Calculating Word Count

It may be hard to believe, but one of the most hotly debated issues among authors is how to determine the word count of a manuscript. On the surface, such a debate seems silly. After all, modern word processing programs list the word count for each document, so what is there to debate?

Plenty, actually.

Traditionally, some book publishers, especially those that release the same number of romance novels each month as part of an established line, have strict production guidelines that require manuscripts to fall within a preset number of pages.

For them, the actual word count doesn't always give the projected page length of a novel, which is crucial to ensure the novel meets the production requirements for their books. After all, a 300-page manuscript with lots of snappy dialogue may have an actual word count of 55,000 words, while another 300-page manuscript with more narrative might contain 75,000 words.

To compensate, these publishers use a formula to calculate word count that requires 12-point Courier font, double-spacing, and one-inch margins (top, bottom, left, and right.) With those settings, the publisher estimates each manuscript to contain:

  • 25 lines each page

  • 10 words each line

  • 250 words each page (number of lines multiplied by number of words)

Other houses rely on the actual word count provided by the word processing program, so no such “guesstimations” about word count are necessary. Of course, as with all information about a publisher, always refer to their Web site or editorial tip sheets for specific information about how they calculate the word count of a manuscript.

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  4. Calculating Word Count
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