Skip to main content

Funny You Should Ask: How strict are word counts for writing contests and book submissions?

Funny You Should Ask is a humorous and handy column by literary agent Barbara Poelle. In this edition, she answers a reader's question about word counts for writing contests, book submissions and short story calls.

Funny You Should Ask is a humorous and handy column by literary agent Barbara Poelle. In this edition, she answers a reader's question about word counts for writing contests, book submissions and short story calls.

Image placeholder title

Dear Meticulous,

Say you told me I had only 100 words in which to answer this question. First I’m going to do some kind of witty intro, maybe referencing Chris Pine. Because, Chris Pine. Then I’ll provide an initial blanket response, outlining solutions for the most common aspects of the concern. Next, I’ll do a deeper dive into the “why” behind that answer, most likely accompanied with a relatable and supportive anecdote, where I come off looking humble yet coy. Then I might tiptoe across nuances that occur within the parameters of your question, ending with a callback—because everyone loves a callback!

Okay, did you stop reading at word 100, right before the callback?

No! You didn’t! Because everyone loves a callback.

... And because you felt compelled to keep reading a few more lines. Sure, there are competitions and poetry calls that demand strict adherence, so I can only speak to my own parameters when I’ve held contests and critique sessions. I might announce, “Send me your query and the first 300 words,” and while I *mean* 300 words, I’m not going to count your words one by one and stop reading at, say, 302. (And no, I do not count titles, author names, glossaries, postscripts, reference lists, etc. as part of the word count.)

Word Count for Novels and Children’s Books: The Definitive Post

I’ll allow more words—especially if it means getting a complete sentence or two to wrap up a character thought or action. That said, I know what 300 words feels like, roughly, so I can tell if you’ve gone over 300 in order to “get to the good stuff,” and in that case I will stop. That’ll also lead me to ask why it takes more than 300 words to get to said good stuff, and if maybe you should revise so that isn’t a concern. Get those first paragraphs shiny and taut, and get me ravenous to read words 301 and beyond.

Ask Funny You Should Ask! Submit your questions on the writing life, publishing, or anything in between to wdsubmissions@aimmedia.com with “Funny You Should Ask” in the subject line. Select questions (which may be edited for space or clarity) will be answered in future columns, and may appear on WritersDigest.com and in other WD publications.

Discover more advice like this by subscribing to Writer's Digest magazine!

Image placeholder title
Writer's Digest Best Live Streams, Podcasts, and YouTube Channels 2022

Writer's Digest Best Live Streams, Podcasts, and YouTube Channels 2022

Here are the top live streams, podcasts, and YouTube channels as identified in the 24th Annual 101 Best Websites from the May/June 2022 issue of Writer's Digest.

What Is Fan Fiction in Writing?

What Is Fan Fiction in Writing?

You might have heard the term, especially if you’re in online fandoms, but what exactly is fan fiction? Managing Editor Moriah Richard explains.

5 Ways To Use Short Stories To Grow as a Writer

5 Ways To Use Short Stories To Grow as a Writer

Short story writing can be a gateway to writing your novel—but they’re also fun and worthy stories in their own right. Here, author Dallas Woodburn shares 5 ways to use short stories to grow as a writer.

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Not Having an Online Presence

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Not Having an Online Presence

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake is not having an online presence.

Shirlene Obuobi: On Writing From Experience

Shirlene Obuobi: On Writing From Experience

Physician, cartoonist, and author Shirlene Obuobi discusses the writerly advice that led to writing her new coming-of-age novel, On Rotation.

WD Poetic Form Challenge

WD Poetic Form Challenge: Kimo Winner

Learn the winner and Top 10 list for the Writer’s Digest Poetic Form Challenge for the kimo.

8 Things Writers Should Know About Tattoos

8 Things Writers Should Know About Tattoos

Tattoos and their artists can reveal interesting details about your characters and offer historical context. Here, author June Gervais shares 8 things writers should know about tattoos.

Tyler Moss | Reporting Through Lens of Social Justice

Writing Through the Lens of Social Justice

WD Editor-at-Large Tyler Moss makes the case for reporting on issues of social justice in freelance writing—no matter the topic in this article from the July/August 2021 issue of Writer's Digest.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Intentional Trail

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Intentional Trail

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character leave clues for people to find them.