Friday, July 24, 2009

Word Count

I swear I must get a question a week relating to word count. It’s an endless discussion here, on the blogs of other agents and on writing loops and boards, so while I’ve posted on this before I’m going to try to make this the complete guide to word count post, everything you need to know. Of course I know that’s never going to happen.

First and foremost, what length should your book be? My answer is when in doubt think 80,000 words, give or take. I don’t think that you can ever go wrong with 80,000 words whether you’re writing mystery, romance, fantasy, literary fiction, or nonfiction. Okay, sure, it’s never going to work for children’s books or poetry, but since I don’t rep those it doesn’t matter (to me anyway). In fact, I think 80,000 words even works for YA. Sure, with some of these genres you’re going to be on the long end and with others the short end, but again this is the “when in doubt word count.” 80,000 words is pretty much safe everywhere.

What about range, I’ll be asked. Can you give us a range or can you be genre specific? I suppose I can, to the best of my abilities.

Mystery: I think that for mysteries you often have the freedom of writing a book that’s a little shorter. In the case of mysteries 70,000 to 90,000 words will likely work for you.

Romance: 80,000 to 100,000, and no, I’m not counting category. If you’re writing category you’ll need to follow the very specific word count requirements of that line.

Fantasy or SF: Here you can go a little bit longer. Some publishers will accept books in the 80,000 to 125,000 range.

YA: 50,000 to 75,000, and yes, this is an area that can get really fudgy (I made that up), but again, in the 80,000 range is good. **I corrected these numbers after feedback from others (and comment from Kim) although I do think with YA these days you can still be safe in 80,000 words although maybe a tad high. Fantasy YA of course can be higher.

Women’s fiction, literary fiction or anything I failed to mention above: 80,000 to 100,000 (sometimes 125,000, especially in the case of literary fiction).

Now all of these are ranges and estimations. You are unlikely to be rejected simply because you’re at 78,000 for your women’s fiction or 110,000 for your romance. That being said, if you start coming in at 175,000 words, 200,000 words, or 41,000 words, you better take a close look at your book. No one in their right mind would think you’re somewhat close to range. Let’s put it this way, we give a range so that you know what the fudge factor is. We’re all smart people and we all know that when we ask something to be within a range we’ll allow for some leeway. Just think about how much leeway you’d allow and keep it at that.

I think the biggest thing about word count to remember is that it’s more than just an arbitrary number that publishers set down to make your life hard. For one thing, this is what readers tend to expect and yes, let’s face it, we all know a reader who will avoid a book simply because it looks too long or even too short. We humans tend to be creatures of habit, and if we’re used to reading 100,000 words give or take we expect 100,000 words. The other thing to consider is that as long as we’re still selling books primarily in a paper format, it’s an expense issue. A book costs more if it has more pages and somewhere along the line those costs have to be passed on to readers. Are you prepared to be the most expensive book on the market just because you insist that not one of those 300,000 words can be cut? Trust me, it’s hard enough to sell a book without out-pricing yourself.

So how do you count your words? In the days before computers it was 250 words per double-spaced page. This was the way I was taught to count, and back in my days as an editor this was still the way (roughly) production people counted to predict how big a book would be. Why? Because a 200-page book filled with short snappy dialogue is going to have far fewer words than a 200-page book filled with long descriptive paragraphs. In other words, it’s about figuring page space and not word count. That being said, I’ve seen a lot of conflicting opinions from agents on how word count should be done—whether it’s using the word count key on your computer word processing program or counting pages. Frankly, I don’t think it matters. No one is going to check and no one is going to criticize you because you were 100, 1,000, or even 10,000 words off in your count. It’s just to give us an idea of where things stand, so do what works for you.

There, I hope I did it, but I’m sure I didn’t. I hope I answered, finally, questions on word count.

Jessica

71 comments:

Dan Holloway said...

Jessica, may I ask a question (I should point out I'm writing for the UK, so what I say may not apply over there) that's always puzzled me but I've never had a chance to put to an agent?

Your word limits are absolutely what I hear all the time, and what I would aim for. In particular we are told there is no market for novellas. Yet when I go into bookstores, there are tables of "in translation" literary fiction almost all of which is 100-150 pages long. I'm thinking of Banana Yoshimoto, Marie Darrieussecq, Alessandro Baricco, even books like (not fiction I know) The Diving Bell and The Butterfly. And many of these are first books.

Is this: 1. because these books have already proven themselves in their country of origin (in which case, shouldn't the fact they also succeed outside show there is a market for novellas?) or 2. because audiences somehow have different expectations for fiction in translation?

I guess I'm intrigued why we're always steered so clear of novella length when we see so many novellas selling so well by overseas authors.

