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Counting Counts November 3, 2010

Posted by bobv451 in contest, e-books, web & computers, westerns, writing.

I am amazed at how often this comes up. Over on Western Fictioneers was the question of determining word count in a ms. What I find strange is that I just asked James Sutter from Paizo that same question at World Fantasy. I had asked because I knew that Black Library went by using that “word count” function in the word processor, which is waaay different from the way I had done it for decades. I wanted to know the Paizo guidelines.

When I first started, FM Busby, Dick Patten and several others told me that IBM and major corps in the ‘60s and ‘70s used a simple formula. One page, 25 lines, 10 words per line average gave 250 words. It didn’t matter that some lines might have only
word on them. The space taken up in a printed book was the same whether it had
word on it or was completely filled. (Look at some of the old Michael Avallone books–he can go pages with single word paragraphs!) So 1 ms page = 250 words. 200 ms pages = 50,000. Simple.

While writing an early book I argued with the editor. She used some weird formula of 1425 impressions per page and translated this into something else–and we always came out within 2%. I used the 250 w/p and she the arcane formula. Along came computers. Publishers were slow to jump on the bandwagon and as late as the mid ‘80s I had an editor tell me she wouldn’t accept ms done on a computer because she wanted her authors to actually, you know, write the book. She wasn’t even on the upgrade list to get an electric typewriter at the time.

Now all publishers use digital typesetting and the whole 9 yards. Most use Kindles or other e-readers to read their mss. And they want a definite word count as per the word processor.

Problem is, this is 12% less than simply figuring it by 250 w/p. So a 100,000 word novel that I would turn in at 400 pages must be 450 pgs now. I don’t have problems filling up space, mind you, but the question arose whether any editor cared. Specific word count (like, down to the last vowel) or the easier way of doing it by the magical 250 number. Most of the Western Fictioneer authors still do it the way I do–page counts. But I wonder if gaming and other markets might be put out if we come up shy of the contracted amount.

So how are you coming on NaNoWriMo? As of yesterday I’m up to 6900 words.



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