29 January 2007 by Published in: General musings 5 comments

Keith Poulter of North and South magazine has been soliciting a raft of new articles for upcoming issues. Last weekend, Keith asked–and I agreed–for four articles from me. Fortunately, three of the four are things that can be adapted from different book projects. One of them will be an article on the June 30, 1863 Battle of Hanover, adapted from Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg. JD’s doing the bulk of the work on that one.

Right now, I’m working on a piece on the March 17, 1863 Battle of Kelly’s Ford. This one is an adaptation of a chapter from The Union Cavalry Comes of Age: Hartwood Church to Brandy Station, 1863. The problem is this: the chapter from the book was nearly 19,000 words long, by far the most detailed treatment of this day-long slugging match ever published. It’s literally filled with great stories of the deeds/exploits of individual troopers.

Keith asked for 7000-7500 words. That means, in order to meet his target length, I have to cut nearly 60% of the text. I’ve taken two full runs at it so far and have managed to cut about 8000 words, meaning I’m presently at about 10,500 words. I still have to write several introductory paragraphs for it to put it in its proper context. I’ve cut out virtually all of the individual soldier stories and have just the battle narrative left and some analysis at the end of the article, although there’s much less of it than there was at the end of the book chapter.

I don’t see any way that I can get it down to the target of 7000-7500 words without pretty much eviscerating the thing. I might be able to cut another 500-1000 words before writing the introductory paragraphs, but that’s it. I guess I will have to leave it to Keith to either cut more out of it or to simply run with it the way that it is.

And then I get to do the same thing all over again with the two days of the Battle of Trevilian Station. That will be even more difficult….

Scridb filter


  1. Tue 30th Jan 2007 at 2:46 am


    Regarding North and South’s raft of new articles, do you get the sense that — now that Mr. Poulter has let his editor, Terry Johnston, go — we’re going to see a lot more pieces comprised of abridged book chapters?

    I hope that isn’t an overall trend for N&S. It’s still the best glossy going on the subject. I thought Johnston put together some pretty good issues, and his departure seems worrisome at first blush.


  2. Michael Aubrecht
    Tue 30th Jan 2007 at 10:09 am

    I hear you buddy. One of my “side-gigs” is writing Christian-themed CW studies for a Presbyterian publication called the SPC Post. Unlike at The Free Lance-Star where my editor will graciously “allow” me to run over my limits (after all it’s the designer’s problem to figure out how to fit it :)) this pub has a strict word count and I always have to “slice and dice” to make my mark. This is especially hard when taking excerpts from other material that you’ve written and especially when you use quotes.

    However, one of the greatest lessons that editors have taught me is that if you can get your point across in 2 sentences (as opposed to 4) you’ve done a better job. Best of luck. Oh and one other thing – some of my best stuff recently is from things that I’ve “found” on the cutting room floor. BTW: Really enjoying “Lancers” I’m sure I’ll go over my word limit on that one too. 🙂

  3. Tue 30th Jan 2007 at 10:37 am

    LOL Eric – well, our Hanover chapters are just over 20,000 words, so I’m facing the same problem. I guess I’d forgotten they were that long… so when I sat down a couple nights to begin, and looked at the word count (with the 7500 word target in mind) my first thought was “Oh, shit.” It’ll take a gutting, eviscerating, skinning, and boning to hit the 7500 words. I’ve already begun working on it, but it just feels like there won’t be much left.

    It’ll really be bare bones.


  4. Tue 30th Jan 2007 at 10:57 am


    With respect to this batch of articles, Keith indicated that he was short on material for upcoming issues and that, including the ones I’m working on, he had commissioned twenty new ones. Whether they will be extracted from book chapters is an open question. I can tell you, though, that he was in a bit of a hurry and, from my perspective, this is the only way I can get something together fast without having to do new research.


  5. Don
    Fri 02nd Feb 2007 at 2:47 pm

    Given that the article sounds like a pretty short notice task, would pictures from the Kelly’s Ford battlefield help your article at all? If so, I can be up there over the next weekend or two, it’s not all that far away.
    Good luck with the slashing and burning. It’ll be a challenge, since most of those “extra” words are what make your account different from the other ones on the battle. This battle’s become a bit of a hobby of mine in and of itself, and I’ve been looking for areas to add knowledge to what’s in your chapter instead of paring it down. I’ve found very little so far, but much of the joy’s in the search. I look forward to the article.


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