Shirley Blair has written a useful and interesting post on story lengths. Naturally it deals with the
requirements for The People's Friend as that's where she works, but I feel the advice applies to all womags.
To paraphrase and add my tupenny worth ...
1. Find out the word length requirements of the magazines you wish to submit to, and stick as closely to them as possible. (The magazine guideline quick links on this blog may help.) You won't be rejected because you've sent 2,003 words when they asked for 2,000, but if you send 500 or 4,000 then the magazine editor is very unlikely to be able to use your story, even if she loves it.
2. If you do send the 'wrong' length, accept that it will be edited to fit the space. This could involve cutting something you felt was important, or adding something you'd rather wasn't included. Such changes can happen anyway, but if your story doesn't fit as it is, the editor has no option but to either alter or reject it.
Remember editors are busy people. They may prefer to accept a story they can use as it is, over one which requires a considerable amount of extra work.
3. If you write stories in the lengths which are used most frequently, you increase your chances both of it being accepted at the first try and of being able to submit it elsewhere, should that prove unsuccessful.
4. If you need to add words then don't just pad it out with long winded phrases which will weaken the story. Instead add something of value and interest – an extra twist or touch of humour are often welcomed by editors.
5. When cutting words, double check you haven't removed something the reader needs to know in order to understand the story. (This book contains useful information, including advice on writing to a word count.)
Do you find it easy to stick to word counts? If you ever struggle, do you tend to go over or under the requested figure?