This is topic word count inflation? in forum Open Discussions About Writing at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by Zero (Member # 3619) on :
I have finished a story that is 145k words long. As I understand it, that's already a bit too long for a first-time novelist isn't it? At least, in the eyes of most agents.

But I heard the convention for word count is something like, 12-point font, new courier, double space, page count*250

And that algorithm adds 20,000 words to my already "too long" story.

Is that method truly industry standard? And, if so, what do you do about it?

Posted by Teraen (Member # 8612) on :
I'd like to add: and why does that method of estimated words per page given font and type size even matter anymore now that computers have a word count feature built in that actually... you know... counts the words?
Posted by Meredith (Member # 8368) on :
I'd like to add: and why does that method of estimated words per page given font and type size even matter anymore now that computers have a word count feature built in that actually... you know... counts the words?

You'll probably get a more thorough answer. But, as I understand it, the calculated version gives the editor a better idea of how many pages a finished book will have and therefore printing costs, etc.

Not all agents want the calculated word count. My last rejection was from one who wanted the one from the word processor and said so in her submission guidelines.

Posted by sholar (Member # 3280) on :
My understanding was that for most people the calculated method is not what they want. If you give a word count of X and then they check their word count and it is extremely different, then you look stupid. The formula came from before the computer was around, with a nice easy word count. Though, I can find some webpages that say to still use the formula, for novels, the prevailing opinion in the blogs I have read is whatever your computer says. Of course, there is a lot of variability in how each program counts (see nano boards for discussions on that issue) so that could be why the formula is still used.
Posted by Edward Douglas (Member # 8872) on :
The word count formula is an elegant weapon from a more civilized age.

Not unlike the submissions guidelines insisting on you (the writer) mailing in a manuscript printed on 20lb paper, only make sure you include your email address so they don't have to waste any paper when rejecting your story.

Why can't the word count be something simple like: "Just enough to get from the start of my story to the end?"

Posted by InarticulateBabbler (Member # 4849) on :
1) Wordcounters are inaccurate, count hyphenated words as 1 and some numbers as words.

2) If you format properly, you should come out to an average of 10 words per line, 25 lines. This includes the spaces NOT taken up per line (although, to print the story, those "blank" words are also printed).

3) For the most part, using the industry standard shows your level of professionalism. Some publishers and agents accept the "wordcount" numbers. However, if they pay by the word (moslty in the case of short stories, novellettes and novellas) you are the one getting shorted for payment if you accept the wordcount approximation.

In conlusion, Zero, you're probably fine without the "white space" estimate if you want to go by MSWord wordcount.

[This message has been edited by InarticulateBabbler (edited January 14, 2010).]

Posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (Member # 59) on :
Just round it off to the nearest thousand, okay? Giving the exact count also tends to signal you as an amateur. They don't want it to be exact, just close enough to give them an idea of how much space it will take up.
Posted by aspirit (Member # 7974) on :
According to the agents' and slush readers' blogs I've read, any novel longer than 120,000 words and from a no-name is unlikely to sell. Can you split your story into two novels?
Posted by Edward Douglas (Member # 8872) on :

Why the word count at all? Seriously, even if a publisher likes a story and pursues it there will be changes in the word count through numerous edits and rewrites. Won't there? I don't see the word count important to the publisher until the story goes to print. It must be the rare author indeed whose work goes unchanged from submission to publication.

Who makes up "rules" such as "its too long for a first time novelist" anyway?

Will the slush reader not go past the heading and read any of the story if the word count he sees exceeds what he thinks is appropriate for an unknown author? If one leaves the word count out is that an automatic rejection? Will the rejected writer ever know?

Sometimes, I just don't think the industry has caught up with or wants to take advantage of technology. Electronic queries and submissions should be the norm today, not the rare exception. Courier New, 12pt, double spaced shouldn't be clung to either. No one pounds out typewritten pages anymore and no editor today runs through a manuscript inserting handwritten corrections and adjustments in red either. Do they? In fact, from what I've gathered, editors now e-mail writers with corrections once they've taken on the story. Even go so far as to then ask the writer for an MSWord .doc or .rtf file of the entire book so that they can work off that.

I know that I go back to Tolkien a lot when I post, but bear with me during this argument, please. Though, many today mistakenly refer to Tolkien's work as a trilogy, it was in fact six separate books, written over many years, in the vicinity of 1,000,000 words, and was submitted to Allan&Unwin all at once. Only then did the publisher decide to break it down into more marketable parts. My point, the word count didn't account for much then so why has that changed? Yes, I know that Tolkien was under contract since publishing "The Hobbit," but still.

Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
I use the word counter in my Works program---then, to reflect all the additions by its odd method of figuring what counts as a word, I then round down to the nearest hundred---no matter how close it is to the one on the upside.

Anything else...well, if someone wants to discuss the amount of words in my story while waving a check, I'll listen.

Posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (Member # 59) on :
Edward Douglas, acquiring editors need some idea of how long the piece is before they can begin to consider it, because the length has a lot to do with how much it costs to publish a work and how much they can make in profit from the work.

I just don't think the industry has caught up with or wants to take advantage of technology.

This is so, so true. While publishing is slowly working its way into more modern technology, it is not going to change its methods in any major ways unless there are noticeable benefits over costs. There's also a learning curve involved in publishing that is probably greater than what is necessary for writing, and that will slow things down as well.