Thank you in advance - I'm sure others will ask this too.
Dan

BookEnds, LLC said...

Dan:

My real answer is I have no clue, but my speculative answer is exactly as you suggest, that these books have already proven themselves in other countries.

--jhf

Anonymous said...

I write YA, and your word counts there are off.

*YA word count is usually 50k-65k.

*Fantasy and other ms that require "world-building" can be a bit longer, like 80k or 85k.

But contemporary? For an unpublished author? 80k is not the norm, no. There is also a huge age range in YA, and the word counts reflect that. A clean, fast, fun book for a 12 year old usually isn't going to be 80k -- but an edgy, ms meant for a 14+ crowd might be.

Dan Holloway said...

Thank you, Jessica, for getting back to me so quickly.

Andrew said...

I'm always confused when it comes not so much to word count, but to word per page count.

I understand that kicking out an 800 page novel (200000 words then) is going to be an extra cost for a publisher and I'm not even gonna bitch about the sheer number of novels over 600 pages I have and/or read (OK I admit, they are pretty much all sci-fi and fantasy, Dean Koontz or Stephen King).

For example. I finished my first novel and am in the process of grinding it down. I took the first page of 'Watchers' by Dean Koontz, typed the whole thing out, counted the number of lines and reformatted the font & size to match it perfectly. I then wrote 287000 words of first effort novel (i.e. over written) it came to exactly 800 pages. There's a good mix of dialogue and chunky prose in there. That's as good as 360 words per page.

??????

I read Dan Brown's Digital Fortress...512 pages...which is 128000 words at 250 per page. I counted the lines of text, 34, which is the same as 'watchers'. If it averages 350 as well that's 178000. I then thought about all the books I've picked up in bookshops. Most seem 400-500 pages (OK in fantasy this is short, as in sci-fi, but thrillers and paranormal that I read this seems the standard. Even Michael Marshall Smith, who wrote 3 thinnish sci-fi before I picked up a crime one, knocked out 440 pages in Bad Things).

OK...I know I'm nit-picking. but 250 words per page seems too short considering then that 400 page novels are the upper maximum you can have, 80K is 320 pages (@ 250/page) which seems waaay slim. So my questions are as follows.

1) Are they a whole swathe of books, most that are published in fact, that are around 300 pages in length on average (75K) but fall into genre's I do not read - namely YA, Women's fiction and such. This could be the simplest answer of course, that crime and thrillers (paranormal or otherwise) represent a much smaller percentage of published books.

2) Most 300 page books actually don't get well marketted, so the larger (400-500 page) books appear more often as they tend to be 2nd or 3rd publshed efforts which equals more production money slated against them.

3) Do most books actually come out of revision and editting with *more* words because of plotting issues and clarification. For all the line editting it pales in comparison to the 15 page scene written in to knit things together.

4) I'm from England. Do we just have thicker books here??

As you can see this is something that occupies my thoughts, simply because I struggle to imagine this world where a whole sea of 300 page books exist in a place I've never been.

Word verification - nolle: to burrow with one's nose

Mark Terry said...

And just an addendum:

12 point Courier font, a 100,000 word novel (by software count) will run somewhere in the 500 to 600 page range, give or take. In fact, I just checked. My 89,000 word manuscript in 12 point Courier is 505 manuscript pages long.

But the same manuscript in 12 point Times New Roman is exactly 400 manuscript pages long.

It's been acquired and will come out sometime in 2011 (It's currently titled The Valley of Shadows), so despite the manuscript length, the publisher's more interested in the approximately 90,000 word length.

Andrew said...

by the way I'm not moaning or anything like that - if that's the word limit, that's the word limit, end of story. I can't change it, my tastes in books won't change it, and agents know the market about 190,876,455% more than I do.

I'm completely without judgement in my confusion. I really can't get my head round how there are so many books, it appears, that seem that much longer than 80K using the 250/page rule. This is my geek side having a fit in other words...=0)

Kim Kasch said...

"There, I hope I did it, but I’m sure I didn’t. I hope I answered, finally, questions on word count."

There is no "finally" in the wonderful world of writing - the only constant is constant change

;)

But thanks it was an interesting post

Andrew said...

Oh one more thing - Does e-publishing mean word counts will take a back seat?? (no paper etc)

Last one I promise...=0)

Laurel said...

Andrew:

I am laughing out loud because I've done the same thing!

And Jessica: The only reason we keep bugging you about word count is because everyone starts out with too many words. We cling to the hope that if we keep asking the same thing the answers might change in our favor. My five year old employs this strategy with frequency. It doesn't work for him, either.

Rick Daley said...

Two quick questions for Jessica or anyone that knows:

- What about a humor novel?

- What about cozies (for word count, but also what are cozies)? I've read that they can be shorter.

