Results 1 to 15 of 15
  1. #1
    LaerCarroll.com
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Location
    Los Angeles
    Posts
    1,275

    Is my SF/F debut book too small?

    I've begun looking for an agent for my latest book. It is the first of a projected new series. So when I was in my favorite bookstore (a big B&N a mile away next to a favorite restaurant) I looked in the SF/F new-books section for similar books.

    To my surprise the books all seem to be quite large, both the hardback and mass-market ppbks, for same kind of books (debut authors, debut series). Doing some quick calculations (as suggested by SFWA) of seven HB and four MMP showed the word count running from 260K to 340K.

    My book is 116K by computer word count and 136K done the SFWA way. I'm wondering (rather idly, not seriously) if my book is too small!
    Last edited by Laer Carroll; July 26th, 2014 at 06:46 AM. Reason: NUMBER TYPO

  2. #2
    Noumenon - answers to Nou Andrew Leon Hudson's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    Madrid, Spain
    Posts
    1,000
    Quote Originally Posted by Laer Carroll View Post
    My book is 161K by computer word count and 136K done the SFWA way. I'm wondering (rather idly, not seriously) if my book is too small!
    136k, No (idly so).
    161k, No (seriously so).

    I'm sure someone (coughKatGcough) will quickly point out that there is no hard and fast rule, and that's surely true, but the number I hear most often is 100k as a nice, accessible upper "limit" for length, especially if the author doesn't have a convenient pre-packaged audience of fevered fans that have been picking up all his/her other titles for decades. I'd like to know which titles you tested (in the interests of scientific inquiry ), since those sound like some pretty enormous word counts for début writers débuting serieses.

    It is interesting as a calculation, though. My (debut, sf*) novel came in at 85,942 Word Processor words - that's 480,250 characters. Divided by SFWA's six character average this comes out as 80,041 "words". After staring at these numbers unblinking for an hour or so, it finally sank in that this means my average word length is smaller than that six letter approximation. This really surprised me, though I don't know why, since of course the number of smaller words we use would outweigh the larger (and, of course, it wouldn't make sense to generate an approximation higher than a true word count).

    • My SFWA average word length is 480,250 / 80041 = 6 characters
    • My WP average word length is 480,250 / 85942 = 5.58 characters

    That's pretty close, really - good averaging, SFWA!

    * Steampunk in fact, so really it's sf/f

  3. #3
    LaerCarroll.com
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Location
    Los Angeles
    Posts
    1,275
    Quote Originally Posted by Laer Carroll View Post
    My book is 161K by computer word count and 136K done the SFWA way. I'm wondering (rather idly, not seriously) if my book is too small!
    SORRY. That should be 116K. One hundred SIXTEEN! I've corrected the initial post.
    Last edited by Laer Carroll; July 26th, 2014 at 06:47 AM.

  4. #4
    Noumenon - answers to Nou Andrew Leon Hudson's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    Madrid, Spain
    Posts
    1,000
    *rubs hands together* Time to do some comparative maths:

    161k against 136k would have suggested an average word length of...

    Quote Originally Posted by Show your working out, Boy!
    Approximate original character count: 136,000 x 6 = 816,000

    816,000 / 161,000 = 5.07 cpw (characters per word)
    116k against 136k instead suggests...

    Quote Originally Posted by Don't make me fetch my ruler, Hudson...
    816,000 / 116,000 = 7.03 cpw
    What a difference forty or fifty thousand words make... unless I'd doing something stupidly wrong here, which is possible.

  5. #5
    LaerCarroll.com
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Location
    Los Angeles
    Posts
    1,275
    Andrew, the computer-counted numbers from the Word file shows my average word length to be 4.7 characters per word. I've made it a practice for decades to select shorter words whenever possible. Also, I have a fair amount of dialogue, and people tend to use shorter more common words in speech.
    __________________________

    Two factors of my selections would skew the numbers high. I picked hardbacks which were blurbed as the first of a series. Publishers are more likely to allow books to be larger (and so more expensive to print) which have the possibility to sell well. And if they've seen at least part of the sequels.

    I did this because my book also has sequel possibilities. (In fact, I've already written a third of it.)

    Also, the four mass-market paperbacks were re-issues of series debuts, likely just the same text in smaller font sizes rather than completely re-typeset. I'd guess that most debut paperbacks are smaller, in the 100K-120K range.

