Shannon Stacey

Word count

First off, I know y’all read the Smart Bitches, but I’ll post a link to the word count discussion anyway. Then absolutely go read Diana’s rant, which, quite frankly, is more of an excellent explanation than a rant. I mean, she didn’t even use the F word. *g*

I said I’d blog about writing today, and lucky me—a topic pops up in time to meet the deadline. (If I write fast.) So for my take, I took two Word files—the manuscripts for Twice Upon A Roadtrip and Forever Again and played ring around the word count with them. (Word count=the actual computer word count; page count=the “magic formula” equaling 250 words per page.)

Forever Again:

Word count = 50,839 words

Page count = 55,750 words

Twice Upon A Roadtrip:

Word count = 46,022 words

Page count = 52,250 words

In neither case did I change a single word. Reformatting only.

Pretending the numbers for Forever Again belonged to a…Silhouette something or other, and Silhouette announced the word count was formerly 55k but is now 50k, that might look bad. But if a part of that change is switching from using page count to using word count, it wouldn’t affect my story at all, nor what the reader is getting.

So. Hypothetically, if Ellora’s Cave were to do the opposite of Harlequin/Silhouette and change from computer word count to page count, the word count for Roadtrip would increase from 46,022 words to 52,250 words. Are you getting more story for your money? No. You’re getting the exact same story for your money.

I love dialogue, and I’m also very conscious of paragraph length and white space, so it really would make a difference to my publisher if they had a set number of pages in each book. That white space has to be accounted for. (And I’m honestly surprised that H/S would move to word count for just that reason—their authors vary, some having more dense narrative, and some with more white space and word count won’t factor that in.)

I don’t think word count discussions are quite as irrelevant as others do. As you can see from the examples, which method a publisher uses can most definitely affect how your word count matches up with their requirements, possibly making you look like a dumbass. Following submission guidelines is of the utmost importance, and missing the word count by 3k in a novella submission never makes a good first impression. On the flipside of that, an editor with any experience can tell at a glance which method you used, so it’s not the end of one’s writing career, either.

Personally, I love page count. *g* I feel like I move along at a faster clip because the pages roll by. When you use computer word count and you’re averaging 478 words per page, it takes for-ev-er to get to the next page.

So, anyway. To get to the point…I don’t have one. It usually takes a few days for an accurate picture of what’s going on up at the Woolworth Building to shake down through the blogosphere, so I’m just going to sit back and watch.

11 comments to “Word count”

  1. Karen Templeton
      · December 22nd, 2005 at 2:28 am · Link

    Okay, it’s 11 something here, I haven’t really slept well for the past quadrillion nights, but the single functioning brain cell I have left is going. . .Huh? Child (and I can say that, since you’re young enough to be my daughter), how on EARTH are you getting MORE words using page count instead of actual word count? Given that with the 250 wpp method you never actually have 250 words on most pages (because a page of terse dialogue counts the same as a page of narrative), the rest of us peasants always come up shorter using the page count method, never longer. ‘Cuz, if you are, pleeeease let me in on your secret!!

    Because if they really get persnickety that my books can be no longer than 260 pages in Courier 12 (which I don’t use but they will convert my book to, so it’s not as if I can sneak around it), I’m looking at taking my SSEs from 72K to, oh, 55K, maybe? Since my last book for SIM is about to be released, that’s no longer a worry, but I always, always wrote right up to the 80K mark, maybe a bit over. And that’s real words, not this mumbo-jumbo page count crap.

    In any case, the Woolworth Bldg. (love that) is basically out of service until after the hols, and apparently there have been more conflicting aftershocks regarding this issue than you can shake a stick at. Everyone’s getting different advice from their editor, and nobody knows what the Sam Hill any of it means. Last I heard, since I’ve got this book due Jan. 15, was “not to worry” about books already in progress, but to keep the new guidelines in mind for future projects. Oh, and that maybe we only have to cut 20 pages or so, see how that looks in the next printed book.

    Except, um, by the time that book comes out, we’ll have written two more books, most likely?


  2. Charlene
      · December 22nd, 2005 at 9:53 am · Link

    I have no idea what’s going on, but this doesn’t really affect me either way.
    A. I don’t write for Harlequin
    B. I don’t buy books based on word count. Author name, title, cover, blurb, excerpt, word of mouth recommendations, all these things influence my buying decision. Length of book, never. (Although length did make me balk at The Far Pavillions, talk about a doorstop)

    I’d say for readers who are thinking, “those books will be too short to be any good”, two of the best novels I’ve read in my life were very short. “Jonathon Livingston Seagull” by Richard Bach. “Swimmer in the Secret Sea” by William Kotzwinkle. The book doesn’t have to weigh 10 pounds to be a damn good story.

