“I often wondered why some established authors sounded so bitter and cynical…”
5,000 words is the perfect length for making my job very hard.
I do not pretend to understand it. I’ve sharpened my skills on flash fiction submissions anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 words in length. I feel I’ve actually gotten quite good at it too, having just enough room to tell some kind of story. So I strip out excess description, go bare bones and just make it.
And 6,000 to 10,000? That’s where I feel I really shine. Plenty of room to pack in character development and that extra prose that really makes it. Yet plenty of breathing space to carve out a nice plot. I can spin a yarn and craft a world doing these lengths.
But 5,000 words. For some reason, this magical number always screws me up royal.
I always end up creating a plot that is just a little too big. Characters who are slightly too developed. It’s so easy to say, “Tell a story in less! Just pretend it’s 4,000 words!” But it doesn’t work that way. It’s probably quite similar to television, where you try to cut off a second here, edit out a scene there, just to keep it below 30 minutes.
That’s what I’m doing right now.
I finished my latest piece just in time for Halloween. But in doing so, I crossed nearly 500 words over the border, and have gone back for editing. I’ve been picking out words or condensing statements like I’m nickle and diming it. I’m sweating a little, trying to decide whether I can cut a whole scene just to spruce up the ending.
Yeah, I wish editors could be more open about lengths. But it’s not their fault they have to craft and enforce these policies and rules. The larger the company’s name, the more submissions they invite. “Corporations are/aren’t people!” is a point of political contention these days. I won’t voice an opinion on it, but I will say that after dozens, if not hundreds of submissions, a company and/or the people who run it can get extremely tired.
You see, even the small press has its fair share of beggars, ego cases and story spammers. And good authors too. They are the competition. The unseen horde. Behold…
With a 7,500 word upper limit and rounding up, that’s a minimum of 39 stories. Probably more than that. Though to be fair, those statistics might include the already invited authors. But between now and the close of their fund raiser, that number is only going to go up.
Some submissions will be blatant plagiarism of existing franchises. A portion of it will just be bad; meaningless action with no character development or plot to speak of, basically Call of Duty fan fiction with the name scratched out. More will have a decent story, but not quite fit the theme.
Those that are good actually just get added to a particular pile marked, “Good enough for now”, where they’ll sit and wait until a better tale comes along to knock it into the rejections pile. Or, if they’re good enough and the author does nothing to tick off the editors, their story will be among the last standing.
I often wondered why some established authors sounded so bitter and cynical when some budding writer asked for advice or admitted that they wanted to be an author too. But I take heart in the fact that at least in writing, you can supplement your luck by improving your skill.
Well, back to cutting words.