BookEnds, LLC said...

Andrew:

All those numbers and my poor pea brain started to shut down ;) No worries though you didn't come off any other way but confused and now I am too.

I think Mark Terry had a very valid point that I didn't consider and that was font. Depending on the font you're going to get different counts at 250 words per page. The other thing to consider when looking at these page count books is whether they are dialogue heavy and the very last thing to consider is who these authors are. You cannot compare bestselling or established authors (S. King) with anyone else since they now make their own rules.

Keep in mind manuscript pages do not directly translate to book pages either so you can't use my word count numbers when looking at books. When I'm saying 250 words per page I'm talking typical manuscript pages.

Hope that helps instead of confusing more.

--jhf

Mira said...

Wow. This is really helpful information. Succinct and clear.

Thank you, Jessica.

I hope you link this one on the sidebar - if you want to.

Can I just say that I hope all new words are as delicious as Fudgy? Nice one. :)

Mira said...

Oh, I'd like to know about humor books too. I get the impression they can be shorter.

Kate Douglas said...

My Wolf Tales all run between 75k-90k words, computer count, or 300-360 typed pages at 25 lines per page, dark courier font, with one inch margins. While my contract calls for books that are 80k words in length, my editor has never said anything about the discrepancy in word count--and, as Jessica has said, stories with more dialogue will run to more pages with fewer words in order to adjust to the "white space" on the page. I honestly think it just comes down to writing the best story you can and aiming for a general word length--except in category romance, where the rules tend to be much more strict. I keep the word count toolbar on my manuscript page so I can check as I write--it helps me know when to start tying up the loose ends and completing the story arc, but I tend to worry more what my characters are up to than how many words it's taking them to get into and then out of trouble.

Andrew said...

This is what happens when you work with stats everyday, you start talking in binary.

Basically what I'm saying is, to strip it down to 1 point/observation, is if you pick up a novel, and type out a page I would wager that it's more than 250 a page. That means that the upper limit of 100K now takes up less than 400 pages. All i'm asking is, where are these books? What am I missing? Am I living in some kind of bizarre escher like world where perspective and word count a re warped by a skilled printer??...hehe

MS page count I think are irrelevant - books aren't printed double spaced in courier. I type everything in single line verdana pt 14 so it 'looks' like a book. Then I reformat the whole lot once I've finished into double spaced courier.

Juliana Stone said...

I think most pub houses are using computer word count. so, really, forget those other numbers, look at your computer word count and write! Or else it will drive you crazy! My ms I turned into my pub was approx 97K finished, on my computer with the font I use I think it was 321 pages. In the book it will be more like 390. FWIW

good luck and happy writing!

Sally MacKenzie said...

I go by the 250 words per page theory when I write. I write in 12 pt. Courier New not because I like the font but because it gives me the most accurate "fit". I also jiggle the line spacing to give me 25 lines per page (it's a little less than double space). Doing those formatting things means I can be pretty sure that when I hit somewhere around 400 manuscript pages, I'll have the right length book. My contracts say 95,000 words, I think, but if I actually wrote 95,000 words by computer count, my books would be too long since I have a lot of dialog and short paragraphs.

I now write with a view always to where I am in the book physically. It helps shape my story. I had to jettison a few interesting characters once when I realized I didn't have enough pages left to include them properly.

I guess one thing I'm trying to say is word count is more than just an annoyance. A 95,000 word book--even by page count--is a different story than a 70,000 word book. Or a 25,000 word novella. The number of characters, the number of subplots, the pacing are all affected by word count.

Kate Douglas said...

So true, Sally. My new series is mass market and the contract called for 110k words, but my editor said she really wanted a "bigger" book if I could come up with 120k. I had no idea how different my pacing would have to be for the longer length, though I must admit, it was really fun to have the room to develop a meatier plot and more fleshed out characters. And, FWIW, I just got my new cover art and I'm so excited about how PERFECT it is, I can hardly stand myself! Take a look--it's posted at www.katedouglas.com with a full chapter excerpt. (Sorry, Jessica--can't contain myself!)

Ulysses said...

"Finally?" I don't think human nature allows for anyone to answer a question "finally."

But you've answered it definitively, and I appreciate that a great deal. I have a WIP fantasy that is just under 90K. It's losing a lot of words during this editing pass, and I've been worried that it might become too short for the market.

Christine Fletcher said...

Anon 8:39, YA word counts are all over the board. Both my published YA novels clocked in at about 90-95K words. (One is contemporary, the other historical. No fantasy or paranormal.) I write for older teens, though, so that may make a difference.

Angie Fox said...

Great point, Sally. I'm on my sixth book (the third published one) and I'm just now getting to the point where it's second nature to know exactly where I am on word count vs where I should be in the story.

