Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Word counts, redux: From the horse's mouth.

My post about word counts stirred up a lot of great commentary from a wide variety of people, both published and unpublished. Some of you had good questions, particularly about which method to use in determining your word count. So, I went straight to the best source I know: the editor.

Specifically, I went to Betsy Mitchell, VP & Editor-in-Chief of Del Rey Books (an imprint of the Random House Publishing Group, for those of you who don't know). Del Rey is the second largest publisher of fantasy and science fiction in the United States as well as being an innovator in the fields of licensed media, pop culture, and manga.

I asked Betsy to answer two questions, which she kindly agreed to let me post here:
I have writers who've been asking me about how to estimate word counts. Most new authors go by their MS Word counter. Some writers are using the old pages x 250, based on 12-inch Courier text with 1" margins. Are new writers simply over-thinking this?

Betsy: Yes, they’re over-thinking. Using the MS Word counter and putting “approximately xx,xxx words” is good enough on a submission.

Along the same lines, what's your absolute cut-off, word count-wise, when deciding to look at a manuscript?

Betsy: My eyebrows start climbing to the ceiling past 120,000 words and disappear off my forehead at 180,000 or so. A manuscript that long should either be cut drastically or split into two carefully crafted parts.
And there you have it. Hope that helps! (Thanks, Betsy!)


Joya said...

This is cool! Thanks so much for contacting Betsy on our behalf. :)

archangelbeth said...

Yes, thank you!

S. E. Ward said...

Awesome, thanks for doing that!

I am so screwed, aren't I? :)

La Gringa said...

Susan -

Never fear. I have a red pencil. We'll get you there. :-)


Travis Erwin said...

Solid info.

Now I have another question. Do you think it is easier to sell a 100,000 word novel or an 80,000 -- or does word count not matter as long as it falles in the window of acceptable?

Guess I'm wondering in this day and age if short attention spans and sitcom domination, is a bit shorter better.

S. E. Ward said...

Somehow, I think this is going to be a multi-pencil job. ;)

annathepiper said...

Hah! I kinda knew these things already, but it's always good to be reminded.

So RIGHT THEN, 10,000 more words or so to kill in Lament... let's see if I have any leftover adverbs. ;)

Kristin said...

Right. So what if the problem is the reverse? Thinking you have 90,000 words with the 250 times number of pages, but the word count is only showing up as "75,000" in your word processing counter???

annathepiper said...

Hey Kristin! You can have the words I'm yanking out of my manuscript, if you want them! ;)

S. E. Ward said...

I think Kristin's gonna have a line. She's basically put up a sign that reads, "WILL MOW YOUR LAWN FOR FREE. EDGING, TRIMMING, LANDSCAPING INCLUDED."

Heyyy.... I wonder how hard it would be to take the cast-off subplots of several novels and combine them into a book of their own? *ponders*

*gets thwacked on nose with a rolled-up newspaper for even thinking about yet another project*

Kristin said...

S.E., you are probably right. I've never had a problem with going over. Not even in college! My 8-10 page papers were always 1 page shy. I said everything I wanted to say!

However, one particular MS ended up being close to 95,000 words. I went through the editing process and tightened it up so much, I got rid of 15,000 words.

Trust me. They were words that didn't need to go back in there. And were not that hard to cut. Plus, I ended up added 2 or 3 new scenes/short chapters.

Cutting is the easy part....

nymeria87 said...

Kristin, I wish I could say the same. But being brief has never been one of my strengths though I'm definitely trying and (hopefully) getting better at it.

Thanks a lot for asking, this is a great blog!

I have another question regarding formatting now that we're at it. What is the most common format to submit a MS to an agency? I bet there are many ways to format a manuscript, but I was wondering about the general "etiquette" so to say.

annathepiper said...


I recommend Vonda McIntyre's artic le on manuscript preparation up on I found that an invaluable resource. :)

nymeria87 said...

Thanks a lot, anna!

I should have mentioned that I'm writing urban fantasy and I'm not even close to the stage of submitting a query for Light, but I like to be informed ;)

Thanks again :)

annathepiper said...

nymeria87, you are very welcome! Urban fantasy authors, represent. ^_^

mike holm said...

This was so helpful! At least I can cross one thing off my worry list.

Thanks so much. :)

Nathan said...

Every once in a while, a movie script shows up in my mail. I have no idea why anyone would think I could get their movie financed, but then again, all of those scripts have demonstrated some delusional qualities.

Movie scripts don't go by word count, but they average between 115 and 125 pages. I got one script once that was 240 pages.

Page one was something like:

"I am an alien. An alien king."

"An alien, you say?"

"Yes, an alien king."

"An actual alien?"

"Yes, an alien king."

240 pages of single spaced alien king. I was really terrified that this person had my address.

La Gringa said...

Travis -

Above all, it is easiest to sell a well-written book.\


Jeff C said...

interesting...180k words novels need to be split? I thought I read today on Brandon Sanderson's blog that he was estimating A Memory of Light would be 400k words! How would that get published as a single work?