Hundreds of pages, thousands of words

May 21, 2009

Added 10/09. Author’s note: Don’t use this to calculate page count for your own book! I was just learning when I posted this, and these number are off.

“How long will your book be?” Dad asked one day as I updated him on my writing progress.

“Uh, I dunno,” I replied. “It’ll be as long as it ends up when I finish it.”

After researching publishing until it came out my ears, I realized that’s not really true. To make my book marketable and profitable, it needs to be about as long as other travelogues already on bookstore shelves.

So I looked at my collection of women’s travel memoirs. It’s Not About The Tapas, by Polly Evans, comes in at 284 pages. Tales of a Female Nomad, by Rita Golden Gelman, is 304 pages. And Somebody’s Heart is Burning, by Tanya Shaffer, hits 318 pages.

(Some authors base length on word count instead of page count. I find this confusing, since pages typed in Microsoft Word are said to come in a 250 words, but mine average about 300, even when I use one-inch margins and 12-point font. Can anyone explain this? Either way, I’m sticking to page count.)

Manuscript length, however, the number of pages of my work in Microsoft Word, is different than the length of the published book. Printed books usually end up at about two-thirds the length of a manuscript.

That means to end up with a published book of 300 pages, my manuscript needs to be about 450 pages.

Wow — I didn’t realize I needed that many pages in Microsoft Word until just now, calculating for the blog! Did I say I’ve written a third of the book?

Let’s make that written nearly a third of the book.

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    23 Replies to “Hundreds of pages, thousands of words”

    • Good knowledge to be aware of. In the novel, most publishers consider anything less than 55,000 words to be a “novellete,” and under 45,000 words a “novella.” Some pubs consider anything less than 60,000 words as not a full length “novel.” And yes, in my experience it is word count, not pages, that they are looking for. Might be different in a travel book, of course.

      The Old Silly from Free Spirit Blog

    • Dunno what’s up with your MS Word count function. But, I’m with Marv, the publishing world looks at word count as the magic metric.

      Best Regards, Galen.

    • The formula I use (because white space counts….e.g, dialogue takes up more space in a book than other text) is to temporarily change the font to Courier then multiply each Courier page by 250. That’s allegedly closer to the publishing standard for calculating word count (and makes us farther along on our progress, too!) Unless anyone else has heard differently about the word count standards?

    • Karen Walker says:

      It’s nice to know what the finished product needs to be in terms of words/pages, but when I’m writing the first draft, I don’t worry about that. I write what I want to include. It is in the editing process that I weed out what doesn’t belong. Trying to figure out the word and page count while I’m writing stifles my creativity. Maybe you can just, for now, tell the story you want to tell. See where you end up – then edit to get it where it needs to be. Just my two cents worth.

      Karen Walker

      • Alexis Grant says:

        This is great advice… I suppose that’s what I’m doing, but it’s good to know where I need to end up, mostly because it helps me realize I have lots of room for detailed scenes.

    • I’m with the guys on this one, Alexis. Most agents and editiors talk word count, and most submission guidelines specify word count. When people talk word count, they’re all talking about the same thing. Page count depends on too many variables (font, spacing, margins, presence of dialogue, etc.)

      Also that old standard of 250 words per page is left over from typewriter days (I remember Pica versus Elite so well). Word documents need to be precisely formatted to achieve that average 250, which can be done (I have those magic settings filed away for future reference). Kind of a waste, however, since so many publishers now want manuscripts submitted electronically according to their very precise requirements.

      For your current purposes, the word count in Word’s Statistics should be sufficient as you only need a ballpark number to tell you where you are. And one more little note–it’s easy to cut prose during the revision process than it is to add prose.


    • I meant, “it’s easier to cut prose during the revision process than it is to add prose.” Darned keyboard.

    • I agree that it’s word count publishers want. I try to write the story without worrying about word or page count until I begin the editing/revision stage.

      Jane Kennedy Sutton

    • My publisher, iUniverse, sets the list price accordng to word count. My book came in at about 142,000 words and listed the book at $33.95 for the hard bound version.

      I was able to negotiate reducing the list price to $29.95 as $33.95 would price me right out of the market. I wanted $26.95 but they wouldn’t go that low. With discounts from Amazon and B&N, one can buy the book between $21 – $27.

      Something to think about if one is self-publishing. Find out how the publsher sets the list price, by word count or page count.

    • NA Sharpe says:

      It may be a good idea to check the submission guidelines of publishers you would like to submit your manuscript to. Often on the site itself (or in their guidelines) you can determine if they are looking at pagelength or word count. That might give you an idea for target length.

      Good luck!


    • Nancy,

      I did look at the submission guidelines and the list price should have been $33.95. Fortunately, after talking to enough people at Unverse, I was able to negotiate a $29.95 list price.

      My situation happened when AuthorHouse acquired iUniverse and did not want to honor the pre-negotiated price of $29.95

      It took about a month to hammer out the details with new reps to fix things. Mergers and acquisitons by publishers can be a mine field for authors to navigate through. Never a dull moment.

      – Stephen Tremp

    • Dani says:

      Good discussion going here. Alexis, the blog is looking great. Ready for a crit next week?


    • Alexis Grant says:

      Thanks, friends — This is all fabulous advice! Guess I need to nose around and see whether publishers want word counts for narrative nonfiction like they do for novels. I’ll report my findings!

    • My publisher went by word count for my non fiction book on reducing your child’s toxic chemical exposures. In fact, my contract specified the word count I was to deliver. My second draft was over . . . but we got it down. We were aiming to price at $14.95 for softbound, and it ultimately was 110,000 words.

      Jennifer Taggart

    • K. A. Laity says:

      Agreeing with what everyone seems to be saying, which is to focus on word count when you need a guide to how far along you are. Fiction usually comes in between 90k and 120k. Non-fiction seems to have more flexibility.

    • Enid Wilson says:

      Yep, size does matter! My fantasy novel In Quest of Theta Magic is 166 pages and one reviewer commented that it was shorter than normal novels. She gave me a good review but I think she’s more used to longer fiction.

      Steamy Stories by Enid

    • Alexis Grant says:

      Got a note from Tanya Shaffer…

      “Actually, word count makes more sense to go by than page count, because page count is going to vary based on fonts, etc. Of course, you have the problem of not knowing the word counts of all these books – but here’s mine: 84,699. Page count is 314 in MS Word, New York font, 12 pt type…”

    • Matt Apuzzo says:

      A decent rule of thumb: 350 words on a typical paperback page.

    • Karen Brees says:

      Funny isn’t it? We labor and sweat and create and yet it all boils down to word count. Even some of the biggest names got paid by the word.

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