How do I stop cuts by the copy desk?

Mary Ann Hogan
Chips Quinn Writing Coach

Dear Coach,

I like to end my stories with a colorful quote that sums up everything. Lately, whenever I end a story that way, the copy desk chops off the last inch or two, sending my great quote to oblivion. I’m beginning to develop a complex. I worry that they’re doing it just to spite me. How can I deftly ask the desk to keep their mitts off my end quotes? — Short-changed

Dear Short,

The real question: How to best preserve your quote?

The answer: It’s in your hands, not the desk’s.

First, be sure you are writing to specified length. (It sounds as though you have a tendency to run over.) But even if you do write to length, space problems can pop up and the copy desk is forced to make cuts. Very often, the end is the first thing to go in a story that’s too long.

To guard against the oblivion problem, try using that “colorful quote that sums everything up” near the top of the story instead — say, in the fourth paragraph. If it’s as good as you say, then its muscle probably should be flexed earlier in the story.

Finally, about your “complex.” Relax. Copy editors are not out to get you. They’re just trying to make the story fit. Instead of worrying about phantoms, take a copy editor to lunch.


Mary Ann Hogan’s Ask The Coach columns, first written for the Chips Quinn Scholars program, are republished with permission from the Freedom Forum Institute, 2019.

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