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to Do a Word Count
by Susan J. Letham
Author guidelines usually include a reference to word
count as part of the instructions. So what counts as a
word, and how should you go about counting?
The one thing you need to understand very clearly is that
publications take word count seriously. If they give you a
word count, they expect you to stick to it!
Word count and online publications
If you submit to online publications, you can use the word
count feature in your word-processing program, unless the
e-zine or website owner has stated otherwise. Always read
the submission guidelines carefully!
Word count and print publications
When you submit to print publications, other counting
rules apply. You'll want to calculate your average word
count using a simple formula, the way the professionals
Before I show you how to calculate your word count, let me
tell you the reason behind the word count, so you
understand how important it is and why editors are such
sticklers on this issue.
Magazines have a limited amount of space to fill in each
edition. Your publisher needs to know how much of that
space your story or article is going to use up.
It ain't just about words!
Simply counting the number of words won't take account of
the space needed for things like indents, paragraph breaks
and dialogue. Let me show you examples of what I mean:
You can suggest a series of articles about neighborhood
restaurants or bars, or a feature about local bookstores,
hairdressing and cosmetic salons. You can even include
family and friends in your research. Ask them where they
shop and why. Don't forget the seasonal markets; First
Communions, Bar Mitzvahs, June weddings, Easter and
Christmas Fairs. Is a local celebrity about to get
Do certain stores have seasonal promotions planned? You
Robert Norris paced the small living room, stabbing at the
air with the sheaf of papers clenched in his fist.
"Look. This is crazy."
"What do you mean, crazy?"
"I mean that you can't do it!"
"I can and I will."
"Nothing you say will stop me."
Even without spacing lines between each item of dialogue,
we have a difference of 24 words in the same nine-line
space. Now imagine what that difference could mean in
terms of page space when applied to a full-length article
How to word count like a pro
Here's how to do the word count your publisher wants to
First of all, an accurate word count is based on the
assumption that you've used a standard manuscript format.
If in doubt, use:
- one-inch margins
- 25 double-spaced lines per page, and
- a 12-point non-proportional font like Courier.
If you've done that, you'll have an AVERAGE of 250 words
on each page. You can now base your calculations on those
250 words per page. Some people like to count a few pages
and and average out the word count, but that's not
necessary. This way is much easier and will do fine. All
your publisher wants is a rough idea of length.
All you need to do then is multiply the number of pages in
your manuscript by 250--the average number of words per
page--to get the word count.
20 pages x 250 words = 5,000 words
50 pages x 250 words = 12,500 words
100 pages x 250 words = 25,000 words
This works the other way around, too. If your publisher
wants 5,000 words, you simply divide the word count by 250
to see how many formatted pages you'll need to submit.
5,000 words : 250 = 20 formatted pages
10,000 words : 250 = 40 formatted pages
70,000 words : 250 = 280 formatted pages
Here's a rough guide to the number of formatted pages
you'll need to submit for a:
Short story: 2,000 to 7,000 words = 8 - 28
Novella: 7,000 to 17,000 words =
28 - 68 pages
Novelette: 17,000 to 25,000 words = 68 - 100 pages
See? No magic involved. Calculating word length is easy.
It takes only a few moments of your time and--for some of
us--a simple calculator. But those moments can mean the
difference to the impression you make on your publisher.
If you want to appear professional, always include your
© 2000 Susan J. Letham
Susan J. Letham is a British writer, creative writing
and owner of http://www.Inspired2Write.com
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