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Word Count Matters

The most frequently repeated advice that editors give at writing conferences is, “Follow the guidelines.” Potential writers who want to get published in a magazine, blog, e-newsletter or website can maximize their opportunity to get published by following the guidelines for the organization. It is amazing how many people ignore this simple advice. Word count is one area that is frequently violated in submissions.

As an editor, the reason I establish a word count for a particular type of article or feature is that I know what length of article will fit best in a particular slot. On an e-newsletter, I use an established template, and if an article is too long or too short, it doesn’t look good in the template. In a magazine, I know how much space my graphic designer needs to grab the reader’s attention with design, and I know how many words I want on a particular page. On a website, I know how many words, on average, are above the fold, so that readers don’t need to scroll to read. Word count matters as part of the overall editorial decision-making process.

Obviously quality of content is more important than length of content, but given two submissions of equal quality, the submission that follows the word count specifications has a better chance of getting published. Not because editors are lazy, but because we are busy and it takes time to do an excellent job of cutting down a submission that is too long. Sometimes I enjoy the challenging of revising a piece to fit the necessary word count, but it definitely takes time and effort.

For the writer, word count can make the difference between getting published and getting put in the “maybe” file. For the editor, adherence to word count builds a smooth relationship with designers, who need space on the page or e-mail template to make the content package effective. Word count is one aspect of excellence in the writing and editorial process.

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