Behind The Scenes: About 1200 Words….

About 1200 words Photo: iStock

I want to set the record straight on what’s happening with 1200-word stories. I’m reading a lot of chatter out there, a lot of it just plain wrong.

I’ve read that we reject stories (horrible word – we prefer “return”), even if we like them, simply because they’re the wrong length. Emphatically not true.

We publish one 1200-word story per week. That’s all. A total of 52 per year. And yet we receive easily five or seven times that number.

That means that the competition at that length is exceptionally fierce. It means we might like a story well enough but it’s pipped by another that’s even better. And I’ll say that in my return correspondence: that I can afford to be super picky when I have so many to choose from.

I currently have a drawer full of 1200-word stories to read. I also have enough paid stock at this length just now.

Now, I know that I’ll need four 2000-word stories for each weekly issue, and another seven for each special. That’s a monthly requirement of 23. Then I’ll need four 3000-word stories each special and two per weekly; monthly requirement 11. And remember, only four 1200-words per month.

I’m not going to look at that balance sheet and think, “I think I’ll read a batch of 1200-word stories this morning.” Not when my stock doesn’t need them right now. It just doesn’t make good sense or good practice.

What I’ll read are the lengths that I currently need and therefore can buy. We don’t buy stories if the stock requirement doesn’t justify it.

So why don’t I just return them unread – which it seems you think I do. Again, emphatically not. They are all read in due course unless the writer expressly requests that they be returned so that they can submit them elsewhere – always their prerogative. But that “in due course” is the important phrase here.

I’m managing to squeeze in the reading of one or two, when priorities allow. If it’s a story I think we want, it’s being set aside, and we’ll let the writer know. If it’s a story I think can bear being a bit longer, I’m asking the writer to take another look at it and rewrite. If it’s a story I think will cut to a page, for the special, I’m setting it aside or easing it in to stock. If it’s a story that doesn’t quite work for us, it’s being returned with our usual feedback.

Why haven’t I put a “ban” on 1200-word submissions? Because I don’t want the supply to dry up completely. I did that with 2000-word stories at one point and we nearly came a cropper. But I have let it be very well known through this blog and through correspondence with writers that they need to put the brakes on them for a bit. And as the supply slows down, we’ll have time to read all those that are in my drawer and in the stories cupboard, and they’ll get their chance.

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