Monday, October 30, 2006

How to Get Your Word Count

How do you count words? MS Word? Or something that will better equate to number of pages (for example, an average of words/per page of full pages multiplied by the number of pages)?

I find the difference in the two methods changes my wordcount by over 5,000 words.

I'm not sure why this is such an issue for everyone, but I've been flooded with emails about this. This is how to calculate word count:

1. Click on "Tools"
2. Click on "Word Count."

The old method of assuming there were 250 words on a double-spaced page and then multiplying that by the number of pages is a method that was used when we didn't have programs that did the counting for us, and we had to have some way to do it without actually counting all the words.

To be honest, we don't care about the exact count. (We certainly don't care about it in the hundreds and double-digit numbers) We care within a range of about 5 thousand words, which would be a couple printed pages. Don't lie, but 95k is not a big difference to us than 92K or 90K. Just use a word counter, round to a hundred (don't list the last two digits), and submit.


Kimber Li said...

That's pretty much what I figured.

Charlie Martin said...

Um, five thousand words is 20 pages typescript, not "a couple".

The "four pages to a thousand words" rule is good for something else, though: if you have 5000 words by word count and it's not right close to 20 pages, you've got soemthing wrong with your formatting.

BTW, a full page of text, single column, in a book has about 350 words.

Dave Fragments said...

The word counting programs are just so much simpler and infinitely more accurate than any estimation method.

I usually edit (onscreen) in 10 point times roman, single spaced text. When I get done with the edit, I convert the text to blue and Arial Narrow. It has to do with the screen and the my bifocals (go look at my picture on my profile, those are glasses and they are that thick). I typically have to reformat everything to send it out to an editor.

My eye doctor told me not to use Courier or any other mono-spaced font as it strains my eyes.

Anonymous said...

And here I've been just making tally marks this whole time.


Anonymous said...

Here's an interesting stat:

Novels published by the large trade houses averaged 359 pages in 2004, a growth of 24 pages since 1995, and 43 pages since 1990.


Simon Haynes said...

My first book was just 80,000 words but weighed in at 393 pages because it was fairly heavy on the dialogue. I think it even surprised the publisher ;-)
My second book had a similar word count (within 600 words) but was 30 pages shorter, with no difference in layout or fonts.

Anonymous said...

just yesterday checked word count on ms; in Word 2007: 119,624, in Open Office 2.0: 96,379. That's some difference.

Simon Haynes said...

Novels published by the large trade houses averaged 359 pages in 2004, a growth of 24 pages since 1995, and 43 pages since 1990.

Yes, but I have a copy of The Hobbit from the 70's and another from the 90's. The latter is twice as thick.
It's the washing powder principle all over again. Bigger book = more 'value'. Also more shelf space and a bigger spine to attract punters.

Bernita said...

Thank you.
Give 'em the ballpark.
The count will change on edit.

none said...

The Jane Austen Book Club has so much white space I could use it to write another novel. Did I feel cheated? I did, even though I bought it cheap in the supermarket. It's those damn words Jane Austen that got me. Suckered!

anon, that's a huge difference. I know MS Word counts some characters as words, as I've often seen differences in count between it and WP, but never anything so huge. What's in your ms apart from words?

Anonymous said...

That's weird because I always thought the 250 per page rule was for typesetting purposes, and therefore was more accurate. Now I'm thoroughly befuddled.

Anonymous said...

'It's the washing powder principle all over again. Bigger book = more 'value'. Also more shelf space and a bigger spine to attract punters.'

Simon, my only interpretation of the stat was that publishers count paper, not words... which makes sense given those rising costs. Is The Hobbit really a good example?

Perhaps it serves to further the idea... publishers want the room to negotiate visibility/value with hard costs. The stat doesn't give any indication of how close to the average most books now fall.

With respect to writing a story and word count, I believe the critical thing is to write tight and get rid of the unnecessary. That's modern professionalism. It always amazes me how much can be pared down or outright chopped; the trick is to let go, but the reality is most writers are somewhat in love with their words. I've read acclaimed novels that still had a surprising amount of driftwood, perhaps subtle, but the story would have benefited from tougher editing. If a story needs 800 pages and is written beautifully, so be it. Goes without saying.

Publisher costs aside, the world's a busier place every day, with endless competition for one's discretionary time. It behooves writers to write leaner... and I suppose publishers even more so. It's their job to have a sense of the other side... what most people are willing to read. Time has to be a factor, no? I say that sadly, because anyone who loves to read knows this is an experience apart from other 'entertainment', ie. as spectator only in a frantic world. But given my own sensations in a frantic world, I feel a real obligation to not waste a reader's time.

Talking craft, my experience is this: the same story can be told as a short story or a novel. It's all a matter of perspective... requires dexterity, but good writing requires dexterity anyway. Just one more aspect of craft.

Vladimir, a friend here, told me a few days ago about a writing competition for a story to be told in 6 words or less. He gave me an example I LOVE.

"Lie detector glasses improved. Civilization collapses."

LOL, man an entire story world in those 6 words... word count is yet another aspect of the art with layers to be explored. Sorry to get philosophical, Rejecter. ;)

Anonymous said...

Different genres call for different 'standards.'

Literary Genre books come in at around 50k, maybe 60k.

The important thing is that you tell your story well, the writing be crisp and concise. Don't go filling in if you come in at 5k below and your story is well told.

Simon Haynes said...

What I meant was they reprinted the same book with almost twice the number of pages. It wasn't a childrens edition or large print, it was just a standard paperback. Seems to me that the idea was to bulk it up and make it look bigger on the shelf.
A lot of the books on my shelves are from the 60's and 70's. Thin was in back then, and when you move onto the 90's and later the physical thickness of the books grows. (Most of these are mass market, although we don't have throw-away strippable books in Australia or, I think, the UK.)
I'm a sparse writer myself, and prefer to leave descriptions of furniture and plants to woodworking and gardening magazines respectively. I've never padded anything, and wouldn't know how to.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely it looks like they wanted to bulk it up-- but did they do so because this story is famous anyway, thus making it a special case? Or because there's an optimal page length vs return and they would do so with any similar book?

Talk of the films was in the wind a long time before release... might the new book edition have capitalized on the early buzz?

I'm curious to know the variables in their number crunching. I might as well use a crystal ball and make predictions, that's how little I understand what happens on the dark side. :)

I've read recently on a couple reliable blogs that P&L forecasts are everything to a publisher's decision to publish or not, and those forecasts are number-crunching heaven. Not pretty from the artist's mindset. Maybe it's best not to know. ;)

Either way, I agree, write lean... leave the padding to them.

Word Count Tool said...

There are many methods for doing so!