  6. #6
    Edited for submission Holbrook's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2002
    Location
    In the Shire
    Posts
    4,332
    Blog Entries
    42
    Most agents state they are interested in novels between 80,000 and 120,000. Also most I have spoken too say that they tend to go by computer word count these days. So you are well in. I would put the computer count on your submission. It's just a guideline anyway. If your book is sold the word count is going to alter as it undergoes edits.

    Mu novel Oracle, had a word count of 116,000 when it was accepted, now after the first edit it is down to 108,000 roughly. I can see that altering before it's published later this year.

  7. #7
    Noumenon - answers to Nou Andrew Leon Hudson's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    Madrid, Spain
    Posts
    1,000
    Quote Originally Posted by Laer Carroll View Post
    Andrew, the computer-counted numbers from the Word file shows my average word length to be 4.7 characters per word.
    Not to harp on, but if the 136k number spat out by SFWA remains accurate that's not possible. Presumably it isn't then.

    If your WP word count was exactly 116k, and equates to 4.7 cpw, then that's 545,200 characters total. Dividing that by 6 gives you a 90,867 word count for SFWA purposes. Obviously that can't be correct because of figure one, but it must be close.

    Quote Originally Posted by Laer Carroll View Post
    Two factors of my selections would skew the numbers high. I picked hardbacks which were blurbed as the first of a series. Publishers are more likely to allow books to be larger (and so more expensive to print) which have the possibility to sell well. And if they've seen at least part of the sequels.

    I did this because my book also has sequel possibilities. (In fact, I've already written a third of it.)

    Also, the four mass-market paperbacks were re-issues of series debuts, likely just the same text in smaller font sizes rather than completely re-typeset. I'd guess that most debut paperbacks are smaller, in the 100K-120K range.
    So... when you quoted those giant quarter-mil-or-more débuts, are we talking a guess you made based on the font size and number of pages, or do you actually know how long they were? That divide by six thing is all well and good if you have the data file to hand, but judging by a printed page isn't so simple.

    Quote Originally Posted by Note 6 from that SFWAorg link you shared
    Pick a standard-looking page from the middle of the manuscript. Using a ruler, align it along the right edge of the text so that the ends of half the lines stick out and half are covered. Since most standard format pages contain 24 or 25 lines, you should have 12 or 13 sticking out beyond the ruler. Count characters backwards from the point where the ruler ends. Divide the total by 6. Multiply by lines on the page. (Example: 60 characters divided by 6 equals 10 words per line. Multiplied by 25 lines equals 250 words per page.) Then multiply by pages in the manuscript — adjusting for blank areas, like the half page missing on the first page. This will give you an accurate word count equivalent to what an editor will use.
    Did you, for example, bring a ruler to Barnes&Noble and do measure checking of eleven novels while you were there? [/grilling]

  8. #8
    LaerCarroll.com
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Location
    Los Angeles
    Posts
    1,275
    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew Leon Hudson View Post
    ... are we talking a guess you made based on the font size and number of pages, or do you actually know how long they were[/grilling]
    No, I did it the "smart" way. I photographed several pages in the middle of each book with my mini iPad Rd. Then on my home computer I used an image-analysis program I wrote long ago to translate the image into text. I ran the text through another program to apply the SFWA algorithm.

    I put quotes around SMART because it took a couple of hours longer than if I'd just counted words by hand & used a hand calculator. Trust a techie to do things a complicated way even though a simpler and better way is available!

    If I did this on a regular basis I'd write an app for the iPad that would do all this instantly. (In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if there already were apps to do just this.)

  9. #9
    Curmudgeon in training Donutz's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2014
    Location
    Vancouver, BC
    Posts
    83
    Am I the only one who is boggled by the word counts mentioned in post #1? Over 200K????? I just finished editing my novel and it's coming in at 73.5K . One of my favorite books (Wildside) comes in at 79K based on 250wpp. Another one, 1632, is probably in the 110K range. WTH, other than the entire LOTR trilogy, comes in at 260-340K ?????

