When someone comments on one of our posts, we try not to answer right away. Our reasoning is in hope that others will answer the posted comment and thus get help with other viewpoints beside ours. You might have noticed that we don’t know everything and hearing another side to an issue is very refreshing, in our opinion anyway.For this post, there is an issue that I’d like to broach and that’s word count.
Many times recently, I’ve rejected books for low word count. Because this issue can be very confusing--as requirements vary so widely--we no longer post exact word count limits on our Web site. Publishers define word counts differently because they look at finished books rather than raw manuscripts. But, if you are a beginning writer and plan to have any kind of shot at finding a publisher or an agent, it would behoove you to understand word count and especially the difference, word count-wise, between a novel, a novella, a novelette and a short story.
Publishers try to get as close to 250 words to a published page (book page, not MS page) because that makes it very easy to convert word counts into page counts. I’ve found, however, if you use the rough estimate of 250 words per page, you come very close just by looking at a manuscript as to how many words are contained within. For example, a 320-page MS is about 80,000 words and this seems pretty consistent. Of course, itty bitty quirky things like narrative-rich versus dialogue-rich manuscripts throw this off, but on an average, in manuscripts in which narrative and dialogue are fairly balanced (as should be the case) then the 320 page equals 80,000 words formula works fairly well. However, nothing beats using a word processor word counting tool. Although this method is not entirely accurate, it’s closer than nothing at all.
Where this really comes in handy—this page to word count stuff—is when you are wandering through a bookstore and you want to see where word counts are for recently published books so as to gauge your own. Knowing this will allow you to understand about where certain publishers like their word counts to be, and this understanding might just move you beyond others vying for those coveted spots on your favorite publisher's list.
This may be a detail, but professional writers have a sense of how many words they need to fit a certain market. Details make a difference and separate those who want to be writers from those who are writers.