Last week I made the mistake of going over word count for a magazine I haven’t written for in a while. It devastated me, as I believe that going over word count is one of the worst mistakes a writer can make—in part because it’s one of the easiest mistakes to correct.
Thankfully the editor took it well and understood that I’d simply gotten the number wrong. However, the failure of a writer to stick to a word count sets off a few red flags that you need to know about if you write professionally.
Can a Writer Follow Instructions?
Much like Van Halen’s “Brown M&M clause” in their contracts, a word count provides a simple metric for determining whether an author is able to follow instructions. Word counts aside, I’ve struggled plenty of times to follow guidelines, so if I can’t even nail a word count, I may have bigger problems.
Can a Writer Edit?
If I keep going over word count, that may indicate that I don’t edit and proofread my work carefully. A word count is a simple number to check. What else is a writer missing during the writing process?
Can a Writer Simplify and Distill Ideas?
A writer unable to go below a word count may have bigger problems with distilling ideas and simplifying concepts. Economical and effective writing is the mark of a good writer. In fact, my greatest growth as a writer has been figuring out how to delete, not necessarily what to write.
I have had publishing hopefuls ask me whether their book ideas were good, and I have to admit it’s a tough question to answer. There are many factors to consider when setting out to publish a book.
It’s most important in my experience to summarize the book succinctly, to have a solid title in mind, and to know exactly what you need to say in order to evaluate its merit. The details of each chapter may be fuzzy, but at least the main idea, controlling metaphors, and outline should be pretty clear before evaluating whether or not a book could work.
Some sample chapters will help you sort through how substantive your ideas are and if you can carry on for an entire book. Many good book ideas work better as magazine articles.
There are several factors you’ll need to consider when evaluating whether your book idea works. I’ll give you a hint right now, it won’t be enough for the idea to be good. I’ve seen my own good ideas and the good ideas of others fail the editor test.
They need to be better than good, and that’s what I’ll discuss in my next post.
Editors and agents want one thing.
They receive query after query with all kinds of book pitches, but no matter what the topic may be, they are always looking for the same thing.
Literary agent David Black spoke three weeks ago at an event on the future of publishing at the Northshire Bookstore, and he spoke with great passion about his work as a literary agent. While he acknowledged the difficulties of publishing right now and the need to pick his authors carefully based on their platforms, experience, and publishing credentials, he said one thing that caught my attention.
“Don’t give agents and editors a pitch, give us something we will love.”
Agents and editors are in their business because they love books. If you can deliver on that one enormously important thing they’re looking for, you’re well on your way.
Though publishing houses need to keep a close watch on their profit margins, they are always looking for a book that connects with them. Can you write a book that your readers will love?