not to say I think my story doesn't have value; I just don't see it as being something which is going to appeal to publishers who are looking to make $$$. As you said, it's a business.

If you do decide to go indie, I'd be happy to share some of the names of people I worked with. Either way, I wish you the best of luck with your story! :)

message 3: by Catherine (new)

Catherine Taylor | 4 comments Jen thanks so much for your detailed reply and your great advice. I think you have nailed it - my novel as it stands is too long for a conventional publishing deal. And yes, I need to decide what is more important to me - my scenes or the chance of a deal - you sum it all up so well, and I can see you’re a writer! It’s such a hard decision to make. I appreciate that you have also had to weigh this decision yourself. I am so glad that the indie route exists now for books that don’t fit into the usual mould. But is it my imagination, or has the conventional publishing industry’s model of what it deems publishable become even more restrictive and formulaic than ever, to the detriment of imaginative, unusual books that don’t fit the usual mould? Maybe this is partly in response to the explosion in self-publishing...? I honestly don’t know. All I know is that my friends and acquaintances who’ve read my book have had a vastly different reaction to it than agents! Thank you for your offer if contacts - I may well take you up on that.

All the very best

message 4: by J.R. (new)

J.R. Alcyone | 303 comments Kate,

I think what you're saying re: it becoming even harder for more unusual or imaginative books to have a chance in traditional publishing is true; I think the traditional publishers are under stress not only from authors choosing indie publishing (going indie is becoming more and more accepted as the quality of indie books keeps rising), but also from the market fracturing as people choose other forms of entertainment. Publishers have had to tighten their belts and as a consequence, they are less likely to take risks.

Another option would be to try small presses with your book. Many of the small presses don't require an agent and they are often more willing to take some risks. The downside is small presses can go under pretty quickly, so you want to be careful of protecting the rights to your book if that happens and/or make sure the company has been around awhile and is reputable. (And obviously stay away from vanity publishing companies.)

Here's a site I had bookmarked of small presses.

And here are some suggestions on how to evaluate them:

I see your book as having potential and being attractive to readers so I definitely wouldn't give up on it, even if you have to go indie.

If you don't get any bites on your manuscript, I'd be happy to take a look at it with the understanding I'm not the ideal reader & don't read especially fast. I've beta read for about a dozen authors, though (I've done swaps & independent reads), and I majored in history. I also have some interest in World War I; my great grandfather fought as a member of the Hungarian Army on the Italian front. (He later immigrated to the US and his son - my great uncle - won the Bronze Star and was killed in action in April 1945.) My email address if you want to get in touch at some point, be it about beta reading or because you choose to go indie is thegreenheron1980 *@*


message 5: by Catherine (new)

Catherine Taylor | 4 comments Thanks for all that info Jen - it’s very useful. I have actually submitted to a couple of small presses here in the UK, but haven’t had a reply yet. I would love for you to have a read of my novel, and would be more than happy to read yours in return. I will send it to your email. You certainly have a very interesting family background- sounds like there’s a novel in there for sure!


message 6: by Oksana (new)

Oksana W | 140 comments Hi Katie,

I'm dealing with some similar problems myself. I have a 116k historical novel and some people on this forum have suggested it's too long for a publishing deal. However, none of my by beta readers have found any superfluous content, and have even suggested some areas could be expanded... (horror! LOL)
I even had feedback from an experienced editor that said she wouldn't cut anything. Now, none of the agents that I've queried and been rejected by have mentioned length. But the replies are so standardized I don't think I'll ever know. So annoying!

Anyway, your novel sounds pretty interesting. I am not usually a huge time travel fan, but I am willing to give it a try because you never know! Would you be interested in doing a swap? My novel is set in WWII Poland--I can give you a larger summary if you might be interested.

You can reach me at

message 7: by J.R. (new)

J.R. Alcyone | 303 comments Kate wrote: "Thanks for all that info Jen - it’s very useful. I have actually submitted to a couple of small presses here in the UK, but haven’t had a reply yet. I would love for you to have a read of my novel,..."

Happy to read for you, Kate. If you have sent it, I didn't receive it yet. In case there was a problem translating my email I'll post it one more time:

thegreenheron1980 AT

Of course if you haven't had a chance to send it yet, please disregard. :)

message 8: by Catherine (new)

Catherine Taylor | 4 comments Hi Anna that’s really interesting that we are having the same experience. It’s so bloody frustrating! One of my beta readers who read my novel at 134k words asked me afterwards for the full 200k version, as she wanted to read the rest of it. Argh! I wonder how big, sumptuous novels that I love, like The Thorn Birds and Outlander would get on if they were new to the market in the current climate? Everything out there seems so cookie-cutter these days. I would definitely be interested in reading your novel, and will email you. And Jen the MS is on the way!


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