Write and Wrong: Questions & Answers

The question of the day is:

I know your max word limit for fiction is 5,000 words. is that firm? or are you open to longer stories, say in the 6,000 range?

As a complete aside, unless an email comes through saying it was sent from a Blackberry or comparable device with a miniscule keyboard, I do find it interesting when writers don’t use proper grammar or punctuation. Interesting, and slightly worrisome.

Answering the question might be best served by addressing the reason why we have a word count restriction. After a while, you can tell which writers have never read your publication. I’ve had people submit artwork, and submit full manuscripts, or queries pleading with us to publish their book. One email, that butchered the English language is an extremely hideous manner, was sent by someone who informed me I had to publish their novella, which was then embedded in the body of the email.

Since many who write us either blatantly ignore our submission guidelines anyways, why have a word count restriction? For starters, it gives me the ability to just auto-reject the novellas and books without reading them.

If you look at it purely from a word count perspective, there isn’t much difference between a story that’s 5000 words and one that’s 6000 words. In the past we have published much longer stories, and we have considered them, and a general rule was often proven true. Without a word count limit, less experienced writers are more likely to meander.

I’d like to be able to say I would consider a story 6000 words, but before anyone submits a story that length they need to ask themselves some critical questions. Is every word in the story justified? Has it earned its place? Is any of the story repetitive?

The stories we want to publish are lean and tight and tell a rich story with an economy of words. The reason is that readers can easily be lost by stories that meander. Readers don’t have the same investment in a short story that they might have in a novel that will keep them going if it hits a weak section. A short story that lets the tension lag is far more likely to lost its audience.

When I evaluate stories, I start from the submission guidelines. If those aren’t met, I don’t read the story. After that, I start at the beginning. If you don’t hook me from the first few paragraphs, you’re in trouble. And if I’m only moderately interested in the story within the first few pages and there’s another 5000+ words to go, chances are I’m not going to finish reading your story.

Before people whine about how unfair that is, you have to consider the volume of submissions we receive. Look at the history of the writers we’ve published: authors such as Steve Mosby, Allan Guthrie, Steven Torres, J.A. Konrath and Hilary Davidson. Acclaimed short story writers like Patti Abbott, Sandra Seamans and Stephen D. Rogers.

The competition is fierce and your story has to blow our socks off, because for every story we’re publishing we’re rejecting another 30 or more. That means every word on the page has to earn its place, or its just filler and there’s no room for that in the short stories we publish.

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Sandra Ruttan

Sandra Ruttan is the bestselling author of SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES, HARVEST OF RUINS and The Nolan, Hart & Tain series. For more information, visit her website: http://sruttan.wordpress.com/

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About Sandra Ruttan

Sandra Ruttan is the bestselling author of SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES, HARVEST OF RUINS and The Nolan, Hart & Tain series. For more information, visit her website: http://sruttan.wordpress.com/

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