  10. #10
    Noumenon - answers to Nou Andrew Leon Hudson's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    Madrid, Spain
    Posts
    1,000
    Quote Originally Posted by Laer Carroll View Post
    No, I did it the "smart" way.
    That IS a pretty smart way! But to answer Donutz's question with a "No", since my mind fairly boggles too, I do wonder if its results would hold up by comparison to the ruler method (which, I have to admit, I copied and pasted because I was struggling to visualise it and couldn't paraphrase). It could be an unconscious selection bias on your part, simply picking eleven uncommonly long books for the sample, but for all of them to come in so hefty seems unrepresentative of the perceived/recommended standard length. Makes me suspicious of the black box that did the crunching...

  11. #11
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2003
    Location
    In an Ode
    Posts
    12,208
    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew Leon Hudson View Post
    I'm sure someone (coughKatGcough) will quickly point out that there is no hard and fast rule, and that's surely true,
    I am summoned, apparently.

    There is no separate set of word counts for debut authors or new series. A debut may be short or extremely long. Extremely long tends to run in the secondary world fantasy area, where novels a good bit over 100K are not uncommon. Other types of fantasy and most science fiction novels run shorter, usually fitting in somewhere between 75,000-150,000 words, but longer ones and occasionally shorter ones occur. Some agents don't like to market books that are on the short side or the long side, because some imprints sometimes have length production issues for their particular line, or because they just don't feel that they can make a standard sale. (This is very likely the case if you are doing paranormal or SF romance.) Smaller presses have a hard time with really long lengths. But some of them still do long books. If a publisher has length boundaries, they will let folk know.

    All that being said, it seems unlikely that Laer's counts in the bookstore were accurate. And there's no area of SFFH where Laer's ms. count should be a problem. Word's automatic word count is perfectly fine for accuracy for authors. Length counts from authors are considered estimates, used sometimes for p&c estimates, but not expected to be accurate. If you are self-publishing or working with an e-book publisher, file size is more critical than word count.

  12. #12
    Noumenon - answers to Nou Andrew Leon Hudson's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    Madrid, Spain
    Posts
    1,000
    Quote Originally Posted by KatG View Post
    I am summoned, apparently.
    But as least I left it in your hands. I could have chanted your name three times in front of a mirror...

  13. #13
    LaerCarroll.com
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Location
    Los Angeles
    Posts
    1,275
    Quote Originally Posted by KatG View Post
    ... it seems unlikely that Laer's counts in the bookstore were accurate.
    I was concerned about this but I believe the counts were reasonably accurate. SF/F novels nowadays are often big-ass books. Fans love to get into a world and stay there. This is one of the reasons why series are so popular.

    The SFWA count calculations (there are two, actually) are for authors and assumes they are using monospaced fonts like Courier. That's a bit out of date because proportional fonts have been accepted by most agents and editors for the manuscripts coming to them. Times New Roman and Arial come standard on most computers and tablets and they are both much easier to read for the average person than monospaced fonts. And agents and editors read more than most of us.

    The method used for books off the shelf must take account of the fact that they are typeset in proportional fonts. It is usually the following or something similar. I did this just now for Elizabeth Moon's Limits of Power, which I have handy. Those are the bolded numbers you see below. (Perhaps Ms. Moon will tell us the computer word count so we can compare.)

    1. Count the number of words on the lines inside paragraphs (not the indented first line or trailing last line) for ten lines. 127 words
    2. Divide by ten and round (or not if you want to be more accurate). 13 (or 12.7) words per line
    3. Count the number of lines per page. 37 lines
    4. Multiply the two. 481 (or 470) words
    5. Multiply by the number of pages. 492 pgs = 236,000 (or 221,000) words

    There are lots of books smaller than this on the SF/F shelves. But there are some who are bigger. A Game of Thrones, the first book in the series, is 819 pages in hardback and 864 pages in mass-market paperback. The Eyes of the World is 814 in hdbk and 832 in mmpb. Dune is 535 in hdbk and 544 in mmpb.
    Last edited by Laer Carroll; Yesterday at 02:06 PM.

  14. #14
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2003
    Location
    In an Ode
    Posts
    12,208
    Quote Originally Posted by Laer Carroll View Post
    I was concerned about this but I believe the counts were reasonably accurate. SF/F novels nowadays are often big-ass books. Fans love to get into a world and stay there. This is one of the reasons why series are so popular.
    Not necessarily. Some big ass books are standalones. And numerous contemporary fantasy series use short books and sell better than secondary world fantasy and science fiction epics. So length and series have no correlation in the market. But size may have some correlation with which books you picked in your survey. If you went for larger books and ignored the shorter ones, then you're skewing your data.