I don't like 12-point Courier New, but my editor does. So I'll write the book in Times New Roman and switch it at the end. Right now, I'm at 65,000 words (or around page 230 on the manuscript in Times New Roman) and I know this is about when I need to head into the climax of the book.

The final book will hit at around 75 - 80K. Then revisions (I tend to write short) will bump it up by about 4K.

My contracts call for 80 - 85K, but I think The Accidental Demon Slayer came in at 78K and The Dangerous Book for Demon Slayers came in at 83K. No one cared. It was about the story and about coming in at roughly where I needed to be. Plus, I write a lot of dialogue, so that puts me at a higher page length without as many words.

I've talked to authors who tend to write long and have turned in 95K+ manuscripts when their contracts call for 80-85K. No one has made them cut. However, I just talked to a NY Times bestseller who received her printed galleys (after turning in a much longer than expected book) and her publisher had reduced the type size of the words on the page in order to fit everything onto the 380 or so pages they gave her for the final book.

Now that the book is out, she's getting upset reader mail from people who are having a hard time sinking into her story because they're squinting to see the words.

She talked to her publisher about it and they basically said tough tootsies. With paper costs being what they are, a bigger book was too expensive. Their best answer, in order to keep her book in tact, was to shrink the word size on the page and crowd more lines onto each page. She's not a big enough name yet to write her own rules like a Stephen King or J.K. Rowling.

So the word counts really are there for a reason. It lets the publisher know what to expect, the reader knows what he/she is getting and the author has a guideline when it comes to constructing the story.

Stephanie Faris said...

Thanks for the great tips. In the past when I wrote YA, generally I wrote with a specific publisher in mind and it's amazed me how many of them ask for 40,000 words when many in the industry say 50,000 as a minimum. The problem is, you keep it at 40,000 for that publisher and then other publishers will say it's too short. I'm going to print this out and use it as a general guideline when I'm writing something I know I'll be submitting to agents.

Pamela Hammonds said...

If you're wanting to compare your title to a book already published, go to Renaissance Learning (renlearn.com) and click on Store and then Quiz Store. You can type in next to Title the name of the book and then click Go! Since it's a school site, you won't find every title, but I've found Sparks, Berg, Meyers, Irving and enough there to be helpful.

http://www.renlearn.com/store/quiz_home.asp?c=MP+44%3A04%3A4+8002%2F03%2F9

Anonymous said...

This is how I understand the way word count is determined in a manuscript. If you use Courier, 12-point, each letter takes up exactly the same amount of space (not so with New Times Roman). Each "word" is considered to have 5 letters followed by a space, so that each line has sixty spaces and therefore 10 words. You have to set your lines at "Exactly 25" (double-space may give you 24) and that gives you 10 words times 25 lines = 250 "words". This has nothing to do with ACTUAL word count. Some of your actual words are longer or shorter than 5 letters. Some of your lines contain far fewer words than 10. The point is how much ROOM in a manuscript does your novel take up. And this does not translate to a paperbook or hardcover, which use different fonts, different page widths and different numbers of lines. But publishers know how to translate that ms length to their needs.
I'm sure Jessica was including cozies when she said mysteries should be b/t 70 and 90,000. In the past, I had thought cozies only required 60-65,000, but maybe this is no longer true. Am I right about that, Jessica? As for a definition of cozies (again, correct me if I'm wrong), they are mysteries in which an amateur solves the murder and there is no "on stage" violence or gore. A trend has been to make your protagonist some sort of crafter (e.g. a knitter) or just an oddball quirky person. I don't believe either of those are necessary as long as he or she is an amateur and the tone is gentle as opposed to edgy and street-wise.

Bija Andrew Wright said...

Dan Holloway: Looking at novellas in translation, you can also consider the readership and the translation. A lot of times, translators try to keep affectations and style of the original language, which makes for dense reading in English. Add to that unfamiliar cultures, unfamiliar character names, etc. So if I want to learn about Egyptian culture, a thick novel in translation might be too intimidating--but I can find a novella or two by Naguib Mahfouz, not too difficult to read, but still feels like an accomplishment.

Whereas if I pick up something in a familiar genre, familiar writing style, unknown writer but writing in English, and it's only 40,000 words, it will feel like I only read half a book.

SM Schmidt said...

At last! I'm so happy to finally have a "rough" guideline to follow regarding length. My worries about which count to follow, allowing MS Word or doing it myself, have been soothed. Hand counting would have been very painful.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with the 80K / YA is okay word count. In my experience (recent, m.s. submitted to editors at imprints at the big publishing houses) my (approximately) 90K m.s. was considered long. But this didn't come out until the end of the very long submission process when the last pass letter mentioned, "I'm not used to reading m.s. more than 250 pages.)

