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Bob Nailor

Size Does Matter

That particular question is about as old as 'Why did the chicken cross the road?' but even that has been updated from the original. Original? Yes. I believe it was Adam who asked Eve 'Why did the chicken cross the path?' since roads didn't exist in Eden.

For a writer, the length of the work is critical. The adage of 'the story's length will be what is necessary to tell the tale' doesn't always apply. Why? Simple.

  1. You have a written piece of 1250 words and wish to enter a contest. The only issue is word count. Rules state story length is to be no less than 3k words and no longer than 5k words.
  2. Your latest work is 6,727 words and the place you want to submit it to plainly states 'Max length: 6000 words' and you've already cut it by over 2K words.
  3. Your latest novel just topped out at 187,500 words. You've never had anything published and you read that most novels by new artist should be approximately 70-80K words.
There is a frustration level in each of the above situations, especially for the newbie writer. What to do? Does size REALLY matter? Yes, it does.

First, one does not approach the publisher hoping to get your story approved for submission even though it doesn't fit the criteria. Sometimes, SOMETIMES, the publisher might look the other way if your story is 6550 words and the cut-off is 6500 but those are rare incidents. Why would the publisher do this? More than likely because the story is really good and they would like to publish it. To embellish, I was an editor for a horror anthology and had two stories submitted which, even together, did not reach the minimum word count. They were good stories and I suggested to the author to submit a third story which linked the first and second stories. I could see the potential and they would have made a great story together - a trilogy of flash stories to encompass one short story. The author informed me the stories were not designed to be considered ends of a whole story and would prefer not to add a bridging tale. My only choice in the matter was one of two possibilities: 1) accept the two stories and break my requirement or 2) not publish the stories. The author received the two stories back with a thank you, but no thank you. I really would have loved those stories in the anthology but it wasn't fair to the other authors who submitted works for 4500 - 6000 words since everyone would receive an equal cut of the royalties. To accept two works that barely reached 3000 words was not fair.

So what size fits the situation?

The Science Fiction Writers of America uses these definitions for its Nebula awards, and most people consider them to be basic standards.

* See SWFA Nebula Rules/Guidelines

Even short fiction is subject to size definitions. Per the Short Mystery Fiction Society and their guidelines for the Derringer Award:

* See SMFS Derringer Awards Procedure

There you have it, cut and dried. A perfect answer that clarifies everything needed to know about what size your current work-in-progress should be. Okay, maybe it isn't the perfect catch-all.

Here's a better idea. The above are guidelines established by two different writing societies for their groups. When you are submitting for a contest or just attempting to get your work published somewhere / the guidelines. Those magic instructions and desires by individual publishers will let you know what they want and expect.

Yes, size does matter ... to a publisher because they know what they need for their next publication - whether it be a novel, a story or even just a filler. There is a reason for them to state that they are looking at this or that size. As an author, it is your desire to feed their need, not feed your ego.

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Onisha Ellis
Thank you for the excellent guidelines and advice.
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Tara Fairfield
Great information. I've had publishers and editors drive this point home on numerous occasions.
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Lisa Jey Davis
Interesting as always Bob! I am so glad I don't enter those types of contests or submissions! There are so many out there, if I'm pressed to do so, so far I can generally find one that fits my own story's word count! That said - mine is all non-fiction, so it's not generally an issue. :)
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Ms. Cheevious
We are in complete agreement! SIZE MOST DEFINITELY MATTERS. BAHAHAHAHA!!! Sorry - couldn't resist. Great post Bob!
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