Nathan Bransford, Author

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Quick Note About Word Count

Please continue to vote in the Tribal Council thread if you haven't already.

First, a brief note about the word count of the finalists. Some have pointed out that a few of the entries went a bit over on the word count, and this has caused some people to convey their distress that the rules (such as they were) were not strictly followed.

Let me just say that I'm sorry people are upset about this. Please do keep in mind that I had already spent 9 hours total reading the entries, which was a fun 9 hours, but still, 9 hours. So I decided against then spending time on top of that counting words. Next time. Someone suggested in the comments section that this impugns my professionalism -- ahhh... I hope the more important indicator of my professionalism is that I run these contests (and the blog in general) in my free time in addition to a more than full time job that doesn't stop for blog contests.

So again -- sorry about this. However. I don't think this should take anything away from the finalists, all of whom I would have chosen had they taken out some of their material to adhere to a strict word limit. I also want to point out that if I disqualified these two finalists, the next two in would have been previous contest finalists, who have already received the prizes.

I guess all that's left in the grievances dept. are people who feel like their work was needlessly injured by following the 250 word limit... but as much as I know it's tough to only send 250 words, I guess I just don't quite see it that way. Polenth only used something like 163 words and she's a finalist. It wasn't the number of words that was constraining people. There were many, many, many excellent entries, and I don't think anyone should feel discouraged that they weren't a finalist.

So next time -- stricter rules! But let's also try and enjoy this contest and of course properly congratulate all the finalists. Thanks everyone.


Mark C said...

Nathan: Brush your shoulders off. Forget the haters. Awesome contest.

Miss Viola Bookworm said...


You are so kind. You don't need to defend yourself. The contest was great, and yes, congratulations to the finalists!

I'm sure you aren't capable of doing this, but just for fun, next time, perhaps you should impersonate Miss Snark when you respond to all the negativity. That could be fun...

Oh, and I didn't say anything in my other comment, but the Surivor bit with Jeff Probst was funny too. :) Next time, perhaps you can invite Seacrest to our contest.

Anonymous said...

I really, really enjoyed being in the contest. My entry didn't make it, but there's no reason to take that personally.

What I did get from this was another opportunity to seek and destroy some extraneous words and one unnecessary speaker tag.

Which means the contest was a success for me, too.

Thanks for your hard work, Nathan.

Jonathan Janz

Maddog said...

I am new to your blog and think it is great. Just want to voice 100% agreement on your word count comments. Your contest, your time and you are the judge. :) Thanks from the 99% of us who enjoyed the contest and found ways to improve our writing in participating. Thanks for braving the 1% to make these things happen too.

Kudos to the survivors and all the great efforts!

David L. McAfee said...

Frankly, Nathan, I have to say I really don't see anything worth getting upset about, anyway.

Your Blog.

Your Contest.

Your Decision.


If you want to bend and/or ignore your rules in your contest on your blog, more power to ya.


Just_Me said...

If the writing's good who cares what the word count is?

Trée said...

Great contest Nathan. Enjoyed it and the wonderful writing submitted.

Gail Goetz said...

Everything valuable we know we learned in kindergarden...good sportsmanship one of the hardest to practice because losing is painful, even in games and contests. By first grade, we should have learned to smile and put out our hand and say, "Congratulations! to the winner. That's my new dialogue submission. I hope I win something!

Hilary Wagner said...

The rules for this kind of contest should always be taken into account, but let's not take ourselves too seriously. Would adding a few more words to your entry have made it that much better? We win some, we lose some. In the oh so articulate words of Jeff Probst himself, “It was a doozy. People were on their knees, on their backs, throwing up and having their eyes rolling back in their heads.”

Now that's quality dialog…

Elise Murphy said...

I love the contest. I've never been a rule follower . . . more of a guideline considerer.

Glad to see you went for the best and didn't ruin your eyes counting characters!

Melanie Avila said...

Nine hours? I'm surprised you didn't tell us to take our dialogue and find somewhere else to play!

Betty Atkins Dominguez said...

Don't worry about word count. As you said, one finalist only used 164 words. What does it really matter if someone sent in 260 instead of 250.

I really enjoyed this, even though I didn't make it to the finals. Just entering was fun.

Anonymous said...

I would have liked to use more than 250 words - but this was your contest and you set the rules, so I stuck to those rules.

Frankly, I wonder why anyone deliberately used more than 250 words. If you can't follow a simple little competition rule, how are you going to follow more important rules? Like, 'paste the first five pages of your novel into the e-mail of your query letter'? Like, 'no attachments'? Hmmm.

ICQB said...

It was fun looking through material to try and find a good section that fit the word count rule - if some people went a little over I think that's okay. After all we're not talking way over. Just a little.

The contest got me thinking about dialogue and what someone who only saw a snippet of 250 words of mine would have to say about it.