Because my YA does have some sections with (poems, very short chapters), the physical m.s. was longer (as per your post's qualification.)

Still, that editor's comment made me rethink how I'm writing my new m.s. ... short, short, short. Even before submission, my agent asked me to cut - and 80-90 pages went.

Finally, it was sold as an adult trade.

Topic suggestion: what writer's on submission learn/don't learn from pass letters.

Anonymous said...

@Kate Douglas, you raise an interesting (to me) point about font (dark courier). I've long thought a not-quite bold (font) but blacker font (than the regular one) looks better.

I'm curious about Jessica's take on manuscript presentation as it relates to font ... literally, how the words look on the (paper) page.

also, courier is often cited as the default font. yet it seems other fonts look somewhat better. it's morning and I can't remember which ones though...

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous, 11:20 a.m., wow, so word count really isn't word count? your description indicates, as I read it, that word count is not a strict and actual word count but a font/space/size count? which makes me wonder if this discussion isn't really (or, also) about character count ie., "about" has five letters but is a shorter word than, "character" which has nine.

yikes, I knew knew I was such a I'm a how-it-looks geek

Bane of Anubis said...

Ha, I used to be on the very high end of the spectrum -- now I struggle to get to 60k... I feel like several books I've read/listened to suffer b/c they add filler (either a new section or throughout), probably to attain these higher word counts.

Thanks for the post and have a good weekend everyone :)

WV: nerschit -- what the patient in the dentist's chair said after the dentist told him "this is gonna hurt"

Anonymous said...

To anon 12:27 from anon 11:20:
That is how I understand it (I've spent a LOT of time researching this on the net b/c I had so many questions about it and found that explanation somewhere--I believe the search I did was "manuscript guidelines word count". It was the only explanation I read that made any sense to me.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Laurel said:
And Jessica: The only reason we keep bugging you about word count is because everyone starts out with too many words. We cling to the hope that if we keep asking the same thing the answers might change in our favor.

That's exactly it. My first MS (that I wrote with the intention of seeking publication, though I have not done so yet) was about 160,000 words in the first draft, and that was after I realized halfway through that I needed to be more succinct if I wanted any hope of being able to cut it down to a decent word count. (I did in subsequent drafts.) My current MS is ~125,000 words right now and about 2/3-3/4 done, but thankfully there's a lot of padding and world-building in the first half that I know can be greatly trimmed down. I write SF so I can get away with a higher count, but being concise is still something I need to learn.

Anonymous said...

P.S. to anon 12:27 from 11:20. It is only a space count, not a character count, b/c the number of characters actually written on each line is irrelevant. For example, a three- word line of dialogue takes up just as much space as a full line of narrative (i.e., one line).

Anonymous said...

It's anon 12:20 again. Check out http://www.caroldevaney.com/WritersPage.html (about halfway down on the right side).

Emily Kokie said...

I wanted to second Christine Fletcher in saying the YA word counts do appear to vary a little more than some suggest, and in my experience trend a bit higher than some suggest.

The anecdotal experiences I'm familiar seem to suggest it varies a bit by which end of the YA spectrum it falls as well as subject matter - with more room for the 80,000-90,000 word YA at the upper end.

I'd say the sweet spot for mid to upper YA looks to be about 60,000-70,000 words, but with a good bunch of books a little under and a little over...making the wide range 50,000-80,000, with some room above 80,000 for YA fantasies.

Lisa said...

I just wanted to let you know I've linked to this post in the first ever World of Fiction newsletter. Please let me know if it's a problem, and I'll be happy to remove it.

- Lisa

Sally MacKenzie said...

Another thing about word count--if an editor sees something they love in a manuscript that's not at the right word count, he or she may just have you fix it. That's what happened to me.

I sold my first book via RWA's Golden Heart contest. I'd entered The Naked Duke in the Regency category which back then was for shorter, category-sized books that aren't widely published any longer. I'm guessing it was around 20,000 words short for the type of book it became, though I didn't fully understand word count back then, so I'm not sure. Anyway, one of the judging editors contacted me and bought it, telling me just to "make it longer."

Not sure that happens often, but it did happen once.

RW said...

Awhile ago I finally figured out how to get a good estimated conversion of typescript pages to published pages. Basically, subtract 17-19% from your total number of typescript pages. Here's how I arrived at that:

http://workingonanovel.blogspot.com/2009/02/converting-typescript-page-counts-to.html

Anonymous said...

I don't think anyone has mentioned this, so I guess I will. I'm contracted to write e-books all year long and the word count is usually 50,000. I'm not saying I like this, but it's what they contract me to do. I was also just contracted to write a print book for a publisher at 60,000 words. And many e-books I know on fictionwise, allromanceebooks, and other sites are about the same, or less sometimes.

