Tip #1: Word Count

Posted: May 17, 2011 in Writing
Tags: , , , ,

From time to time, when I think of something that doesn’t fit neatly into a full-blown blog, I’ll just create a separate, brief writing tip.  Today’s writing tip has to do with word count.

YOU AIN’T ABOVE A WORD COUNT LIMIT

Once you get to the point of seeking out a traditional publisher, or self-publishing, the importance of word count will promptly surface.  Why?  A simple equation: Word count/words per page = number of pages in your book.  Number of pages, in turn, drive cost.  Cost, obviously, underlies profitability.  In short, the greater the word count, the harder it is for your book to be profitable.  The harder it is for your book to be profitable, well, you get the picture.

But many authors don’t!  I was just talking to someone who is starting a new fiction novel, his first.  I asked him what type of a novel it was going to be.  That matters because different genres have different word count ranges.  He told me, and I suggested that he at least pay attention to how many words he writes.  Nothing to kill that “inner muse” referenced in my full blog post, but it’s certainly something to be cognizant of.

Again, why?  Well, say you get your first draft done, and lo and behold, you are 15,000 words over the top end of the range for your type of book.  You know how hard it is to cut 15,000 words from a story?  If you don’t, I’ll tell ya–HARD!  You know what’s even harder?  Selling a book to a traditional publisher that is way too long.  If you wave this off as not meaning anything (i.e. the old, “My book is so good, those rules don’t apply”) then think again!  Remember, more words means more pages means more cost.  More cost, lower profitability.

So, don’t let this get in the way of putting that story to paper, but remember that the rules apply to you too!

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Comments
  1. Bree says:

    Thanks for the reminder Derek. I’ve been editing my urban fantasy manuscript for months and the page count has crept up 20k! I completely forgot to keep the paper cost in mind, although I have plans to cut a fair bit of Part one, so it should balance out. I finished my draft in 38 days, rung in at 85k. I came across a word count per genre post-thought I’d share it: Jacqui Murray’s blog http://bit.ly/JDwit6. (oh, she quotes urban fantasy at 90-100k so I’m prolly in good shape. Cheers again.

  2. Andy Szpuk says:

    Yes, word count is important. It cannot be ignored. I mean, a musician wouldn’t write a piece of music without considering how long he wanted it to be. And scriptwriters work to even tighter guidelines. With a novel there is much more freedom, so it is possible to get carried away. I’m lucky in this respect as I seem to work the opposite way. Get to 80 000 or so, then expand up to 90 or 100 000.

  3. Terry Tyler says:

    I work that way too, Andy – I don’t self-indulge or ramble on in first draft, so it’s more a case of seeing where I need to expand in the 2nd, which automatically takes it it from 70 – 90. For the self-published It matters to the reader, too, I think; too short, and they feel cheated and “is that it?” – too long, and they think, “Whaaaat? I’m only at 30%? When’s this thing ever going to end?” Often, books that are over long have simply not been well enough edited, I often find.

  4. Terry Tyler says:

    …..ditto, comments on blogs, written before first coffee, that have typos and repetitions in them….!!

  5. J.D.Hughes says:

    Andy. I agree with the sentiments expressed in your post with regard to print books, but word count has less importance in ebooks. Whether this is a good thing or not is debatable. A flabby book is a flabby book.

  6. Jade says:

    Um, have you passed this on to Stephen King, W.E.B. Griffin, Tom Clancy, or Noman Mailer?

  7. Derek – Great post! Would a literary agent be likely to pick up a finished manuscript with less than typical word count if there is room for improvement and he or she likes the overall manuscript?

    • Derek Blass says:

      My research and anecdotal evidence provided to me indicates that an agent would be more likely to consider a manuscript with a little less words than usual for the genre, than one with more. Remember, more words equals more cost.

  8. Thanks! Appreciate the response. 🙂

  9. Tim Baker says:

    Profit margin is definitely an important factor – but there is another reason to keep your word count down (which Jade alluded to – sort of) Too many words can drive readers away. They may buy your first book on speculation, but if you develop a reputation for being too wordy they won’t buy your second…and so.

  10. TC Booked Up says:

    I suppose it matters less in the case of ebooks but agree with Terry Tyler about buying one that is really short can leave me feeling done, or when I’ve spent hours reading and only hit 10% wondering what sort of epic I’ve picked up and whether it can possibly sustain my interest. Often the latter could do with a good edit.

  11. Candy Korman says:

    My ebooks are short — novellas — so I guess I’m doing it right. Of course, I’ve gotten feedback that one was too short. You can’t win them all!

  12. Great tip. In general here’s my list from large to small: Historical or Sci Fi 90-120 words; Literary/ Contemporary/ Crime 80- 110; Mystery/Thriller 70-90; Romance 40-100; New Adult 60-85; YA 50-80 Middle Grade 25-35 ; then poetry, shorts flash …

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