After two and a half years of wrestling with the ancient world, I finally finished the manuscript right before Christmas. I pulled the traditional thirty-hours-straight to get it in the mail. I always end up doing this, even when I’ve had a deadline for two or more years, and it makes me sympathize with Gandalf in Peter Jackson’s Two Towers: “Three hundred lives of men have I walked this earth, and now I have no time!” After nine books I’ve decided that this is just the inevitable wrap-up to any long project.

And long is the word. I’ve been negotiating with my editor at Norton, the brilliant and capable Starling Lawrence (hey, he bought my proposal, didn’t he?) over the word count until I’ve begun to feel like Abraham bargaining with God over the number of righteous men in Sodom.

Proposal: “Each manuscript will be 150,000 words.” (My agent remarked at the time, “That’s pretty long, you know. I’m not sure they’re going to go for it.”)

Me to Starling Lawrence, about a year later, “I might go a bit over.”

A year after that: “I think it’s going to come in at 170,000 words.” (Star: “That doesn’t scare me.”)

Just before submission: “I’m at 250,000 words and can’t find any flab to cut.” (Longer pause from Norton this time, until Star emails me back and says that he’s consulted his colleagues, and 250K doesn’t sound totally unreasonable, given that this is the history of the whole ancient WORLD.)

Me, to my own soul, as I do the final word count: “Good golly, I’m at 280K, not counting endnotes.”

In fact I think it reads very well–the individual chapters are relatively short, and they hang together in a tight narrative–but I do think there’s a limit 1) to what Norton will shell out in paper costs, an d 2) what readers will actually pick up and begin reading. But I’ve put it into the mail, all twelve pounds of it, and am now waiting to hear the verdict.

The manuscript, all 1100 pages

Showing 15 comments
  • Cleo Qc in Fl

    Don’t worry! If people can read about the history of a fictitious world in The Silmarillion, they can surely read about the real world! How many words in the Lord of the Rings, and the Silmarillion anyway?
    Looking forward to seeing your book on the shelves and buying it !

  • Janie

    Well, this reader “will actually pick up and begin reading” it!
    Congratulations! I’m sure you (and the rest of the family) are relieved.
    Take a vacation before tackling the next installment!

  • Camy

    Ah, once again you inspire me to pick up my “self-education” notebook. Your book will be a perfect accompinement.

    It is understandable that Freud would recommend choosing an Etruscan sarcophogus design. I can picture my sarcophogus…dh and I portrayed reclining with wine goblets in hand…add 7 children trying to get each of our attention and VOILA!

    Thanks for the hard work, Susan.


  • Camy

    Add brain cells to that comment: “accompaniment”

  • Lynn in TX

    My 13 yo says “That’s one big book.” I’ll have my reading notebook and pencil ready.

  • Janice in NJ

    So if they force you to hack it up, would there still be a way for some of us die-hards to receive the un-cut version of this project?

    Hmmm… maybe if enough of us cry in unison we will be heard. (Anyone care to band together? The Who’s were eventually heard by someone other than just poor Horton, eh?)

    Be merciful to us, Star, be merciful! Trust me; we will buy; we will buy!

    Seriously though – congratulations, Susan! I hope the rest of your month is filled with a peaceful pace.

  • Sherrill

    Way to go!!!! Ya done good! I can’t wait for it to come out.

    God bless,

  • Amy in NH

    12 lb!?! Was it anything like giving birth? 😉

  • Miz Booshay

    Wow! Twelve pounds! Perhaps I will be finished with The Count of Monte
    Cristo (currently on p. 587) and War and Peace by the time your book comes out….then I will be well acquainted with reading long tomes :o)

    Welcome to blogging!

    Cute hair cut!


  • Melissa in VA

    This is unbelievable! I am SOooo ready for this book. ALL of it. What are you doing to celebrate?

  • Colleen

    Well I, for one, will most assuredly purchase your book. I will crack open the binding such that it appears well-read, then proceed to tote it about so as to look very scholarly. I will read sentences here and paragraphs there, often returning to the previous page in an effort to refresh my memory. And some day, some vague day in the future, when my five little men have surpassed me in height and knowledge, I will settle myself in my comfortable red leather chair with a glass of Pinot Noir and a bit (bit? who am I fooling?!) of Lindt chocolate and I will partake of your ‘tome’. And after many such delectable sessions, I will at long last be able to say not only that I *own* the book but that I have actually *read* it, completely and attentively. 😉

    Cheers to you,

  • It seems your former books are being put into practice by their author. The thinking/reading is paying off and many of us will profit. In my over-booked life, I long to develop the skills that you are mastering. The slow and encouraging art of meditation as one reads is a goal to be reached and a process to be enjoyed. Soon, we can do so with the History of the World.

    I am, by the way, chairman of a classical school and hope to introduce your text. The teachers are my first project. Correction; I am the first project, then then teachers. Perhaps our students will profit later. We must evangalize ourselves and converse with history before we can understand it enough to teach to a child. Perhaps the conversation will be a lifetime event.

    Congratulations and Thank you.

    Marshall Malone
    President, Portsmouth Tea Company
    Investing time in classical education and the world’s finest tea.

  • Susan

    Colleen, that’s funny–my brother remarked, “That’s the kind of book a lot of people buy even if they don’t read it.” I would have smacked the back of his head (if it hadn’t been in California at the time), since that’s not exactly what a writer wants to hear, but he was probably right. I have a copy of Proust that has been following me around in a bag for years, waiting to be read…and yet I’ve never gotten past the first ten pages or so…and don’t get me started on my failed runs at Moby Dick.

  • Chris in VA

    Congratulations, Susan! You are a testament to the incredible power of homeschooling! Your mom is so very proud, isn’t she?
    Will your new book be appropriate for use as a student 9th grade text? Perhaps instead of a spine like Spielvogel?
    Thanks for your hard work, and also for all the support you provide for us.

  • Charles

    Just bought your hardback from Borders- I am on page 47- and skimmed through the 868 pages- nice book. Very well-written and very clear – without the typical and meandering sentences of a typical “Ancient History” book….I can’t wait for your ‘series’…..

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