Friday, April 26, 2013

Word Count is Important

As the title suggests, today's post is going to be about a very important topic: word count.

Now, the first thing that you need to know is that the word count that publishers and agents ask for isn't the one that you see that's calculated by your word processor. To find out your 'estimated' word count, take the following steps:

1. Select all of your text using ctrl+a.

2. Change the font to Courier or Courier New, and the font size to twelve.

3. Indent the paragraphs by half an inch using the indent tool on top of the page.

4. Right click on your text. An option will come 'Paragraph'. Click on that, and change line spacing to double spaced. Make the indentation 1".

5. Make sure your new chapters start on a new page. Basically, all of this is part of a standard manuscript format.

6. Multiply the page number by 250.

That's your word count. Here's some data from me comparing real/estimated word count:

1. Real: 7,474
Estimated: 8,000
Difference: 600 words

2. Real: 11,987
Estimated: 13,000
Difference: 1,000 words

3. Real: 98,310
Estimated: 110,500
Difference: 12,000

The difference is only an estimate. From the above data, we can conclude two things. First, your estimated word count is always higher than the real word count. Second, the larger your real word count, the greater the difference. See how for the last thing when my word count was 98k, it was actually 110k. That's a huge difference, especially in publishing, where a difference of only around 5k is unacceptable.

Now, you might be wondering why publishers do this. The thing is, that this gives a much better idea of how much space your novel is going to take up, and consequently how much paper and ink they're going to need to publish it, as well as how much time it will take to edit it. Word count that your word processor gives out isn't a very good estimate of this, because it doesn't take into fact that new paragraphs start on new lines, if there's a lot of dialogue, if you're words are very long, etc. That's why estimated word count is.

Another thing, don't think that a longer book is better. The average novel is only around 80,000 estimated words. It's around ten thousand words higher for science fiction/fantasy, but otherwise, if you're first novel is very long, it's usually a sign that you have a lot of excess words that you can delete in it. If you're e-publishing though, word count isn't exactly that much important.

The rule of thumb is that a shorter novel is better. Sure, it shouldn't be too short, but it being a few words short is better than it being a few words to long. There are always exceptions to this, especially if your long novel is very engaging throughout, but usually a high word count tends to scare off publishers. Of course, writers with a lot of clout might be able to write longer things, but otherwise, not really.

Here's a general guide to see if you've formatted your manuscript right:

150,000 words would be around 600 pages.

100,000 words would be around 400 pages.

80,000 words would be around 320 pages.

If your results don't match this, then you're doing something wrong.

On a final note, remember, if you're aiming for 80k words, write around 74k in real word count. Aim slightly lower in real word count while you're writing, and then find out the estimated one when you're finished. Don't bother with this word count thing while you're working on your first draft. Just set up a rough idea of how much you have to write, but otherwise, worry about it after you've written the very best that you can.

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