It was a fun contest that I'm sure I'll be thinking about for a long time whenever I'm writing dialogue.

Thanks for the contest, and congrats to the finalists!

notanotherexit said...

Anon 3:14

They won't follow the rules. They'll send the first five pages, guidelines be damned, because they're in on the secret: the writing counts. Query and the first five pages, snail-mail style, none of this "paste" stuff.

Agents will glance at the page before tossing it, and then get stuck in the story, lose two minutes to reading it, and go "wait, where's the rest? What happens?"

Because, as we've all been told, the writing matters.

Mr. Bransford: Thank you for doing the contest. I didn't enter, but it was fun to watch, and I for one am thrilled to see that the writing mattered more to you than the exact word count. They were all in the ballpark, anyway.


Nathan Bransford said...


I assume it wasn't deliberate, just like I didn't deliberately count the words and say "ah, what the hell."

And for the record, if I asked for a five page synopsis and someone sent six pages, I'm not rejecting them. If I ask for a 30 page excerpt and someone sends me 31 or 34, I'm not rejecting them for that.

It's like the end of the game in soccer. It's somewhere around 90 minutes but ultimately the ref decides when it ends.

Anonymous said...

Actully, the biggest kick I got out of the contest was paring down this old snipper I had laying around in my idea file and making it fit into only 250 words. It really does force you to make effeicient word choices and sentencce structures. And I cut it wAY down from like 500 words to 275...and then it was real hard to go from 275 to 250, but after I did it I was glad, because it was better. I still said almost everything I wanted to say with so many less words.

Anonymous said...

I like the soccer analogy. It's kind of a bummer that you feel bad in any way after doing something so selfless. Maybe you need a standard contest disclaimer, such as:

1. This contest is for fun and education only. Your first born child is not at stake, so chill.

2. Follow the rules, because it's a considerate thing to do.

3. Some people break the rules. If you don't like it, don't vote for them.

4. Sure, you can enter a snippet from a Pulitzer Prize winning novel, just so you can say, "aha!" when it's not picked as a finalist. But, honestly, that says more about you than Nathan, and it's not good.

Did I miss anything?

Much appreciation!

M Clement Hall said...

ybpcuhejited words, the entrant should be requested to give the count with his title on the first line.
It's a remarkable effort on Nathan's part, which deserves praise and gratitude rather than cavilling.

M Clement Hall said...

Suggest entrants should post word count with their submission.
All Nathan's efforts are worthy of praise and not silly cavilling (horseman's term used in lieu of the dog fancier's expression).

alyun said...

Rules have value, but strict adherence breeds conformists. I need to talk out both sides of my mouth to make my double-sided singular statement.

I’m offended when I’m in the nine-items-or-less lane at the grocery and the guy in front of me has a full basket, and I confess I also find myself silently counting the only-a-little-bit-over-twelve-item-kind-of-offender, but I’m internally more forgiving—it’s within the “spirit-sphere” of the rules that I personally chose to follow.

But In both cases the result for me is the same, I’m not threatened with imminent or immutable harm so I keep my mouth shut and do what I can to feel I’m a sensible person—to manage my own reflection.

My feelings about contest complaints didn’t amount to much until the accusations of professional misconduct and the rage of battlements erected thereafter put a compelling shine on the bugle of controversy. To those called to trifle: Life is too short, life is unfair, manage thyself and the rest follows. To those called to defend, read the preceding sentence. I’m not only talking out both sides of my mouth, I’m going into the middle without finding either end.

ORION said...

As others have said. It's the quality of writing and not following rules. If I had followed rules I would never have sent an equery to my agent who does not accept equeries. As she said later at first she was annoyed but then intrigued and ended up requesting the full...and then offering representation and then selling my novel...
And Nathan's the king of his blog...he can do anything he wants.

Speak Coffee said...

"impugns my professionalism" ... are you serious?

I'm still tickled that you ran a (free entry) contest!

I guess I'm among those who didn't have enough time to run the "word count" function on each of the 600 of my fellow entries.

Tiffany Kenzie said...

This is an amazing contest... Don't let the meanies get the better of you :)

The writing is either strong or it's not word counts shy or over the limit, and that is not to say the stuff that didn't make the cut was weak... like you're wont to say--it's a subjective business people.

And it's fun. Don't forget to have fun in doing what you love--says Tiff who's never won a blog blurb contest with JF/you/Samhain, and I'm sure there are others.

So, when's the next contest? lol

M Clement Hall said...

Perhaps in another contest the entrants could give the word count in their first line
Totally unreasonable basis for complaint in Nathan's blog, try being grateful for what uou get at no cost instead of cavilling about inconsequential issues

Anonymous said...

In previous contests, I cut my entries down to make them fit the rules, which made what was being said less clear. In the future, I won't. I'll know it's ok to break the rules. Thanks for that. I see someone entered twice, too. I didn't read them, but I noticed them.

Dave F. said...

