Writing for Magazines --Part 7

By June Campbell

Part 7: Observing the Word Count

When writing for magazines, you will be expected to observe a word count rigidly. By rigidly, I mean your completed word count should fall within 5% either side of the stated count. If for some reason, you discover you cannot write as many words as agreed upon, then let the editor know and see if she has any suggestions or counter-offers. Coming in under the allotted word count is less problematic than coming over the count, because the editorial staff can add fillers.

Coming in over the allotted word count is undesirable. Either the editor will ask you to do a rewrite or worse, the editorial staff will spend precious time rewriting and revising your article to make it fit. At that point, they decide what to slash and what to keep. Isn't it best you make that decision yourself by coming in at the right word count?

When writing for a web publication, publishers may be somewhat more flexible, since the price of publishing does not change if your article is a bit over the agreed upon length. However, be aware that web publishers also expect writers to adhere to their stated word count. Coming in well over count will not endear you to them. Generally speaking, people do not like to read long articles online, so publishers keep their articles short in order to maintain reader interest.

Your Greatest Challenge when Writing for Magazines

Now here is your challenge. It is MUCH EASIER to write a longer article than a shorter one.

As the American humorist Mark Twain once said to a correspondent, "I would have written you a shorter letter, but I didn't have enough time."

When I write an article, I usually write considerably more words than allotted on my first draft. I don't do this on purpose. It just works out that way. Then I go over my article many times, tightening copy and removing unnecessary material.

If tightening, tightening, tightening the writing doesn't get you to the word count you want, then you must make some decisions regarding what content to eliminate. You may believe that every, single point is crucially important to include. However, much as you may love your words, you have no choice but to force yourself to slash brutally.

It truly can be done. To prove my point, I direct you to your daily newspaper. Today in my city, the front page headlines read, "Emergencies Declared as Communities Face Flooding."

That one sentence sums up the entire story. Without reading further, you know the essential fact.

The second paragraph adds the second most important detail. The third paragraph adds the third most important detail. And so on.

Newspaper journalists write the news in decreasing order of importance. The article can stand alone at any point in the storyline. If facing space constraints, the editor can cut any number of paragraphs from the end of the article upwards. The article will still make sense and cover the topic's important aspects.

Magazine writing is not identical to newspaper writing, so I'm not suggesting you structure your article this way. I point this out simply to show you that a good writer can cover the key content in as few or as many words as possible.

Now for the next step on your way to writing for magazines. ... Developing Your Outline

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