2.27.2006

The very last word about Word Count

Ok, quit obsessing. Yes YOU. Quit it right now. Do NOT make Miss Snark get out her Word Ruler and whack you over the head. Cause she will. AND she'll enjoy it.

When you submit your work to an agent, and you need to indicate word count, click the little button on your word processing program that says "word count" and use that number. That's it. Do NOT start counting up pages and multiplying by 25o. Do NOT start obsessing about whether Times New Roman font is bigger/smaller than another font and thus can't adhere to the "250 rule".

Word count is an estimate. It's not like a bank account where you have to balance to the penny. It's not a way to trip you up ...oh my dog, the cover letter said this was 74,002 words but it's really 67,040 so I'm sending it back. Even if you are off by ...gasp...6958 words, no one cares. We just need an idea of where you are on the scale. At this point, I've read enough manuscripts that I can estimate how many words it is by counting the number of typos in the first chapter. The more typos, the more pages. Double points for every misused word. It's an ironclad corollary.

Obsess over your writing instead and you'll be much better off.

18 comments:

M. G. Tarquini said...

I'll laugh as soon as I finish heimliching the grape out of my throat.

Excuse me. I need to dial 9-1-1, now.

Back later.

Oh, and Miss Snark? You TOTALLY rock.

Lady M said...

OK on the word count issue, I didn't realize it was a big "deal".

However, something you mentioned sparked my curiosity - about the typographical errors on the first page.

Do you - as an agent, continue to read if you find typos? Is there a certain amount of typos that are permitted before you close the ms permanently?

Or does it depend on the writer's style and if the typos can be easily fixed? Or if they are truly horrid writers with an even worse sense of spelling, grammar and communication symbols?

I've always wondered. After sending a partial I found a word missing - and believe you me, I combed that baby forward, backward, sideways and had others do the same... *me cries*

So would you still read on if there were just a couple typos or would you round file it?

Shelli Stevens said...

That is so good to know. Because I was one of those annoying obsessed people. I'm done multiplying. Besides, I suck at math.

Kendall said...

As the obssessor -- thanks, and you rock, Miss Snark!

...and I'd like to thank Miss Snark, for whacking me with her Word Ruler.

(The above should be an excerpt from my first novel's acknowledgements/thanks page.)

Anonymous said...

Wow! I didn't know as every other thing I'd read on word count is to multiply the number of pages by 250 and round up to the nearest thousand.

I think I'm still rounding though as saying my book has 92,587 words, for example, makes me feel like Spock calculating out to the ninth decimal place and saying approximately.

anon-y-mouse

the green ray said...

Obsess? Moi? You must have googled me, Miss Snark! But apparently, I'm not the only one who thinks you're speaking directly to him/her. You're so direct: that's why we love you.

ilona said...

The obsession with Courier and 60 characters per line actually does have some basis for it. Many SFF short story markets demand it, frex. As a starting-out author, you get hammered and hammered with it: put it into Courier 12 with 60 characters per line, underline the italics, two spaces after period, good boy!

The short market is slowly moving away from it - Baen Universe, frex doesn't care how you send it, they will adjust it to their own format as all of the submissions are electronic.

There was a very interesting discussion on it a couple of months back, which I know can't find as I don't recall on whose lj it took place, but it basically amounted to the fact that both copyeditors and designing editors very much like the doublespace courier 60 format. All the letters are the same size, lots of room to make notes, easier to read. Of course, what they like isn't going to help with the agents any :)

BuffySquirrel said...

Ow, my head!

Rick said...

Does anyone know a rule of thumb for how word count translates to printed book pages? (Not manuscript pages.) How long might my 135,000 word novel be as a book? How long would the original 300,000-word (!) version have been?

--E said...

Rick, the true answer to that is "the book will be as many pages as the publisher wants."

I'm a text designer by trade. Like kids who make their papers longer by using big fonts and big margins, we know all the tricks for manipulating the length of a book.

The length of the book will depend on the typeface and design, how many chapter openers you have, what format the book is in (6" x 9" hardcover vs. mass market paperback, say), and a dozen other quirks specific to your writing style.

If you really, really, really must have some sort of vague ballpark figure, take your word count and divide by 300. Note: that's a wild-ass guesstimate with a large margin of error.

Kendall said...

ilona - I didn't see Miss Snark state that the 'standard' format had changed...but that one should use the word processor's word count.

Rick said...

Thanks, --e! So my original version was on order of a thousand pages. Yikes!

Mr. Snort said...

Except that most wp software also counts things like symbols, certain punctuation, scene change indicators etc as words as well. Don't beleive me? Try it. Think of how much punctuation you place in a 100'000 word manuscript. That's a good chunk. And quite frankly I trust MS Word to give me a decent word count as far as I could throw my desk. Nah. Thanks anyway. I'll stick with ballparking it the old fashioned way. In any event I'll be damned if I'm going to obsess about it. Book length varies (within reason). If the story is good, they'll take it.

ilona said...

To Kendall:

Yes, but your word count is tied to your format. Example:

Novel of Doom: word count by Word 72, 956

Novel of Doom: word count by typographic count (courier 12, 60 characters per line, word=5 letters+space) 84,010

One of the points for standard manuscript format, if not the point, is that it gives you the typographic word count. Frex, if I see guildelines making noises about courier, it's a very good bet they want the typographic word count.

And unofortunately sometimes you end up being given strict guidelines. My next one has to be within 90K to 95K range. Not a word more. :( With wild swinging difference between the Word and typographic counts, I think it's prudent to ask if there is some doubt as to what format should be used.

Kendall said...

And here we are, still obsessing. ;-) I disagree with some of the last few commenters, but this...

sometimes you end up being given strict guidelines.

...is very logical -- and something everyone can agree on.

kendall said...

p.s. Sorry, I meant to write "and following guidelines is something everyone can agree on." I over-edited my post, hahaha.)

Anonymous said...

Possibly the above-mentioned discussion of format by a copyeditor: Deanna Hoak. Definitely a good discussion, regardless of whether it's what the poster above was remembering.

ObilonKenobi said...

Ahh. The final answer. Thank you, Regis.