Sunday, February 7, 2010

Let me count the ways...Word Counts

I was still writing, which was a good thing. Plot ideas flowed through my mind and on to the page. Now that I had written several pages, I really started to get a handle on what it was like to sit down and concentrate on writing. I was starting to get a feel for how many pages the scenes in my head would equate to once I wrote them out.

That got me thinking about word counts. One issue I ran into during my youth was that all my stories were extremely short. Always wanting to write a book, I made a few attempts, but always finished within a few thousand words.

I was one of those geeky, analytical kids. Heck, I'm a geeky, analytical adult. What that means for my writing, if I'm not careful, is that I have a tendency to get straight to the point. Just the facts. Get it over with.

This time, I'm writing a book. My plot has to be rich and full, with possible sub-plots running concurrently. I should add descriptions and character developing scenes. But, even doing that, would I have enough to fill a book? Not knowing how many words were actually in a book, I really didn't know the answer to that question.

Activate researcher mode!

After a bit of research, I learned that if I followed the guidelines I outlined in my previous post about formatting (double spaced, 1" margins, monospaced font) then I would run about 250 words per page.

After a bit more research, I learned:
  • Short Story - Under 7,500 words
  • Novelette - 7,500 to 17,500 words
  • Novella - 17,500 to 40,000 words
  • Novels - Over 40,000 words
What's typical in the industry today for a novel? Over 40,000 is pretty darned vague. As it turns out, that depends on the genre. Whereas, the mainstream novel is about 50,000 to 70,000 words in length, some genres differ.

Some examples:
  • Romances - 50,000
  • Fantasy/Sci-Fi - 60,000 to 80,000 (or more, with many fantasy novels being 125,000)
  • Young Adult - 20,000 to 40,000
Of course this is all subjective and we all can find examples that don't fit into the above figures. Those numbers are just estimates based on what's "typical".  I've seen all sorts of numbers listed for all sorts of genres.

So now I had a goal. I knew I wanted to get to the 70,000 to 80,000 word mark. I have been writing a fantasy novel and those tend to be larger than the standard mainstream novels.

On to the next part. How do I find my word count? Most word processors out there today will give you a word count. This isn't always the same word count that publishers are looking for, sometimes it is. So how do you find a word count that publishers and agents will use?  You look on their websites.  Some have switched to the count word processors give and some stick to the old methods.

Here's the old method:
  • Count the number of letters on a line. Include spaces. (And I'm assuming you're still using a monospaced font--a font where all the letters are the same size. Courier is a popular one.)
  • Divide that number by six. The averge length of a typical word is six letters.
  • Count the number of lines on the page. Again, include spaces/blank lines.
  • Multiply the number you got when you divided by six and the number of lines on a page.
  • Multiply that number by how many pages you have in your manuscript. (Round up to the nearest hundred.)
I know, I know. What's all this math stuff? We're authors, not mathmaticians! Well, I managed to use the above equation and found that Microsoft Word was pretty spot on with what I'd written of my manuscript.

The discrepencies happen between the above math equation and word processor counts when there's a lot of spaces or blank lines--word processors don't count blank lines, whereas publishers do. I don't have many blank lines yet, so it wasn't really a big deal.

Turns out I was averaging about 230 words per page. Again, that's pretty typical. I had about 20,000 words at that point and still had quite a bit of plot to delve into. My fears of not having enough to write about were quelled for the moment.

The benefit of having a word count to aim for gave me a goal. Now I knew where I had to add to my story or substract. I could put more thought into the plot lines and not just guess that it would be in the ballpark.

I got my answers, so I deactivated research mode. With peace of mind, I was able to sit down and write. My concentration was again on the story and not those pesky random thoughts that tend to pop up at inopportune times.


Nece said...

Beth, check out some online ebook publishers. That may be an option that you want to explore as they typically are willing to accept shorter books.

Oh! I followed you on my blogspot acct AND added a link so I could follow you on my regular blog.
HUG!!! Miss you!!

Elisabeth said...

Hey there! I will definitely pop over and follow your blog. It's great to hear from you.


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