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Thread: Speaking of word count...
August 27th, 2005, 12:23 PM #1
Speaking of word count...
There has been a traditional method of calculating word count (as described here by Pam McCutcheon), and there is of course your word processor's word count.
Now I have heard quite a few people say that you must not use the word processor count but the traditional method of calculating it whenever communicating your word count to a publisher. For those of you currently dealing with editors or publishers, have you found this to be the case? Or is it a matter of someone saying so, and thus it keeps getting repeated ad infinitum? Has the technology become prevalent enough that, in reality, publishers are just working with word processor word counts when evaluating manuscripts, or are do they really all stick with the traditional method?
August 30th, 2005, 08:59 PM #2
You may have noticed in your book contract a clause that specifically states that you are not allowed to have any control over or even involvement in the production, formatting and printing of your book. (That you got to provide your own cover is purely the luck of working with a small press that's willing to experiment.) Production people do not have any interest in authors, their word counts or what they think of white space. In fact, they find authors highly annoying and want nothing to do with you.
The 250 words per page method is a way to do a quick, rough estimate of word count. If you've got 400 ms. pages, you know it's probably around 100,000 words. But authors may have considerably more or less than 250 words per ms. page because they don't use standardized margins, spacing, white space, typeface, etc. and even if they did, the ms. will be overrun with penciled corrections and little yellow sticky post-its in the editing process. And since publishers don't use the same formatting, margins, typeface size, spacing or white spacing in each printed book, the formatting of the ms. and its white space is largely irrelevant to production.
The word count functions on word processor programs may miscount some words but is generally pretty accurate. You can round up to the nearest even number and it's sufficient for early price and cost estimates and for the length range to be put in the book contract. If you didn't provide this information, though, an editor can use the 250 words per page method or other, somewhat more accurate estimate methods, and come up with a rough word count in a few minutes. So you providing any word count is really just for convenience.
The production and printing folk may use rough estimates as a rough guide in planning layout, but they have other, much more accurate ways of determining the work's exact length, and they don't need your help to do it. Or for that matter, the editor's help either. If you really want to cover your bases, you can use the word processor count, the 250 words per page count and average the difference. It's still only a rough estimate, but twill serve. And no, you cannot work the printing press.
August 30th, 2005, 10:33 PM #3
I had a feeling, from the rather pedantic tones in which most people repeated the "manual method" advice, that the "requirement" to use it was an assumption not necessarily based on any current fact. The rationale that may have existed for it, in pre-computer days, may have had some validity; but it seems rather pointless today. There are so many other variables (type face, point size, margins, trim size, etc.) that are going to influence final page count that word count by itself is not going to give you much more than a rough idea of the actual book size (beyond, say, "large" versus "small.")
I know you are quite correct regarding the usual situation with authors, vis-a-vis their involvement in much of anything once the final edits are turned in, beyond proofing what's handed to them. Aside from the cover, my case was even more unique, even for Windstorm: I did all the interior layout and production myself, including the widow and orphan handling; I chose all of the display fonts (they chose the text font, Baskerton, which is their corporate font, but I picked out the more Asian style ones and the section seperator dingbat font); and I compiled the whole thing into PDF files for them to give to their printer. They told me how they wanted the end papers arranged, but that's about it. On the cover, they dropped in the bar code, but I put together all the rest, including the cover blurb. I don't think they've done this with any other authors of theirs, but I had some experience in doing this stuff so they let me run with it. It certainly lets me feel like the book's really "mine"! I know this isn't ever going to occur again, but it was kinda fun to do it this way at least once. As you say, only with a small press!
August 31st, 2005, 03:24 AM #4
Nothing like deep involvement - it's usually poets who do things like that!
None of the publishers I've had anything to do with seem much bothered with word count. I know Patrick, the UK designer for the Pellinor series, just runs it through his machine when he wants to know how long it will be. He uses the same typeface as the Oz edition, but he stretched out the leading to make it look nicer and so the books are 50 pages longer.
August 31st, 2005, 10:43 PM #5
Well, apparently, you can work the printing press. Very cool. If I had the knowledge, I'd like to do that. I'll be paying close attention to the printing when I get the first book. But most of the time, the author just supplies content, maybe a map.
November 30th, 2005, 11:28 AM #6
- Join Date
- Jun 2005
Does anyone use the word count method described in here? It seems very complicated for something as simple as a word count. I just use that on word count because it's the simplest way - but I haven't sent in anything to a publisher. I think writer's probably worry too much about the manuscript preparation side of things and not enough about the writing itself. If the writing is good enough, it won't matter if you got the word count slightly wrong, the publisher will still take it on.
November 30th, 2005, 12:56 PM #7
This rather goes back to my initial point: what the article is espousing is one of the many manual methods for calculating the physical space required for printing the end product, which I think is probably unnecessary in the current state of book production and layout. Also, the author of the SFWA article is another writer; just like all the other articles I've seen, they all seem to be information provided by writers. I've yet to see any authoritative information from a publisher on what they are expecting to see and whether a word processor word count is sufficient.
And of course you are completely correct about the writing coming first. That's kind of what I've tried to get across in the "Bad Tags" thread in the Writing section too.