Mark Terry

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Word Count For Writers

November 20, 2007
I was reading a post the other day where an agent mentioned word counts. The numbers themselves didn't surprise me much. She said that the typical novel ran 80,000 to 100,000 words. That typical cozy mysteries were 70,000 to 90,000, that category romances ran from 50,000 to 100,000 and fantasy novels might run up to about 120,000. I probably would have added that the top end for thrillers is up around 120,000 or so, too, but it varies.

That's all right. What kind of got me fretting was her statement to not use the Microsoft Word word count, but to call it 250 words per page if you're using 12-point font with 1-inch margins.

Okay, that's about right.

But then it gets strange. You see, I use Times New Roman, which although in 12-point font, is smaller than Courier or Courier New in 12-point font. It has something to do with spacing, etc.

In the comments section there were some fairly detailed responses and one person went into fairly specific detail about how if you use Courier New in 12-point font with 1-inch margins, you count it as 250 words per page. Therefore a 400 page manuscript will give you a 100,000 word novel, no matter what Microsoft Word says.


If you use TNR, same conditions, you need to count it as 350 words per page.

I gotta tell you, I've been  using TNR and pretty much using the Word count, although I also use the 250 word/page formula. I've done okay.

But there's nothing like this kind of crap to make a writer go nuts. So I'm working on a manuscript and I'm converting it to Courier New to see how many pages it is, then back to TNR, then back, then...

I asked my agent about this last year or so when it came up on yet another blog and she sighed and said, "Writers worry too much about stuff like this."

The whole thing drives me nuts, honestly. Back in 9th grade, I was taught to count the lines on a page, then count the number of letters in a line. Divide the number of letters in the line by 5, then multiply the result by the number of lines on the page, then multiply that by the number of pages.

Which isn't terribly accurate either.

I do know that nobody's been terribly worried about my word counts except me. DIRTY DEEDS probably ran between 70,000 and 80,000 words, and my publisher then did their layout in such a way that the book came out under 200 pages in its final published form. (I suspect money was an issue and they were trying to keep costs down). THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK probably ran between 80,000 and 90,000 words and the way Midnight Ink did their layout it's 369 pages long. THE SERPENT'S KISS is similar in length.

On the other hand, I wrote all those and turned them in using TNR. Wait, wait, let me pull up the actual manuscript, if one of them is available.

Oh man, my aching head. Okay, here are the numbers:

THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK--published with 369 pages
Times New Roman
Word word count: 87,405 words
388 manuscript pages
388 pp X350 = 135,800 words

Courier New
Word word count: 87,425 words
499 manuscript pages
499 X 250 = 124,750 words

In the classic text message format: WTF!!!???

Gee, I'm really glad I could clear this up for everybody.

Mark Terry


Blogger spyscribbler said...

ROFL! Well, that makes it easy for me to not worry about it. I mean, if I did, I don't stand a chance of figuring it out anyway.

90,000ish words is doable, but 400 pages is scary as heck. Btw, I'm pretty sure most e-pubs use the Word word count. Just thought I'd throw that into the mix so it would be more confusing. (I have an evil streak, lol.)

9:55 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Hell, the thing that pisses me off about reading that blog was I was working happily along in TBR as usual, going, Okay, I'm about 150 pages, I can ago to about 330 for this kind of book (Hot Money) and be done, maybe even less. 150 pages seems to be around 40,000 words according to Word's wordcount and, let's see, 150X350=52,500... and 300 pages would be 105,000m which would be too long, but turning in a manuscript under 300 pages doesn't seem long enough, so I could reformat it in COurier New... and then...


10:16 AM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

Surely the word count is the word count? Shouldn't it be up to the publishers to worry about how font sizes affect the page count? Weird. Or maybe they just want to photocopy the MS pages to send to the printer? Oh, wait, they'd be double spaced. I can't figure out the agent's point at all. I guess my brain is tired today.

10:20 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

The rationale has less to do with word count, I gather, and more to do with expected pages in the final manuscript. Therefore, they've got some sort of formula in their pointy little heads that 250 words--ie., I gather, 25 lines of 10 words each in Courier New with 1 inch margins all around, 12 point font--gives them notion of how long the novel would actually be when printed.

I just read one--this was a definitely, "Oh fuck" read for me, suggesting that Times New Roman in 14-point font is equivalent to Courier New in 12-point font.

That banging sound is my head against the wall.

10:40 AM  
Blogger Aimless Writer said...

Okay, I have to remember all the rules of writing, grammer, structure blah, blah, blah but now I have to do MATH TOO!!!
Ooooohhhhh, my head hurts. Why doesn't microsoft improve their word count feature to take care of this for me??? Mr. Gates?? Where are you???

7:01 PM  
Blogger Josephine Damian said...

Mark, I too read that post and my head was spinning even more than it does in my research methods/statistical/SPSS college class.

Speaking of college, Courier is a student's best friend when it comes to stretching out a term paper to meet page length.

I read that when it comes to detailed line editing, Courier is more readable, but for an agent reading a whole MS just for the sake of reading, not doing a detailed edit, Times New Roman is easier on the eyes.

Word count is word count, as long as your margins are in the ballpark, I don't think an agent will get too anal about # of pages, I think it's all about the word count for them, JMO.

7:55 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I just read a post by an agent who had one about manuscript format and he claimed to like TNR better than Courier. Once the comments got going about all this crap, he came back on and essentially said, one of the things he likes about TNR is that if you do it in 12-point font with 1-inch margins, the pages of manuscript are going to be pretty close to the page layout of the published book.

So, I went back to TNR, because, honestly, that's my feeling, too.

If you go back to my numbers on the original post for The Devil's Pitchfork, the manuscript pages were within about 20 or 25 pages of the published pages. That gives me a much stronger sense of whether I'm on the right track in terms of length.

Also, I have to say it, I like the looks of TNR and don't much like the looks of the various Courier or Ariel fonts.

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