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How 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 do.

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:

Example One

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 your
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 married?
Do certain stores have seasonal promotions planned? You can
almost research...

Words: 74
Lines:  9

Example Two

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."
"No way!"
"Nothing you say will stop me."

Words: 50
Lines:  9

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 or novel.

How to word count like a pro

Here's how to do the word count your publisher wants to see:

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 strictly
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 pages
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 word count.

2000 Susan J. Letham

Susan J. Letham is a British writer, creative writing tutor,
and owner of . Sign up for
classes and competent 1-on-1 coaching. Pick up your no-cost
subscription to the monthly Inspired2Write Newsletter at: 

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