Counting on a Word Count

I get really bent out of shape over word count whenever I edit any of my novel manuscripts. Is my manuscript long enough to be considered a novel?” has been one of the foremost questions haunting my mind. I worry whenever I have to delete sentences and whole paragraphs alike; this apparently decreases the word count.

I constantly check the bottom left hand corner of the Microsoft Word window for the number, then apply some math to figure out how long the published book would be. First, I take the total word count and subtract 24 from it (24 is the number of words on the manuscript’s cover page). I then divide the resulting number by 250 (average number of words on one typed manuscript page).

For example, as I’m writing this blog, I’m looking up the word count for “Daughters of Janus,” which has 64,981 words. From this number I’ll subtract 24. The number is 64,957. Then I’ll divide 64,957 by 250. And the answer is (drum roll please) … 259.828 – or around 260 pages as a published book.

According to Wikipedia, a novel has at least 50,000 words, but it can also depend on the genre. Writer Lori Copeland posted a December 2005 blog to answer the question. According to her blog, a “Short Contemporary” novel has 50,000 to 60,000 words, 200 to 240 pages, and 18 to 20 pages per chapter. A “Long Contemporary” novel has between 70,000 to 80,000 words, 280 to 320 pages, and 18 to 20 pages per chapter.

Ms. