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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Max word count for mss

   
Author Topic: Max word count for mss
Nietge
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Hmm..I've been surfing around to various publisher's websites and reading their submission guidelines for novels. It seems that the maximum desired word count for submitted mss's hovers somewhere around 120K words, with 100K words being the average. This doesn't seem to be very much at all. I mean, it's not unreasonable for a mass market SF paperback to be, say, 500 pages in overall length.

So:
~10 words per line, 37 lines per page, makes 370 words per page;
370 words/page times 500 pages = ~185K words in book, total...

...which is nearly twice as much as the 'average max desired' figure of 100K. Is there something here I'm missing? And indeed, I've seen SF novels longer than 500 pages! It would seem to me that a book containing 100K words would translate into only about 200 pages or so, if not somewhat longer. Of course, size of font would affect the total page count, but not by all that much. I'm just not understanding this recommended limit of 100K words at all.


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HSO
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A properly formatted manuscript that is double-spaced with one-inch margins will have approximately 250 words per page, at least as far as editors and typesetters are concerned. White space around short bits of dialogue take up as much space as several lines in a paragraph. So, publishers aren't interested in a precise word count, they are interested in how much space your story will take up. A manuscript with 100,000 words using the above method will be approximately 400 pages.

That said, there are several sizes of books, and loads of ways to put text onto a page. Skim through a few books in your house: note the margins, the spacing between lines, the size of the text. Some books seem much bigger, with loads more words, when in reality they aren't that big at all, because of how they were printed.

Furthermore, publishers may desire for new authors to prove themselves in the publishing world before agreeing to a novel the size of War and Peace. You can develop a rich, huge story in 100,000 words (manuscript format). 100,000 words is by no means limiting. If your first few novels at that length are good, you'll be given some flexibility for a longer book. (Notwithstanding that some first-time authors have managed HUGE book on their first go. Johnathon Strange & Mr Norrel is one such anamoly.)

Look at the Harry Potter books. The first one was short. About 100,000 words. The next, slightly longer. Then they grew bigger and bigger as publishers became confident in J.K's ability to sell a novel, and did she ever. So... does that help clear things up? Probably not.


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Mig
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HSO, you make an excellent point about new authors having to prove themselves first before a publisher would agree to publish a large novel, but Susanna Clarke (author of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell) is not a good example. She had had several short stroies and novellas already published. See http://www.contemporarywriters.com/authors/?p=auth519D18CE02e1d16A2CSmOkDB9E4C I can't think of a better example.

I'm also reminded about what I read once from an editor interviewed in one of the monthly writting magazines. He said something to the the effect that most first-time novels he'd read were too long by at least half.

[This message has been edited by Mig (edited June 26, 2006).]

[This message has been edited by Mig (edited June 26, 2006).]


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Robert Nowall
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Like I've said elsewhere---and especially, say, your first time out with a novel---let it find its own length.

Although...I've always taken some of the length restrictions to be how large the actual book was supposed to be, that the publishers didn't want anything any longer than or shorter than this pre-set list. Books, after all, are also artifacts. It might be cheaper for a publisher to turn out books that were a set length in pages---they might get a better deal with their printer.

I remember, back in the olden days, one publisher whose books always came in at one hundred and twenty six pages---I think that broke down to about fifty to sixty thousand words. The typeface was always the same, too. Obviously their books had to be cut (or expanded) to fit this precise length.

I don't know if anybody does that sort of thing nowadays---but it's something to keep in mind, especially for a first-novelist.


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pantros
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the 126 page thing would be because pages were printed and cut from a single large sheet. The sheet would be cut, depending on the page size into 16/32/64 or 128 pages. The 128 pages were pretty small, but likely the book was printed on two (64) size pages and either had to be 64,128 or 192 pages long so as to not waste paper.

I am assuming its 126 numbered pages long and the title pages were the other two.


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