As time passes, things will improve, but probably never as fast as we would like them to.

Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
Though many recently practicing writers today have a sense that writing and publishing technology has in some ways settled down, in the near run, there's only a pause going on in the whirlwind of technology on that front. Meanwhile, cellular phones and e-readers are spinning a dervish of technology activity that's impacting the whole machine.

Publishers take a longer view than writers. Have to. Buying new gizmos every time some new gadget or application comes out to make life easier is costly. Computers anymore are not as obsolete on the day of purchase as they were not long ago. Cell phones are now obsolete before they make it onto the showroom floor. Once burned, twice shy. Deliberation on and justification of and settling on new technology acquisitions is a time and resource consuming process.

Electronic submission processes are only recently becoming a going concern. It would seem on the surface that submitting an attached document via e-mail is a no-brainer. Is is but for the malefactors generating malware: viruses, trojan horses, and spyware. More reason for caution. Many digests that accept electronic submissions require the content to be inline in the message. Messages with attachments are automatically deleted. In spite of security software, publishers still have reservations about accepting attachment e-mails. Once burned, twice shy.

In the past several years, Web submission applications have come into their own. There's a few that are seamless for submitters and recipients, but there's a learning curve and a cost curve involved. Not to mention overcoming resistance to screen reading or costs associated with printout. And that old wariness to things new that seem like the next best invention since sliced bread, that tomorrow is so old hat that buyer remorse burns the backside fosters a wait and see attitude. Once burned, twice shy. Might as well let the competition try it out first and closely watch them soar or fail.

More often, early adapters wind up ahead in the short run, but sometimes their impulsive need to get ahead leads to chaos and remorse because the next generation solves the bugs, has features that the original generation should have had, is more cross platform and application compatible, has less exclusively proprietary limitations, inordinately lower price, more user friendly. etc. Once burned, twice shy.

It's a large machine. Retooling in one discrete area has a ripple effect on the whole machine. An object at rest tends to stay at rest, barring sufficient motivation to set it in motion. Gaining momentum means ramping up to a whole approach and that takes time and planning and resources and patience. Meanwhile, technology marches on. Gadgets and gizmos that come out during the planning stage coomplicate and delay the process. The wisdom of wait and see is rewarded, but further delays the process.

I wonder how long it took to perfect humanity's mastery of fire, if it is or ever was. Who anymore can start a fire by rubbing two sticks together? Not very many.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited January 15, 2010).]

Posted by Edward Douglas (Member # 8872) on :
Thanx Kathleen, extrinsic,

Maybe the e-readers will be what finally bring publishers into the modern age. The easier it is for someone to acquire something the more likely they are to acquire it. Download said book instantly or get dressed, drive to bookstore, fumble through shelf after shelf, find out said book isn't in stock, toss empty coffee cup into trash (some just leave them on shelves if they're ticked off enough), then go home.

I also think that this will be good for aspiring writers. With publishing costs reduced to "e-print" publishers may begin to risk accepting more mundane works, and not just the occasional jewel of an unknown or the regurgitation from an established author that passes through their in-box. Heck, they can finally turn those in-boxes into litter boxes.

The more a publisher has out there the more they bring in, I think, even if it only has a few buyers. I mean, Wal-Mart is number one in their business because someone will always buy something from them somewhere. Something to think about.

Posted by KayTi (Member # 5137) on :
Make sure you're using 1 inch margins all around, as that can dramatically impact how many words fit on a page. MS Word's out-of-the-box default is inch and a half, at least on all the copies I have installed.


Posted by InarticulateBabbler (Member # 4849) on :
MSWord 2007, which I use, doesn't have the proper words-per-line or lines-per-page with 1 inch margins all the way around and double-spaced 12 pt. fonts. I talked to Dave Wolverton about this, and he gave me a solution: 1 inch Top and Left margins, half-inch Bottom and a 1-and-a-half inch Right margin. This makes the bottom and top look even once the header is in place, and leaves plenty of room for editor's comments in the right margin--it also makes the ideal 10 words a line, 25 lines a page. I've used this format ever since.

[This message has been edited by InarticulateBabbler (edited January 16, 2010).]

Posted by Architectus (Member # 8809) on :
I shoot for 80,000 to 100,000 according to Word's count, then either way I fall into the right word count.

If YA novel, I shoot for 40,000-70,000.


Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
To a certain extent, I'm selling just two words. One is Robert and the other is Nowall---the rest is just extra detail.


Just how long is The Lord of the Rings? That caught my eye today, and I went a-Googling to see if anybody had a precise count. Two had it at "over 300,000 words" and a page on Amazon put it at "470,000 words."

That same page ("Read the Ten Longest Novels Ever") put War and Peace at 560,000 words, Atlas Shrugged at 645,000 words, Mission Earth (of all things) at 1.3 million words, and In Search of Lost Time (probably better known to English readers as Remembrance of Things Past) at 3 million. The Lord of the Rings was mentioned, but didn't make the Top Ten.

According to Asimov's memoirs, Asimov's memoirs came in at 640,000 words, which was why they were published in two volumes. He compared them to The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, in one volume at 640,000 words---but his publisher wasn't willing to indulge him that far. Would've been a handy volume, though...

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