Feedback desired: Through-write or Segment?

If you don’t read Cites & Insights, this post will be totally meaningless. If you do, only slightly meaningless.

Part of my editorial process is identifying source material that I’ll comment on later–”later” being when there’s enough of it to make a possibly-interesting overall discussion later on. (That’s for focused essays. Other items are tagged for Trends & Quick Takes and My Back Pages and Interesting & Peculiar Products, the “little pieces” sections of C&I.)

Sometimes–increasingly, actually–when I gather the material for an overall discussion and print leadsheets, I find that there’s really more material than will fit in an essay I’m ready to publish in one issue.

For years, I thought 7,000 words or so was a reasonable limit–but I’ve found that the exceptions, the much broader essays, seem to get more readers and more feedback. So now the limit is “whatever”–really about 20,000-24,000 words, since I’m trying to get issues down to that length or even shorter. My ideal goal might be 15,000 to 19,000 words (20 to 24 pages), but that seems unlikely, particularly while the condition of not getting any revenue for C&I persists: Cutting things down to size without losing meaning is hard work. And I’m fundamentally lazy.

There are two approaches to handling such a situation–in addition to splitting items before printing leadsheets into smaller categories (which I do a lot of already):

  1. Split the leadsheets into smaller groups, work through as many of the groups as will fit in one issue, then leave the rest for later.
  2. Write through the entire set in one pass (over several days, to be sure), then split the resulting overlength essay into two parts (or more, but that seems less like) that appear in consecutive issues.

I have consistently used the first approach in the past, most obviously in the numbered series (Writing about Reading, Thinking about Blogging) that appeared in 2008-2010. The problem with that approach is that later numbers in the series can be delayed long enough that things get confusing, especially as I find it necessary to revisit older subtopics. Some items simply never make it into the series.

This year, for the first time, I’ve tried the second approach–starting to write “Five Years Later: Library 2.0 and Balance,” realizing it was going to be too long for a single issue, but proceeding with the whole thing, which then appeared in two parts in the February and March 2011 issues.

I’m in the middle of writing the “first big essay” for the April issue–and it looks as though it’s also going to be too long for a single issue. I’ll try to cut it down, to be sure, and I’d really like to include one or two of the ongoing features (The CD-ROM Project, My Back Pages, Trends & Quick Takes) in each issue, but I also believe there are real advantages to throughwriting the entire essay. But that will mean cutting it into two parts.

Which works better?

For those who’ve read (or who go back to read) the Thinking about Blogging and Writing about Reading series and who’ve also read Five Years Later…

Which do you think works better, from your perspective as a reader?

Throughwritten essays will always (or almost always) appear in consecutive issues. “Pieced” groups of essays rarely occur in consecutive issues. That’s an advantage in that issues are more varies–but maybe that doesn’t matter at all.

As a writer, I find strength in throughwriting. It’s not quite as coherent a process as writing an essay in a single sitting (which ain’t gonna happen for any essay longer than 2,000 words or so!), but I think it yields more coherent results than pieced groups.

But I’d be interested in your opinion.

(“Nobody actually reads C&I any more except to do egosearches” may also be useful feedback, but I’d prefer that you send that via email; if, in fact, almost nobody cares about this stuff any more except as egoboo, there are other ways to use my time.)

6 Responses to “Feedback desired: Through-write or Segment?”

  1. Michael Golrick Says:

    First, I read every issue, cover to cover (wait, I just skim the movie reviews). There is ALWAYS great content. Because of the thoughtful way they are designed, their length, and where I get to read them (mostly at the Reference Desk in quiet moments), I print each issue out. In some libraries, I routed them to the management team. Currently, I just save them.

    Having said that, I am not sure that, as a reader, there is a significant difference for me. There is always good content, and thoughtful cogent remarks about what others have said. (This is true even when you disagree with someone, and sometimes I agree with you, and sometimes not.)

    Perhaps it is because much of my reading is in “snippets” that I find this to be true. In reading the longer essay, I try to finish at least a “section” (i.e., the content under an italicized heading) before I put it down. If I am interrupted, I usually have to go back to the beginning of that section to pick up the thread.

    I am not sure if my comments are helpful, but they are truthful.

  2. walt Says:

    Certainly helpful. Thanks. (As for agreeing with my disagreements: I’ve always said that anyone who agrees with me all the time probably isn’t reading carefully.)

  3. bibliotecaria Says:

    I would prefer the thoughtwriting approach with consecutive issues. It is easier for me to then follow your thoughts. Piece writing that appears piecemeal feels more disjointed to me. I am NOT one of those who works in short bytes; I prefer deep writing, even if I can’t read it all at once.

    This is related to my incredulity whenever someone says that blog writing is meant to be short, or when a blogger apologizes for a long post. Who made that rule?

    I know C&I isn’t a blog, but underlying both thoughts is the fact that I LIKE longer writing.

  4. walt Says:

    Thanks–that’s exactly the kind of feedback I’m looking for, although I should clarify: The piecemeal approach still results in fairly long essays (typically 5,000-8,000 words), but shorter and scattered across more issues.

  5. laura Says:

    I am tempted to say that I like the big long essay all in one issue issues, but it may be that it’s just that I am more interested in the topics of those issues? I’m not entirely sure. I’ve read both kinds with pleasure in the past (and whether or not I read a piece in C&I is related mostly to 1) am I interested in the topic? 2) how much time do I have to devote to reading the issue when it comes out? 3) how much of the source material am I familiar with (because I am fundamentally lazy and will pretty much never go look up a piece without a hyperlink to it–sometimes I skim the essays where I’ve read most of the source material and sometimes I read them more carefully; the ones where I haven’t read it, I tend to skim more, I think.)

    I’m not at all sure that any of this is interesting or useful to you, but there you go.

  6. walt Says:

    Certainly interesting. The single-essay issues have, with some exceptions, done very well in readership. What I’m dealing with here are essays that I think are just too long for an issue–and, particularly given that I still lack sponsorship, “too long” is anything over 20,000 words.

    The rough draft of the lead April essay is just under 33,000 words. Unless an edited version drops by a lot, I’ll split it across two issues. For the moment, I am going with “throughwriting” where that’s at all feasible…and watching what happens.

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