Thursday, June 27, 2013

Why Writers Need to Know their Word Count

As I work with different authors, one of the first questions I often ask is about the size of their manuscript.

I met with a book author yesterday and her response was, “about 350 pages.”

I wasn't looking for the number of pages in her manuscript because the type of font and size can vary from author to author. Here's what does not change: words. What is the word count for your manuscript? Many writers are unaware of the word count. 

Possibly they have written their chapters in different files and haven't added up the words. Maybe they are focused on completing their writing and haven't thought about the length or only the page count.

I meet a lot of authors who have never looked at the word count portion of Microsoft Word even though they use the program to create their book. If you are writing your manuscript in a single file, the word count is normally in the lower left hand portion of your screen and that information is always available—yet many writers have overlooked it and instead they want to tell me how many pages they've written—which doesn't give me much insight and information.

Why do I care about the word count? I've been in publishing many years and with this information, I can easily estimate the size of the printed book. I can learn if the writer is in touch with this detail as they have written the book. Our sales representative tell us that shorter nonfiction is better received in the bookstores. From my perspective, that means your book should be closer to 200 pages than 300 or 350 pages. For most nonfiction topics, 350 pages is too long and the writer has belabored the topic.

As the book grows longer, it also increases the production costs (more paper and ink) and potentially raises the retail price for the book. Yes all of these calculations or expectations are made on the front end of the book production process when you meet with an acquisitions editor

My goal for you is to get your book published and champion your book to my publication board so they will issue you a book contract. We receive about 5,000 submissions a year and only publish about 150 books. If I manage to get you a book contract, that's a big hurdle that you've jumped across and should feel great about accomplishing.

A typical nonfiction book is running about 40,000 to 50,000 words or about 200 pages. Some books are shorter and some books are longer but that's a general word count that you should be aiming for in your writing for nonfiction. If you are writing a novel, then that is a different story. Follow this link to see my post about word length for novels.

Whenever you pitch an editor or agent, you have to have a terrific book. Good writing is foundational to any type of book—yet you also need to clearly have the details about your book such as the word count in hand to be able to intelligently answer questions. 

Agents and editors are looking for smart savvy authors who are articulate and also good writers. If you have a book, keep growing in your craft and keep building relationships. Eventually you will have a winning combination and get published.

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