I'm not posting this to start a huge discussion over word count, and I'm posting anon. It's just this is what I'm being told by my agent, and publishers. If this is only a trend, and word count will continue to remain standard, I'll find out soon enough. But it seems that word counts are shrinking these days, especially with all the e-publishers.

Anonymous said...

Anon 435: I'm so intrigued. You write 50,000-word books all year long? How many do you write (on ave) in a year? And what is the genre? Does it pay as much as print?

DebraLSchubert said...

From what I've read and heard from agents, Jessica's word count recommendations are fairly standard. I write women's fiction and mystery, and stick to around the 80-85K mark. It's where the books seem to naturally wind up. Like Jessica said, "all of these are ranges and estimations." As with everything in the publishing business (and with most things in life), nothing's carved in stone. But it's nice to have guidelines.

JA said...

Way back in the days when computers were first doing word processing ...

A friend of mine was writing a new book for their SF series. Wrote it to 120,000 words. Submitted it. Publisher said, cut it to 90,000.

They did it by cutting the number of submitted MS pages (yes, that was before electronic transmission). They did it by going through the MS and, but editing out a word here, a couple of words there, they decreased the total number of pages with an absolute minimum effect on the whole story they wanted to tell.

I do some small scale publishing for local authors and have had to use this technique several times to get things to "fit."

Pages do count. (Does this bring us to a discussion of why any publisher would think I'd pay $24 for an e-book?)

Anonymous said...

"Anon 435: I'm so intrigued. You write 50,000-word books all year long? How many do you write (on ave) in a year? And what is the genre? Does it pay as much as print?"

I've written 60,000 word novels in three weeks. If you write 5,000 words a day, it's possible. The 50,000 word books usually take about six weeks. I've had years where I've written ten novels, but I don't like to do more than seven or eight a year. The books have to be carefully edited and then go to copyediting, which has to be perfect.

The genres range from Sci-Fi to romance. I cross genres and use several pen names. And, I also have other obligations to print publishers, too. So it's a busy schedule. And it gets tense because you want the quality to be there.

The money is okay, but not much better than anything in print. If you can work on volume, the income gets better the more you produce. I read something interesting a few weeks ago on a comment thread on a popular blog. The commentors were talking about an e-book of mine, and guessing about the money I was making. The numbers were outrageously large, and nowhere near what I make. I had to laugh. If only it were true.

jnantz said...

Jessica,
If no one else has told you (and I haven't read the comments to see if they did), YES, you did it. You told us (the intelligent ones, anyway), exactly what we needed to know about word count.

Thank you.

Kate Douglas said...

to anonymous 12:20: Dark courier is the same as courier new, only darker. Not quite bold, but it prints out nice and clear and fills the same space on the page as courier new. You can google fonts and download it free online.

Brittany Hansen said...

Maybe I'm just lazy or weird or both, but I just have my word processing program count the words for me. I don't think it's really necessary to get technical with the words at the writing stage, you just let it flow. There will always be differences with the word on a page, you have to remember that 'I' is a word and Supercalifragilisticexpialadocious is a word (not really but you get the idea) and they both take up different amounts of space. If you're going to get that technical maybe you should count the characters.

Or just take Jessica's advice and go for 80,000 words and make everybody's life simpler.

Wendy Qualls said...

When trying to figure out the pacing and page count for my WIP, I went through several of my favorite romances and counted the words on a few representative pages to see how many words end up on a printed page. (Hint for if you want to try this: turn the page upside-down and count it that way. Your brain doesn't make the words as easily so it's much faster to count.) In the published books, they ended up with 300+ words per page - even the ones with dialogue.

I have been keeping track of word count via the built-in one in the computer and the number of pages in each chapter, but do I need to be counting a strict 250 words/page even if that's not actually accurate?

London Mabel said...

This kind of thing is SO helpful, and why I'm so glad for you agent and pub peeps to be writing blogs. Merci merci!

Buffy Andrews said...

Thank you for this post. I do have a question, though. I have a couple of middle-grades that I am seeking representation for. I'm hearing from some agents that the word count is not high enough. But, while I can certainly add to the manuscripts, I wonder what's wrong with telling the story we have to tell in the number of words it takes to tell it? So, let’s say I've written a MG that comes in at 18,000 words. I might even think that this book would be great for a reluctant reader. I'm sure that I could add to this MS and make it longer, but should we dismiss something based simply on word count?
As an editor, I've read many books in which I felt the writing could be tightened. There have been times when I felt a whole chapter could be killed because it didn't move the story ahead or show character development. Maybe it's just because I've been a journalist for years and look at things differently. Am I making sense at all? I'm just trying to understand why we can't tell the stories we have to tell in the number of words it takes to tell them with no padding or adding just for the sake of meeting a pre-established word count. And, of course, I'm not talking about something being 6,000 words, but in the ballpark, perhaps just on the lower end of the word count. Anyway, thanks for listening, and I would appreciate any guidance or feedback on this.
I'm finishing a MG (which totally cracks me up) that will be longer than the other ones I've written not because I am shooting for it to be longer, but because the story requires it. It will be interesting to see how agents respond to the query on this one compared to the others simply based on word count.
Lastly, I really appreciate your posts. You offer valuable insight and I’m learning new things every day.

