The Funky Math of a Word Count


March 25, 2013 by Kira Lyn Blue


So, when I finished the first draft of my novel, I ran the little tool in my word processor to see how I did on book length and discovered a problem. I had over 200,000 words.


Now, some of you might be wondering why this is a problem. The first reason this is a problem is that this is a debut novel. While I’m not finding any firm answer on what the accepted length for a debut novel is, most of the resources I’ve stumbled across on the interwebs say if you’re over 80k words, prepare yourself for blanket rejection. Check out the Editorial Ass’s post on this topic.

There’s also genre conventions to consider. I found a great post at The Swivet that lists the generally accepted length for books in each genre. FYI: none of them are anywhere near 200k.

Okay, so I’m a windbag. I get that. My novel needs some serious liposuction. My question is: how much? The answer isn’t as clear as I’d like it to be because I also discovered that Word Count is NOT a literal count of the words on the pages.

That’s right. Word Count is not a count, it’s a calculation.

Even worse, it’s this funky math with parameters so vague it makes me look back at my college calculus courses with fondness. Something I would have not thought possible.

For details on how to do it go here:

For lazy people like me, it boils down to this: set your manuscript in 12pt Courier with 25 lines per page. Your word count is now calculated by multiplying the resulting number of pages by 250.

So, having discovered this, I returned to my manuscript and ran the numbers. I got a much smaller number than 200k. It doesn’t make my book in the acceptable range, but it makes me feel like it isn’t so bad off.

But then, I read further in that last reference I gave you and the author comments that another rule of thumb is to multiply the computer word count of your proportional font manuscript (meaning not in Courier) by 1.1 or 1.2. Okayyyy, so that means my manuscript is even longer than I thought! Aaaaargh!

To make matters worse, she ends the whole article with something that throws the whole argument into chaos: “In e-pub the computer word count is king. There is nothing else.”

Well, crumbs. So, how the heck am I supposed to know when I’ve wheedled my manuscript down to an acceptable level?

I have to admit that I am beyond frustrated with this topic at this point and the online resources available to me are not as definitive as I would like. When I’ve got this bad boy ready for sending out queries, how will I know if the word count I think I have is acceptable to the agent or publisher? I mean, if I get a form letter rejecting it, I’ll have no idea if it was because they didn’t like the manuscript itself or if it was because they took one look at the length and tossed me in the rejection pile.

So, anyone out there have any helpful advice?


One thought on “The Funky Math of a Word Count

  1. kddidit says:

    So essentially it boils down to “leave it alone”, LOL! Go with what you have. Your word count gives you an incentive to edit your story ruthlessly. Aim to tighten it and cut the chaff. What’s left should be a good story regardless of word count.

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