Thursday, 18 August 2011

I have a rather long

letter in our state newspaper this morning. They prefer letters to be around 200 words, no more than 250 words. I have, more than once, managed to get away with closer to 400 words.
This is not because I am failing to be concise but because I have something to say and it needs to be said in that number of words. If I was not being concise someone in the editorial department would toss the letter aside. Editorial staff will edit spelling and grammar. They may cut a sentence or two but they do expect writers to be concise.
I have, more than once, been stopped in the aisles of the local supermarket by people who complain that their letter did not "get into" the paper. My first question is not, ""What was it about?" but "How long was it?". Very often the letter was simply too long for consideration. Examples of length, indeed the very words "not exceeding 250 words", appear on the letters page. When I point this out I am sometimes told "but you get long letters in". My answer to that is, "they know me". What is more I am usually concise. I do not often exceed the word limit. Many newspaper readers have a short attention span.
There are also topics newspapers will not touch. They cannot publish letters about cases currently before the courts. They cannot publish letters which might result in a libel action. They will not publish anything highly personal. Sometimes they will take a stance and choose letters which reflect that stance. And yes, they will seek out names they know.
I think there might be parallels here with other publishing. I am trying to learn from this.


3 comments:

Sarah Pearson said...

Cat, forgive me if you've covered this before and I've simply forgotten, but have you ever thought of writing non-fiction? It seems to me you've led rather an interesting life.

catdownunder said...

Oh I write non-fiction all the time Sarah - and it is mostly very boring!

JO said...

I've grown to enjoy writing to tight word-lengths. It feels like a small playground - such fun.