Anonymous said...

"No one is going to check and no one is going to criticize you because you were 100, 1,000, or even 10,000 words off in your count. It’s just to give us an idea of where things stand, so do what works for you."

So, can I correctly assume that if you guys said "no" to a 60K manuscript because it seemed too short, and it turns out that the MS is in fact 70K according to another method of word counting, it probably wouldn't have made a difference, because 70K is too short as well? No special genre here.

I'm sad that the 60K number in my query might have turned off some agents when I in fact could have used a 70K word count and still been industry-appropriate.

Anonymous said...

Andrew (July 24)...
I think you are confusing yourself needlessly. Go by word count. No one is saying a printed page = 250 words. Word count (assuming your manuscript is in courier 12 with 1-inch margins) in a manuscript *will* come out to about 250 words per page. This is useful only as a writer's alternate way of assessing the length of a manuscript, nothing more. Before word processing and computers, people did not actually count words. They counted the pages in their manuscript and then multiplied by 250 in order to calculate the total word count of their novel.

If you want to compare the recommended manuscript length to actual books in the store, you need to look only at the new ones, books acquired within the past year or two. Books printed 5, 10, 20 years ago cannot be compared. Publishers were acquiring longer books then than they are now.

Jessica said...

I don't like to read books that look too short, except category. I'm always afraid that the book won't deliver because it's too small.
That said, eek!!! My cont. romance is weighing in at 75k. We'll see how querying goes. LOL

Barry said...

I've been told by an agent that my 170,000 word adult fantasy is way too long and that I should cut it to 60,000-80,000. This seems wrong since most fantasies are at least as long as mine and often much longer. My friend's first novel, 190,000 word a fantasy, has just been published by a major publisher.

PV Lundqvist said...

Huh. The YA word count sounds a bit high. I keep hearing that houses are looking for books around 200 pages long. That would put the word count around 40-50k.

Anonymous said...

Anon 435, 745:
Thanks for the lengthy response. I have to say, I am really impressed. I used to write 2,000 a day (yrs ago) and thought that was alot. Now, I shoot for 1,000. Today, feeling inspired by you, I am writing more. Thank you and the best of luck to you.

Anonymous said...

Barry, that's extremely long. Most fantasies are *not* that long. If you mean the ones by George Martin and others who have a regular readership already built up for an ongoing series, that's so. But most fantasies are in the 80,000-word neighborhood. Listen to your agent.

Robin S. said...

This is really helpful- thanks.
Especially the word count ballpark range for women's fiction.

Anonymous said...

when i want to compare the length of my work to other books i've read, i just go to amazon.com to see if they have the text stats on it. just scroll down to the 'inside this book' section, and, sometimes 'text stats' will be a link under it. not only does it have the words, but what percentage of books have more or less

Anonymous said...

PV Lundqvist said...
"Huh. The YA word count sounds a bit high. I keep hearing that houses are looking for books around 200 pages long. That would put the word count around 40-50k."

My upper-level YA novel is 211 pages, 61,078 words, TNR 12 pt. in MS Word. My own past research on YA word count turned up 50-80,000 as an average guideline.

Thanks for this post. What occurred to me while reading was how the pre-determined word counts make it more difficult to query a novel that crosses categories.

For instance, my 61,000 word novel could be YA fiction, women's fiction or even offbeat lit fic, but querying a different category could take more than writing a new, category-appropriate query letter -- it could entail adding to the book.

Hmmm. I hadn't thought of that wrinkle.

paqart said...

I haven't seen much here regarding non-fiction. Is that different, or the same as fiction? All the non-fiction I buy tends to hover around 500 pages, and I've actually found myself walking away from books because they look too thin.

When I read a book, I like to get completely absorbed by the topic, and have found that it just doesn't happen with 300 pages.

My first two books came in at 300 and 400 pages respectively, but the one I just finished (cough), if the 12-pt Courier method is used, comes in at 136,000 words, or 544 pages.