  3. Shannon
      · December 22nd, 2005 at 10:19 am · Link

    I’m looking at taking my SSEs from 72K to, oh, 55K, maybe?

    I agree that would totally suck. I’m not sure why y’all are coming up shorter with page count. Bigger words, longer paragraphs and less white space, maybe? I consistently—every time—come up longer with page count.

    Given that with the 250 wpp method you never actually have 250 words on most pages (because a page of terse dialogue counts the same as a page of narrative)

    But I get credit for 250 words in page count, whereas the computer will only give me credit for the words actually on the page.

    I isolated the first three chapters of 72 Hours and got a word count of 9593, but by page count it’s 11,000 words.

    So I chose four random pages and took their individual word counts:

    215, 225, 223 and 216

    The computer would only give me 879 words. But page count would give me credit for 250 words for each of those shorter pages, for a total of 1000.


  4. Alison Kent
      · December 22nd, 2005 at 11:02 am · Link

    I’m not sure why y’all are coming up shorter with page count. Bigger words, longer paragraphs and less white space, maybe? I consistently—every time—come up longer with page count.

    What font do you use?

    Anyhow, at Blaze we’ve been told not to change a damn thing. Not the length we’re writing, not how we’re counting. Apparently, this was not an across the board thing; HQ is not changing to computer count. Editors will be in touch with individual authors who write too long and ask THEM to cut back. That’s all! Straight from the head honcho at Harlequin!

  5. Alison Kent
      · December 22nd, 2005 at 11:06 am · Link

    The computer would only give me 879 words. But page count would give me credit for 250 words for each of those shorter pages, for a total of 1000.

    Uh, yeah. This is right. The WORD COUNT is less. The PAGE COUNT is more. 879 words by counting words vs 1000 words by counting pages. Exactly how we do it at HQ! I certainly never come up with less words using page count. (I think Karen needs a nap, LOL!)

  6. AngieW
      · December 22nd, 2005 at 11:16 am · Link

    Charli, you make a good point except a lot of readers do buy based on, not exactly word count, how long the book appears–as proven by the number of readers who continually insist ebooks are shorter than mass market- because they don’t get word count but length is important to them, especially when the books are priced the same.

    I think that’s what people are wary of–that they’re going to be paying the same for a shorter book. With the new explanation of them just changing HOW they count words and that the actual length isn’t changing, I think readers might not be as upset. Except so many readers don’t understand word count anyhow and it might take a few more explanations before they understand the change is purely…technical? Not actual.

    And I do buy books based on length versus price–take Kitty and the Midnight Hour. A category length book priced at 6.99? Umm…no. That’s ridiculous and I think that is what readers were objecting to, less book for the same money. Which, it seems, is a moot point in the matter of the Harlquin change anyhow. :shrug:

  7. Charlene
      · December 22nd, 2005 at 11:48 am · Link

    Well, sure, Angie, if you’re price comparing and one book is longer than another for the same price it might tip the scales in favor of one or the other if you’re undecided. But if I really want to read a book, I’m going to, even if I can get a different book for less money!

    And yes, I know it’s a big perceived value issue with ebooks. Even 100K novels that would be 400 pages in print are perceived as a short book when packaged as an ebook. It’s hard to convince readers they’re getting the same length story, even when epublishers list the word count.

  8. Cece
      · December 22nd, 2005 at 11:32 am · Link

    FWIW I’ve heard Pocket uses Word count NOT page count. If they’re cutting the word count but not the page count maybe they’re going to use a larger font and space the lines out more–like they did with some of the Next books where they did what Pocket and I think, Avon did and released the “Tall” paperbacks (whcih had slightly larger fonts and slighty more space between the lines). One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard about the taller mass market books is that they’re heavier. So while they’re easier on old eyes, they’re NOT easier on arthritic hands. Just a bit more food for thought I guess :cheesy:

  9. Emma S
      · December 22nd, 2005 at 2:16 pm · Link

    I’m the weirdo who when I write my word count and page counts are usually within a couple hundred words of each other. But then again, I’m a total white space whore. When I edit I usually have to combine sentences to make actual paragraphs.

    Anyway, I’m going to hold out until I actually see the books. I’m all for “easy to read” but they better not be large print books in paperback size.

  10. Karen Templeton
      · December 22nd, 2005 at 2:34 pm · Link

    Nap, hell. I need a week in the Bahamas.

    If anyone needs me, I’m the one over in the corner going :snore:.

  11. Anna Lucia
      · December 28th, 2005 at 2:37 pm · Link

    Numbers! N-n-n-numbers! *shiver*

    But, braving the calculator, I get 83,000 page count for one of my SIM wannabes, and 71,000 word count. Numbers along similar lines to yours, Shan, I think.

    I do find it odd that the same company has such different counting policies – word count in London, page count moving to word count in NY, and page count in Toronto?

    Makes my ears bleed…

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