    The SFWA count calculations (there are two, actually) are for authors and assumes they are using monospaced fonts like Courier.
    The SFWA count is not the SFWA count. It's the standard rough word estimate that uses a simple average -- get an average of words per line, multiply by number of lines on the page, multiply by pages. But it's not super accurate. And you also need to subtract for half pages at the beginning and end of chapters, etc. It's meant to be only a rough estimate that you can do quickly. And if you're doing it off a published book, be aware that publishers can vary the print size within the book (though often they don't,) and have a lot of various printing tricks and white space devices. The word count of your word processor program is a more accurate count. While it's not definite, it's probably a better count for your own ms. Agents are usually not obsessed about word length, unless something is very one way or the other, and editors are only concerned about it if their publisher has production limits and/or if they are interested in the book enough to run p&c estimates on it.

    Manuscripts usually shrink in print. How much they shrink depends on what the publisher does with the size, etc. So a very rough estimate is to take your ms. page count and shrink it by a third, i.e. a 600 page ms. would be 400 something printed pages. But publishers don't have to shrink it by a third and can even lengthen the page count. Another very rough estimate used is 25,000 words equals 100 pages (this is obviously based on the arbitrary standard of 250 words per page.)

    So if you just want to look at how long the books are relative to one another, page count is fine. It's not accurate since they are all printed differently and different editions of the same book are printed differently, (mass market paperbacks tend to be longer than hardcovers in page count because smaller pieces of paper though the print is smaller to fit more on,) but it gives you the sampling. A random sample of books on my shelf and on the Net:

    Chuck Wendig, Mockingbird, cont. fan., mmp, 392 pages
    Diana Rowland, Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues, cont. fan, mmp, 312 pp.
    Glen Cook, Wicked Bronze Ambition, sec world, mmp, 485 pp. (a large one for that series)
    Lucas Thorn, Nysta #2: Duel at Grimwood Creek, sec world, trade paper, 325 pp.
    Mira Grant, Feed, post-apoc zombie SF, mmp, 599 pp.
    Charles Stross, Rule 34, cyberpunk crime SF, mmp, 336 pp.
    Jon Sprunk, Shadow's Son, sec world, tradep, 278 pp.
    James Morrow, Shambling Towards Hiroshima, SF, 170 pp.
    Charles Yu, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, time travel SF, hc, 239 pp.
    R.A. MacAvoy, Death and Resurrection, cont. fant, tradep, 333 pp.
    Rainbow Rowell, Landline, time travel, hc, 320 pp.
    Joe Abercrombie, Half a King, sec world, hc, 352 pp.
    Tiphanie Yanique, Land of Love and Drowning, magic realism, hc, 368 pp.
    Pierce Brown, Red Rising, post-apoc SF, hc, 416 pp.
    Hannu Rajaniemi, The Causal Angel, cyberpunk SF, hc, 304 pp.
    D.B. Jackson, A Plunder of Souls, historic fantasy, mmp, 336 pp.
    Daniel Arenson, Requiem's Hope, sec world, tradep, 260 pp.
    Django Wexler, The Shadow Throne, sec world, hc, 512 pp.
    James S.A. Corey, Leviathan Wakes, space opera, tradep, 592 pp.
    Peter Watts, Echopraxia, hard SF, hc, 384 pp.
    John Scalzi, Lock In, SF thriller (pandemic,) hc, 336 pp.
    Christopher Golden, Snowblind, horror, hc, 320 pp.

    So what does that tell us? Book sizes vary. It's not unusual for a sec world battle novel to be in the 500-700 pages range, or a SF space opera saga to be in the 400-600 pages range. But a lot of books are not those lengths; lengths in the 300 page range are fairly common. Shorter ones are not uncommon. A 116,000 word novel would probably be somewhere in the 300 pp. range.

  15. #15
    LaerCarroll.com
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Location
    Los Angeles
    Posts
    1,275
    Thanks, Kat.

    This discussion has left me encouraged. I’ve slenderized my novel as much as I can without an acquiring editor’s guidance. More surgery would (I believe) harm the book I wanted to write.

    My biggest concern right now is to create a submission package (somewhat different for each agent) which will get me a request for a full MS. So I will use my computer word count rather than a manually calculated one in my query and spend more time on more important matters.

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •