Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Online Submissions: Keep It Short

One of the main guidelines for online submissions used to be "keep it short." For early zines the guidelines usually asked for no more than 2000-2500 words. That compared to print publications where word limits could go as high as 7000-10,000 words.

As people have become accustomed to reading online and more print publications have made the move to online publishing, those word restrictions have loosened quite a bit. In the past few years word length for strictly online publications have increased, and, from what I'm seeing, 4000-5000 word limits seem to be more of the norm, though many use the same longer guidelines as print and some have no specific restrictions at all.

It is my opinion, frankly, that new writers, whether submitting for print or online, do best to keep their work to 4000 words or less. Works that go beyond 4000 words are usually either trying to do too much within the context of the story, have too many characters, or simply contain too many words. That is, the writer is using two or three words when one more effective word could work better. New writers do best to impose that discipline on themselves.

When it comes to publishing online, I think even experienced writers should think carefully before submitting pieces over 5000 words. I do much of my reading online, both in the form of submissions and published work. While I can read much longer pieces in print, for some reason online my mind starts to wander or I become, quite simply, bored. I don't think I'm alone in this. Perhaps someday a nueroscientist or neuropsychologist will research it (or maybe some already have.)

Suffice it to say it takes something pretty compelling and/or very well executed to hold my attention for more than 5000 word. So my advice to anyone submitting work for online publication remains, "keep it short" even if not quite so short as before.


Lee said...

You may very well be right, which is why I don't submit elsewhere but prefer to publish from my own site(s). Contrarian to the death ...

Anonymous said...

I've probably read about thirty entire books in the public domain online + long fan fiction pieces when I was younger. Heh. We obviously don't share the getting-bored-reading-online thing.

Nannette Croce said...

Looks like someone just found my blog. This goes back a ways. I'm assuming you are younger than I, though I may be wrong. I do believe that younger people are more tolerant of reading long things online, having grown up almost their entire lives with computers. Since online is the wave of the future I'm all in favor of those who don't mind reading longer works, otherwise we could lose the novel.

Still, the current reality regarding short fiction is that some online publications will profess to accept up to 10,000 words but anything over 4000-4500 tends to get rejected.


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