I really don't care about the lengths. If I had needed another few words, I would have used them.

Nathan, I enjoyed entering this and I want to say thanks for the opportunity.

Kimberly Lynn said...

I thought it was a great contest!

And I like it even more that you didn't stay so strict to the rules but rather judged by quality. So don’t go changing anything before rule breakers like me get another opportunity . . .

Southern Writer said...

Uh oh. I see a bit of conflict here, Nathan. All agencies post submissions guidelines and all blogging agents complain when they aren't followed. Here, you posted your guidelines, and when they weren't followed, you basically said, "Oh well. No big deal." I didn't have time to enter this one, so it doesn't effect me, but I think you get where I'm going with this ... I'm just saying. Then you have someone like Patricia (no offense, Patricia) saying, "I broke the rules, and it got me published." So next week, when all the other agents are inundated with queries that break all the rules, they'll know who to yell at. YOU. And PATRICIA. :- )

AstonWest said...

The next time you get a query for work you don't represent, Nathan, don't come crying on your blog about it...


moonette said...

I am also grateful to Mr. Bransford for these contest opportunities and appreciate the time and energy he spends with them. I pointed out a contestant's word count earlier, which exceeded the rule by 34 words. I did not disparage Mr. Bransford in that comment, and I do not wish to. However, here is a recent excerpt from another literary agent's blog which run's similar contests to Mr. Bransford's, and which may explain why some people are concerned about the rules:

We went through and made our list of top picks. We agreed on three entries. Then I decided to check the word count. To this point, we’d been trusting that everyone was abiding by the rules. We hadn’t been militant about checking it. But when it became clear that other commenters were noticing the length, we decided we needed to look into it. Unfortunately, two of the three contestants disqualified themselves by going over the 100 words, so this made picking the winner a no-brainer. If it came down to just two or three extra words, we may have let it slide (after all, we’re English/Journalism majors . . . we can sympathize with the mathematically challenged), but both were over by more than 15 words. We just couldn’t ignore that, and to be honest we were disappointed and irritated. Due to that situation, there isn’t a runner-up for the category. Honorable mentions will be featured tomorrow.

So that can explain why many of us were very careful to edit our pieces to a 250 word limit and noticed when others did not. It doesn't mean we have to blow this all out of proportion, but it does make a concern about the rules understandable.

Kim Kasch said...

I think it was fun and people need to remember the old adage: "It's not whether you win or lose but how you play the game." And that means good sportsmanship folks.

Thanks for giving us the opportunity to play, Nathan.

Nathan Bransford said...

Southern Writer-

Already beat you to that one. I had a post titled "The First Rule In Publishing: There Are No Rules."

mlh said...

Wow, I can't believe people are tripping over this Word Count thing. I entered for the fun of it. I wasn't looking to win, which is why I posted such a different entry from the rest. I was looking to see if I could come up with an entry that made sense at 250 words.

My original blogpost was over 1200 words. The conversation was close to 380. I pared it down to 254 (oops, I went over by 4 words.) The dialogue still made sense.

A very big learning lesson for me. I can make dialogue without so much filler taking up unnecessary space.

Adaora A. said...

We're lucky we get these cool contests so often. I think I goofed up myself. I didn't understand the rules 100%. In any case it kind of gives us insight into the kind of stuff that you like doesn't it? It means more queries for you.

I see your grand master plan Nathan Bransford.

*off to check final grades for uni courses* Yikes!

Michele said...

Alright, I'll pipe up. Since I was one of the offending extra-word-users, let me just say that I did that knowing I was breaking the "rule". Yep, I did it on purpose.

But the dialog worked better with the "extra" words, and I took a chance. If Nathan had disqualified me for that, I would have understood. Without whining, by the way.

I think the contest was a blast, and really do appreciate Nathan's efforts! And if he has another contest, I'll enter that one too--and I might just break another rule. Just warning you.

Nathan Bransford said...

Well Michele, that's frustrating to hear because I had defended this on the assumption that they were accidental mistakes, just as I didn't knowingly let people go over their word count. So Michele, even though most of the voting is in -- I gotta officially disqualify you, and I can't help you with one of the prizes. It's only fair to the people who knowingly adhered to the rules. An honest mistake is one thing, this is another.

I hope you do compete in the future, and for what it's worth I actually think you didn't need to go over to make the finals.

Michele said...

I did feel that with all the flap over this I should make it clear that, while I knew I had a few too many words, it wasn't an attempt to be underhanded in any way! I just liked the dialog the way it was, and so that's what I submitted.

I am disappointed to be disqualified, but totally understand. Perhaps one of the other runners up can have their work posted in my stead?

Nathan Bransford said...

Thanks for understanding, Michele, although at this point in the contest I think we'll hold here.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nathan Bransford said...

Guys, as far as I'm concerned, this matter is done. Time to move on, and I'm closing this thread.

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