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scottishpunk
05-17-2009, 06:43 PM
My completed (term used loosely) book is currently 60,000 words long. I realise this is short, and can see that that could be a deterrent for some agents. Rather than having them just dismiss it out of hand because of its length, I'd like them to have a chance to read it and enjoy it for what it is. That said, I've been advised to leave my word count out of my query letters. Is that a wise idea, or should I just be up-front about it?

BenPanced
05-17-2009, 06:56 PM
I've been told to mention the word count. It'll give the agent a better idea of what they'd be working with and if they can find a market for it.

Conversely, you don't want leave out the word count when trying to sell a 300,000 word manuscript. That'd be an unwelcome shock if the agent requests a full.

Karen Duvall
05-17-2009, 06:58 PM
I think you should be upfront about it. If the agent requests the manuscript and sees the wordcount is too low to sell it as an adult book, he or she could feel resentful toward your deceitfulness. But I think some literary novels are really short, so if yours is literary, don't sweat it. But if it's a genre book, depending on the genre, I suggest you boost your wordcount to at least 75,000 words.

suki
05-17-2009, 07:51 PM
Some agents openly say they don't care about word count - so they might be good targets to start.

But I also agree that leaving the word count out can't really help with the others. Because it is so expected, they will likely think you are either sloppy in omitting it, or, more likely, be tipped off that there is a problem with the word count. And they might wrongly assume that it is way too long, which could be a bigger problem then needing to be fleshed out or enhanced a bit.

So, since it's not so far off to be a deal breaker in my opinion (unless it's genre, and then I do think another 15,000 words or so would seriously help it), I'd include it.

~suki

melaniehoo
05-17-2009, 08:04 PM
I agree that you should include the word count. It's too easy for an agent to think you're trying to be deceitful, or that you're sloppy and lazy, by omitting it.

52greg
05-17-2009, 10:22 PM
I'm not sure you should be overly focused on having the agent enjoy your novel. Of course, we want the agent to enjoy our work, but this is finally a business. The point is to write a novel that will sell. Presumably, if an agent sees commercial potential in a project, that agent will enjoy it. More importantly, however, that agent could well represent and sell the novel.

YukonMike
05-18-2009, 12:26 AM
I've always thought that 60,000 to 100,000 is a respectable length. Any more or any less is when agents start to get scared.

I've also read that word count is one of the basic bits of information your query must include so I'd say put it in. I think you have nothing to worry about.

jclarkdawe
05-18-2009, 01:20 AM
Without knowing the genre, it's impossible to tell you how bad 60k is. If you're writing adult epic fantasy, yeah, you've probably got a problem. If you're writing YA, you're right up the middle. For thoughts on genre and appropriate word counts, take a look at PLEASE READ BEFORE POSTING (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=124182) (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/images/misc/multipage.gif 1 (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=124182) 2 (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=124182&page=2)) post #24. It will take you to a couple of pieces on word counts as agents think about them.

I especially like Rachel Gardner's thoughts on word counts and popular entertainment. Reality is you can write to any length you want. The question is whether you can get published without you paying for it. The further you go from the norms, the better your book has to be in order to be published. And some agents won't look at anything over or under a certain amount.

Now I beta manuscripts. I won't touch anything much over 100k, no matter how cool the book sounds. The reason is that I've found longer books need too much cutting to work. Although I read long books, I haven't found any by beginning writers that work. (And heresies of heresies, I think Tolkien could lose about 20% and come up with a better book.) Shorter books can have problems, but the problem is usually easier to deal with.

Not including your word count raises questions of how bad is it. I know in query letter hell that when I see no word count, I assume the worse.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

scottishpunk
05-18-2009, 02:18 AM
Thanks for all the info, y'all! :)

Andrew Zack
05-31-2009, 03:36 AM
Scottishpunk:

Just to make your life more difficult, on what did you base that word count? If you format your manuscript properly, you'll end up with about 250 words per page. But if you use margins other than 1" and a font other than Courier New or Courier Dark, you'll likely have more or fewer words per page.

MS Word will give you a word count, but I don't trust it. It counts any bunch of letters surrounded by a space as a word. Thus "a" is a word and "extrapolate" is a word.

I tell my clients to take the character count including spaces and divide by five. That seems to be pretty accurate. Or format correctly and use the 250 rule. Then let us know if you still have 60,000 words.

Z

scottishpunk
06-02-2009, 12:18 AM
Scottishpunk:

Just to make your life more difficult, on what did you base that word count? If you format your manuscript properly, you'll end up with about 250 words per page. But if you use margins other than 1" and a font other than Courier New or Courier Dark, you'll likely have more or fewer words per page.

MS Word will give you a word count, but I don't trust it. It counts any bunch of letters surrounded by a space as a word. Thus "a" is a word and "extrapolate" is a word.

I tell my clients to take the character count including spaces and divide by five. That seems to be pretty accurate. Or format correctly and use the 250 rule. Then let us know if you still have 60,000 words.

Z

I've been using the Microsoft Word word count feature... and in further editing/expansion I've managed to boost my book a few thousand so far (more to come).

