It’s been at least three years since I finished my epic fantasy novel, By the Pact. It was all revised, edited, and “ready to go”. But I wasn’t entirely happy with the compromises I had to make between the story, beta readers’ expectations, and the word count. But to address it, I would have to set myself back, adding a significant amount of work to my already-full schedule. And in the end, I did it.
The first version
Initially, By the Pact had over 130,000 words which in the course of revisions I managed to cut down to 120,000 words. Yet, even though it was a monstrosity of a novel, my beta readers wanted more. More details, more world building, more description. I was more than eager to give them what they wanted, but the industry standards for fantasy novels’ word count were against me.
This was when one of my beta readers suggested moving the last three chapters to the next book. It would leave By the Pact with a powerful ending, but also with a nasty cliffhanger. I’m not a fan of cliffhangers, but such solution would still make structural sense, and would give me some wriggle space to add all the things my beta readers were asking for, so I went ahead with it.
The book was done, but I couldn’t help thinking of the other possible solution: splitting the book in half.
Finding two books in one
Splitting a book isn’t as easy as finding the middle and slicing it in half. I had to consider that each of the parts would become a book of its own now, and it required close inspection of its structure to see what would have to be changed and—ultimately—what needed to be added and where, because simple split would leave me with two novels that would be, in turn, too short.
And then, there was the fear: what if it doesn’t work? What if I commit all that time to discover in the end that it wasn’t the right choice?
I took me almost two years to wrap my head around it and finally take the leap of faith. I could do it, and I could do it right.
I was lucky enough that my epic fantasy is a complex story featuring multiple characters and plots, so I could pick a scene around the middle of the book to become the new climax of book 1. Of course, it required several additional scenes and shifting some of the focus of the story, but ultimately, I realized it would work.
A rewarding experience
A lot of my writing time in 2019 was devoted to rewriting and revising both parts, now book 1, By the Pact, and book 2, Scars of Stone. At times, I felt tired of working, yet again, on the same material, so I took sanity breaks to write other things. But ultimately, as I finished rewriting book 1 and recently—with fresh mind—did an additional revision, I can say it was a rewarding experience. Is By the Pact a perfect novel now? Probably not, but it doesn’t matter. To me, what matters is the satisfaction that I reached my goal of making the book what it was meant to be without compromising the story, its structure, or ignoring my wonderful beta readers’ advice.
I’m done tinkering with By the Pact, and although book 2 still needs my attention, there won’t be splitting it. Yet… There might be some other slicing and dicing in the future.
You might recall my mentions of contemporary fantasy set in Dublin—Humanborn. Two years ago, I wrote a sequel, but my gut feeling was telling me something wasn’t working within the book. Of course, my very helpful alpha reader suggested… splitting Myth-touched in half. If I do it, it won’t be as easy or clean of a cut, but… I’m thinking of it. The new By the Pact clearly shows that such hassle can pay off.
Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science fiction author who enjoys all things SFF: books, movies, and video games.
Her short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies in Polish and in English.
Her epic fantasy adventure series, starting with By the Pact, is available in ebook and paperback at all major retailers.