I've considered breaking it into two volumes, as I did for my last two (they were supposed to be one 300 page book, but my publisher let me split it and more than double the page count). The present book is something I really don't want to split, but my former agent tells me it absolutely can't be over 90k. I'm going to cross my fingers and hope on this one, because from what I've seen here, there are plenty of exceptions to the rules.

As long as it isn't 40k or 200k, but somewhere in the middle, it sounds possible to publish, though the closer one gets to the outer markers, the slimmer the pickings get.

BTC said...

This has been a very informing post. Thank you for all of the input. I have a 245,000 Stephen Kingish type novel that I was just now starting to try and send queries out for and now I realize that it is way too long for a first work. I wrote it after doing word counts on other books in the genre and it is long but shorter than many of them. Now I realize that it needs to be divided into a trilogy since it is my first work. Fortunately I had divided it into three 'books' within the novel anyways each with it's own smaller plot that feeds into the larger plot and each with its own conclusion (but they all keep going on a bigger progressive plot). So now I guess I have three books to market as a trilogy not one large one. The first is 90k, the second is 80k and the third is 75k. The individual books will need a slight bit of tweaking to make sure they stand alone cleanly but I don't see any other strategy to have a first work(s) published without that divide. The work has already been thoroughly reviewed by an outside editor and there isn't a lot left to cut, it is just a long work that tells a complex story. Does anyone have any experience or advice on this? Thank you for any and all information.

BTC said...

A further question... If you have a complete triology how do you pitch it to potential agents via query. One query at a time or a larger query that encompasses everything? Again thank you for any and all responses.

Jim said...

It looks to me like what they REALLY want to know is PAGE COUNT. Seems silly to figure out the number of pages, then calculate the number of words based on that, only to have them calculate back to pages. Why not just give us very specific dimensions and rules to put into our word processors and then let that tell how many pages?

Frex, some research turned up that the smallest books (the ones on the majority of bookshelves) are 5.25x8 inches, though I took a ruler to a book in my hand and found it was much smaller: 4.125x6.625. That's a loss of over an inch in each dimension!

Further measuring of books shows they have about 40 lines per page and around 10 words per line for full-length lines (as in, they go all the way across the page). Margins are about .375 inches, except the top, which is twice as much at .75 inches. This leaves a text area of 3.375x5.5 inches.

Dividing the vertical space by the number of lines yields about 10 points, but that would be with letters touching, so I think 9 or even 8 point fonts are being used. I'm no font expert, but I think something like Times New Roman is pretty close to what I'm seeing.

Of course, we know the above 400 WpP figure I calculated is for a text-dense page. Is the oft-quoted 250 also text-dense, or is it considered an average across all pages? If so, I'd expect a text-dense page to actually be around 300 WpP.

(Text-dense = large, long paragraphs, very few short-lines and very little whitespace left over.)

But wait! No agent/editor/publisher/whatever wants to have to squint at 8 point fonts on a screen, and they're for some reason unable to use the built-in zoom function to adjust the size to whatever is comfortable for them, so they want us to write on a regular 8.5x11 sheet with 1 inch margins with 12 or 14 point font and double-spacing, which comes out to around the same word per page counts, but with slightly different dimensions so that the published book still won't look much like what you send them.

Okay, am I getting off track? I'll stop.

(The above measurements were rounded to the nearest 1/8 of an inch.)

So the only thing I learned here was that when they say "word count", that doesn't have anything at all to do with the actual number of words, and what the really want is a page count, but they won't tell you the exact dimensions to put into your word processor, so there's no way to know in advance what to say, so you just give them a ball-park figure and hope they believe you.

Anonymous said...

I too have a story that involves a character with five personalities.This has taken a lot of words to develop each personality. If I try to cut it it wouldn't be believable and I am cutting it as much as I can. I can see the agonies of having to snip the personalites to make a word count. Isn't there any exceptions when it is as involved as that?

Jean said...

Thank you! I can always find the answers I'm looking for here and I appreciate that.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Jen, for the advice.
I am a new writer,and only have 30,000 words, Now I will have to go back and more details while I'm writing. I thought i was almost done, silly me.

Shadow said...

Amazing how many unnecessary words I'm finding now that I'm looking for them....

Sara Hubbard said...

This is great information. One thing you didn't mention was upper YA. Since this seems to be a relatively new target that kind of bridges the YA and adult market, I can't find any specific guidelines for word count. My gut says my initial goal of 70,000-80,000 is acceptable, but I'm not sure.

Sara Hubbard said...

This is great information. One thing you didn't mention was upper YA. Since this seems to be a relatively new target that kind of bridges the YA and adult market, I can't find any specific guidelines for word count. My gut says my initial goal of 70,000-80,000 is acceptable for an upper YA contemporary, but I'm not sure.

Lauren F. Boyd said...

Many thanks for this information! It was exactly what I needed this evening.