Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Word Count -- writing tip
by Ann Nolder Heinz
****First Place Winner Dragonfly e-Book Awards Competition, Historical Fiction Category****
A desperate flight from brutal oppression—and everything to lose if it fails...
Two women, one white, the other black, find themselves trapped in bondage on a South Carolina plantation in 1850's America. Their unique friendship gives each the strength to endure until circumstances threaten not only to rip them apart but to place their very lives in jeopardy. They undertake a harrowing flight with the aid of the Underground Railroad. Will slavery’s powerful tentacles hold them? Or will they find the freedom they crave?
Question from the e-mail: I got a return from a publisher, saying my book was too long (457 double-spaced pages) and that they didn't take anything longer than 100,000 words. I knew that. I read the directions! But Grammatik says it only has 98,527 words. So what makes them think it is LONGER?????
Answer: Well the way publishers, typesetters and other such people count words, to use the words per page method. And at 250 words per ms page, it would be 114,250 words. The discrepancy comes when an author has lots of dialog (a GOOD thing, for readers LIKE dialog!). Because a line with one word, takes up just as much space in the book as a full line with many words.
The first thing any editor needs to know is whether your story will fit in his printable space. Or, if he is going to print it, how much the paper will cost to produce. If it won’t fit, or will cost too much, he can’t buy your story, no matter how good it is. Let me explain how typesetters count words, which is very different from the way your computer does. The computer knows exactly how many words you used. But the publisher has to know how much paper (or how many column inches for newspapers and magazines) it will take to print it.
A line is 60 spaces long. Six spaces equals 1 word, or 10 words per line. If you have (as most people do) 25 lines per page, that gives you 250 words per manuscript page. Now the following dialogue--
-- counts as 70 words, though only 8 are used. This way of calculating space, rather than words, is used throughout the printing industry.
Now if something is too short, that doesn't bother the editor. He can use a larger sized font, increase the leading, and has other ways to stretch things out and make it work. But if it's too long, the only way he can fix it is to cut some of your carefully chosen words, or to use type so small nobody can SEE it. He doesn't want that. YOU don't want that. Our job is to keep the reader's interest, not to make them squint!
So the best thing you can do for yourself, as an author, and for a good working relationship with your publisher, is to use the old 250 words per ms. page way to count, and to make sure that every word you have written is needed to tell your story. As someone who once followed her characters around for 140,000 words (before I learned to leave out the boring parts), I can tell you from experience that something important has to happen in every scene.