It happens to most authors. We write an article, and look for a market. The best fit we find requests either a shorter or longer length than our manuscript. We either adapt the manuscript—or move on to a different publisher. Submitting a manuscript more than five percent off the requested length smacks of a lack of professionalism.
If we’re wise, we learn to adapt our writing length. Shortening or lengthening it allows us to sell it the first time, as well as the opportunity to expand into new markets. Adjusting an existing article requires less work than writing something entirely new so it’s an important skill to have in your writer’s toolbox.
My monthly column, The View Through My Door, appears in three different lengths (750, 600, and 500 words). A new market opened this month that required a mere 400 words—almost cut in half.
I’ll show you how I did it by looking at a single paragraph. Originally eighty-four words, I cut it to thirty-four.
I start out by determining how many words I have to cut. A spreadsheet enables me to quickly calculate the length of the manuscript, paragraph by paragraph:
Manuscript length Percentage of original Length of paragraph
750 words 100% 84 words
600 words 80% 67 words
500 words 66.6% 56 words
400 words 53% 43 words
My final word count of 34 left me room to make other paragraphs a little longer. By keeping count, paragraph by paragraph, I can complete the necessary cuts in a single run-through instead of repeating the process three or four times.
The paragraph in question comes from “Six Flags Over Me.” It describes how Maine’s flag reminds me of home. The original paragraph read:
Maine’s flag depicts a moose laying on grass between ocean and a white pine tree, flanked by a sailor and a farmer. If the state animal and tree left me in doubt, I couldn’t miss the bold letters proclaiming “Maine.” The state motto, “Dirigo,” means, “I lead.” I chuckle to myself as I picture Mainers saying, “That’s right. We’re going to do things our way, and who cares about the rest of the world?” It makes me nostalgic to look at the flag.
For the 600-word column, I tightened the first sentence, removing a total of nine words. In addition to unnecessary words like “on grass” and “tree,” I removed sailor and farmer. They weren’t as strong visually as moose, ocean, and pine. I also deleted part of the sentence about the state motto: fifty-two words
For Maine, a moose lays between ocean and a white pine. If the state animal and tree left me in doubt, the letters spelling “Maine” give it away, and I chuckle when I read the state motto, Dirigo, “I lead or direct.” How very like independent Mainers to make their own way.
To reach 400 words total, I let the reader make the connection between moose, ocean, white pine, and Maine, for themselves. I had reached my goal.
For Maine, a moose lays between ocean and a white pine. I chuckle when I read the state motto, Dirigo, “I lead, or direct.” How very like independent Mainers to make their own way.
I liked the original, but the half-length version works.
If, on the other hand, I wanted to double the length of the paragraph, I could describe the incidents mentioned in the previous paragraph in greater detail.
Cut it shorter or make it longer—whatever it takes. Adjust your length to sell more.
Multi-published author Darlene Franklin is a warrior, seeking the Lord fervently, and writing from a nursing home. She lives in Oklahoma, near her son and his family. She is an active member of the Oklahoma City Christian Fiction Writers, American Christian Fiction Writers, and the Christian Authors Network. She has more than sixty unique stories in print (most recently Coffee Club Mysteries from Barbour Publishing and Women Taming America from Winged Publications.) She has also written five nonfiction titles, (most recently Pray Through the Bible in a Year from Barbour Publishing), and contributed to more than twenty non-fiction titles. Her column, “The View Through my Door,” appears monthly in several venues. You can find her online at:
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