I'm a bit confused as to how you define a word. I see nothing wrong with MS Word counting either "a" or "extrapolate" as a word. Am I in error?

ChristineR
06-02-2009, 12:40 AM
Yeah, you're in error. Word count is really a function of the amount of space your book takes up, not a literal count of words. Back in the days before computers all writers would type their work in the same format and the word count would be estimated by multiplying properly formatted pages by 250. Typesetters aren't interested in the actual counts, just the space the text needs to occupy.

If you format it properly, you'll have 25 lines per page, and each line will be 65 characters--which would be ten words that are each six characters long, plus a space after each word, except for the last one. That's been the standard in publishing for decades. If your average word length is different, or you have a lot of white space, your MS Word word count will be different from your manuscript word count. In theory character count divided by 7 will give the "correct" word count.

Andrew Zack
06-02-2009, 02:57 AM
ChristineR's explantion is pretty much on the money, though I have always counted a "word" as being five characters, including spaces. Thus, if Word said you had 586,000 characters (including spaces), I'd say you have 117,200 words in your ms.

I just pulled up one of my client's SF manuscripts, which I know is properly formatted.

It is 526 pages and Word says it is 122,746 words and 696,686 characters (with spaces). By the 250 words/per page calculation, this ms is 131,500 words. By the 5-characters=1 word formula, it's 139,337. Now, there is a title page and a footer with the file name in it. That footer is holding 48 characters x 525 pages, so the 5-character rule means that's 5,040 words right there. Plus another hundred or more words from the characters that comprise the page numbers. Actually, more. It's 3/page x 425 pages, for 1,275, plus 178 for pages 10-99, plus 8 for 2-9. So deduct 6,501 from the count there and you get 132,836. So there is a difference in these two methods, but they are pretty darn close and what's interesting is that those rules say that the ms is a solid 10-15,000-words longer than Word says it is. That could be fifty pages or more of manuscript and it's no small discrepency.

The 250/page rule is solid as a rock. No publisher will argue with it (well, no experienced editor will argue with it). So I'd use that one and be sure to format correctly.

Z

scottishpunk
06-02-2009, 05:35 PM
Excellent! Turns out my book is a bit longer than I thought. Thanks for the help!

auntybug
06-02-2009, 06:58 PM
This word count has always baffled me. Using Andrew's suggestion, my 81,000 wip is now 86,000. %$#@

OP - I would take the above advice and try to add to it if possible. With my 1st WIP I felt done at 60K & was told to try to stretch it to 80K. Now I can't imagine it without the parts I added.

Best Wishes w/ your querying.

eta: and yes, mention word count in your query :)

raburrell
06-02-2009, 07:42 PM
ChristineR's explantion is pretty much on the money, though I have always counted a "word" as being five characters, including spaces. Thus, if Word said you had 586,000 characters (including spaces), I'd say you have 117,200 words in your ms.
Z
Huh. The last time I read a link that explained word count that way, it was *6* characters (including spaces) per word. Reference: http://www.sfwa.org/writing/wordcount.htm

I'm certainly not trying to be argumentative, but whether it's five or six makes a big difference to those struggling to get into the 'magic' range. :D
(If it's 6, I'm at around 140k. If it's 5, I'm at around 170k. Biiig difference in the amount of chopping I've theoretically got left to do...

(FWIW, back when I first started obsessing about this, I actually grabbed 10 books out of my library and did a quick words per page calc - the shortest was around 300, the longest was around 550... certainly nothing in the 250 range)

Kiltinator
06-08-2009, 11:19 PM
I had this question come up. Do you go with the MS Word count or some 250 words per page multiplied by the number of pages calculation?

I asked my agent who's been in publishing for 24 years and is easily one of the biggest deal makers in the UK.

There was a long pause before he told me to go with the MS Word count. He's super-polite but I got the distinct impression he thought I had lost my mind by suggesting some weird and wonderful way of arriving at an inflated figure.

Just saying...

scottishpunk
06-09-2009, 07:33 PM
Yeah... I think I will just stick with the MS word count. It seems to be an average between those other methods anyways... If I divide by 5 my word count is inflated, but when I divide by 6 my word count is even smaller than I had thought.

Andrew Zack
06-09-2009, 08:10 PM
When I was an editor at Berkley Books, we actually had a worksheet to help us figure out word count. Basically, it was the 250 words/page method and that's the method I still generally use or I use the 5 characters (inc spaces)=word.

Not sure about the British agent. I'm a US agent and can't say I've ever had the conversation with any UK editors. But certainly the 250 words/page method isn't "inflating" anyone's word count.

Z

Catadmin
06-12-2009, 02:53 PM
Another reason to use your 250 per page count is for pay scale reasons. When you have something that is paid by the word, don't you want to count everything you can?

My issue is that my MS word count is 127,000 +. Because I use quotes at the beginning of each chapter, it takes up additional space. Using the 250 per page count inflats my word count to 166,000 +, which some people might think is too long for epic fantasy. But I am counting the white space in there and so it gives a more realistic page count.

Irysangel
06-12-2009, 06:27 PM
A lot of romance publishers are moving toward MS Word as the accepted count. I know Harlequin uses it.