You plop down at your desk with your notebook and check your watch. Four hours to deadline.
You tap the page just above where the submission guidelines say 2,000 to 10,000 words and whimper. Your story is 1,800 words. Or maybe it’s 11,001 words. Either way, you’ve got some work to do.
Or do you?
Sure, it would be awesome to have our stories magically fall into the submission guidelines for every publication, but what we need to realize once we get out there is that some publications are going to be better suited to our work than others.
Say you’ve been working on a story for the last six months and have read it through, edited, polished, and are ready to send it out. But when you get to the submission page, the call says 5,000 words. You have 5,700.
One course of action would be to email the publication query whether submitting the work would be alright, despite going beyond the suggested word count. In some instances, publications will read your work anyway, especially since you took the time to ask if it was alright, instead of just sending it their way blindly.
Another course of action would be to tailor your work (up or down) to the suggested word count. But tread softly the waters of edit. Yes, you can always save deleted material to another word document or simply remove words altogether, but you run the risk of ruining the integrity of your story or poem in the process.
Now, I’m not going to sit here and say don’t try to challenge yourself. Framing a project based on publication submission guidelines is a great way to push your craft and stoke your imagination while setting strict perimeters, but if you already have something cooking (or complete) the last thing you want to do is lose the essence of the work in translation trying to meet some arbitrary rules.
Word counts are set by publications, one: for style, two: to organize, and three: to regulate. And hardly any two are the same. This means it can be tricky finding publications that will take on reading an entire chapbook or a novella-length work of fiction, but the good news is they’re out there. Another publication will be (and probably is) out there just waiting to consider your work, and a little extra research might help you save not just time, but your hard-fought words, in the long run.