Do any British readers remember the ads the Economist magazine used to place in the tube stations, across from the platforms, about how their writers were trained to live up to the magazine’s title? No extraneous phrases, no unnecessary tangents? Never use five words when one would do? Well, that’s how I feel right now, trying to cut at least a novella’s worth of material out of my book All Hopped Up And Ready To Go: Fifty Years of Music from the Streets of New York, so that it meets the word count my editor keeps reminding me I was contracted for. There’s a phobia here amongst publishers about pushing music books beyond 400 pages, as if readers step into book stores, turn directly to the last page, and if it has a number higher than 399, they put it back on the shelf and pick up something that much lighter. Never mind that a new book about Civil Rights in the North runs to 688 pages, or that the latest biography on Winston Churchill comes in at 845 pages, music fans have short attention spans.
I’m sorry, what was I saying? What do I know? I’ve written books of 35,000 words; I’ve written one that I believe is about 275,000 words, though I lost track when I ran out of split infinitives on which to count. Apparently, my Keith Moon book has finally been translated into German, and the book is now somehow 100 pages longer than it was in English. Presumably, they don’t read the Economist over there. How long is a piece of string? I don’t know unless you cut it to length. Snip, cut, shave. Snip, cut, shave. Do I need to say “invariably” or is it assumed? Do you need to know that “(Vacarro responded by invading Curtis’ apartment and slashing Jackie’s dresses)” or should I just leave it out? Is it relevant that Lenny Kaye and Patti Smith used to dance to old 45s at Village Oldies on Bleecker Street, where Kaye worked, in the early hours of a Sunday morning, or will it suffice if I tell you they were “became friends?” And are you better off learning that Wayne County’s play World – Birth of a Nation “included a scene in which John Wayne gave birth to a baby through his anus” or would your life be better enriched by not reading those words?
….And if I tell you that all these are cuts I just made from the first 1300 words of a 12,000 word chapter that needs to come in at 10,000 words or less, do I get your sympathy? Or do I just accept that I overwrite by habit and this is the price I must pay? Hopefully, you will all be better off when the book comes in at the right length and every sentence is honed and chiseled to Economist length. Now, where’s that red pen…