Thursday, November 3, 2011

Speaking of Word Count: A Query Conundrum

Using method pictured above, my novel's
word count is 7,986,000. Is that too long?
Naturally since I'm doing NaNoWriMo, word counts are on my mind. I'm using my Scrivener program, which has a nifty little feature: At the bottom of the screem there's a scrolling word count, so I can watch it tick along while I'm typing. I can sort of experience my word count in real time. It's just so Meta-NaNo.

Here we are at Day Three, and I've managed to write 1672, 1791, and 1831 words per day, all by 10 a.m. I'm praying I won't jinx my mad productivity, but if I manage to pound out 50,000 words this month, I'm going to owe a few people. Like one of my teachers, Joyce Sweeney, who ran a plotting workshop in September, in time to ensure I had a solid outline and synopsis come November 1. Whoo, what a difference a plan makes! With synopsis in hand, I feel like I could whip out a 976-page masterpiece. Let me pull out my battered copy of Anna Karenina and swear on it: I shall never pants again, so help me Gaddis.

(And spending 30 minutes in the afternoon making notes toward tomorrow's writing hasn't hurt so far, either).

But I had another pressing question about word-counts, re: Querying.
I just read an old post by Jessica Alvarez over at the Bookends blog; she says to estimate your word count based on 250 words per page (multiplied by) number of pages; not on your Microsoft word count.

Here's what she says:
And by the way, when I think word count I think 250 words per double-spaced page with one-inch margins. That’s the way most publishers look at word count. Using Microsoft Word’s count could mess you up since three words of dialogue technically takes up a full line, and word count is about production costs.
Anybody heard this before? Does she mean, multiply your number of pages by 250 to get the word count you put in a query letter? Because if I change my font to Courier New and do this, it makes my word count a full 20,000 higher! Waaaaay toooooo loooooong! Arghhhh. Stumped. Please let me know how you calculate your own word counts. Alvarez's post was from 2007, so I'm not sure if it's still relevant.


  1. I think it's great you are doing Nano -- I'm not this year, but I have some writing goals I'm aiming for this Nov. Best of luck!

    As to the word count issue, I have heard what Jessica is talking about, but I think the Microsoft word count feature is so prevalent that I think you are ok using that.

  2. Hey Gail, just take total word count and divide by 250, that's your page estimate. Great you're doing nano btw!

  3. Huh. I'd never heard that concept about NOT using the MS Word word count. I query with the MS WORD count.

  4. As a graphic designer, I could make 250 words take up THREE pages.

    Stick to your word processor's count.

  5. Well, I would just have gone with MS word count, but I know I'll do a ton of googling on the subject before I submit!

  6. I use the Word count, but that's an interesting issue. My hunch is most people query based on the actual. I wonder if that's why I'm sometimes surprised by the publisher's word count when a book feels longer or shorter, though.

  7. That's an interesting question. I think I'd go with Microsoft's Word Count because if you actually sit down and count the words on a few pages manually, they NEVER come out to 250. I know that was the old way of estimating, but it can't be accurate....

  8. Hey there, sounds like you're really kicking butt on NaNo! Great work and love your site BTW!

  9. Go, Gail, go! I don't personally know anyone who does anything to their wc; they just use the Microsoft calculator. I've got to believe that this is the norm and editors and agents know it.

    Becca @ The Bookshelf Muse

  10. Thankyou, guys, and Becca, I'm going to take your word for it. *Relieved*.

  11. Congrats on doing so well so far in NaNo!! Those are some beautiful word counts.

    Happy NaNo Day Five!
    Hopefully the initial excitement is still going strong, but if not I've come with a toolbox of inspiration. Ready?

    First, quote of the day: Don't give up what you want most for what you want right now.

    Second, NaNo Tip of the Day: Don't forget to reward yourself. It is often easier to notice our lagging word count numbers than to notice how far we've already come.

    Good luck!!! Just keep writing!!!

  12. Thanks Sommer! I'm not flagging yet, and I guess the Halloween candy I've been scarfing would count as a reward. I do wish I could think of a reward I love as much as chocolate, though. Like, I wish I could "reward" myself with a three mile run every day instead.

  13. I've never seen agents or editors comment on how to figure word count, so I have a feeling it's not a big deal either way. Great work with your fantastic productivity. Keep it up!!!!

  14. Hey! Yes, I have seen the 250 words per page thing numerous times. I haven't queried anyone yet though, so it hasn't been an issue for me yet!

    PS. Thanks for following my blog :-)