Wednesday, August 10, 2011
CHECK THOSE GUIDELINES!
BIO: Noelle Sterne holds a doctorate degree from Columbia University. She is an accomplished book author who has also published more than 250 pieces in print and online publications.
When, in a market listing, I read the invitation for contributions to an upcoming anthology, I knew my story was perfect. I labored with repeated drafts to get it down to the 2,000 words specified in the guidelines. Finally, two days before the deadline, my auto-word count proudly proclaimed “1,993.”
Ready to send out the story, I went to the anthology website to check the spelling of the editor’s name. To my horror, an updated announcement proclaimed 1,400 words! I’d performed microsurgery to get down to 1,993. How would I ever cut more?
At first. I thought of calling the editor to bark a dozen reasons why my brilliant but now way too long entry should be accepted anyway. But I knew that (a) this would do no good (he probably wouldn’t answer the phone), and (b) the publisher must have dictated the reduction for cost considerations.
So instead, although I had a date to meet a friend for lunch, I phoned her and screamed out my editing emergency. A writer, she understood. Then I turned off the phone, breathed a prayer, scrubbed up, and started excising.
I sweated and groaned, revised and retyped, and almost sobbed to discard what I’d been sure were essentials. But my desire not to be disqualified for length was stronger than love of my lucid prose. After much brutal hacking, repositioning, regrafting, and binding up my psychic wounds, the word count shaped up, miraculously with essence preserved. The night before the deadline, I sent the piece out.
I’d like to report that my story was accepted. It wasn’t. But even though I didn’t make this anthology, I nevertheless learned two important writing lessons that have stuck with me through many other submissions, accepted and not.
First, although I’d been sure the story had been trimmed originally to perfection, when exclusion threatened I found even more places to prune. As I painfully extracted my beautiful adjectives, Walt Whitman’s observation consoled: “The best writing has no lace on its sleeves.” Later, reviewing this piece for another market, I had to admit that the excess wasn’t missed.
Second, publication guidelines can change quickly. Last year’s, last month’s, or even last week’s specifications may not hold today. If you don’t revisit the specifications frequently—and revise accordingly—you’ll risk instant rejection. So, as you get close to submitting to your carefully chosen markets, check, double check, and recheck those guidelines!
Visit Noelle's site and learn about her book at Trustyourlifenow.com