Vicki's Book News and Articles

Craft: Word Count

Written by Vicki Hinze

On December 28, 2010

Vicki Hinze © 2003-2011

Q. I have a mss ready to be submitted, but I’ve run into a question on word count. I type in Arial, as I find it more attractive and easier to read than Courier. When I do the word count using the word processor, my mss totals approximately 61,000 words. The mss using Arial is 255 pages, but most of the pages aren’t 25 lines. I’ve changed the font to Courier, and adjusted the margin slightly to make sure I have 25 lines per page. This gives me 292 pages.

This times 250 words equals 73,000 words. I knew there’d be a difference when I changed fonts, but I wasn’t expecting such a big difference! My question now is, do I have a 61,000 word mss or do I have a 73,000 word mss? As a related question, do any publishers still go by the page count?

A. The answer is: I’m sorry, but I don’t know.

Let me explain.

Some fonts are “justified,” which means each letter or space is given the exact same amount of space on the page. Some are not. Some word processing programs count “white” space (blank lines and spaces) and some do not.

The bottom line is that the best way to get a word count like the publisher’s is to count the words on three pages and then use the average for all pages. That will get the publisher into “playing” range on printed fonts. They do have a little flexibility there and this method gets them into it.

Some will say to count the words on one page and then take out the blank lines on “Short” pages–the first and last page of each chapter. I would guard against that since blank lines do have novel space as well.

I would also suggest that you not use the Ariel font for your manuscripts. If you positively hate Courier, then use Times New Roman. Why? It’s footed, like Courier but nicer looking on the page. Do be aware that, unlike Courier, the letters take different amounts of space so you really will need to count a couple pages for the most accurate word count.

Why do you need a footed font? It’s easier on the eye. That’s significant because everyone in this business suffers from eye strain. Footed fonts help the eye not tire so quickly. That’s a good thing, especially when it’s your manuscript that’s being read.*


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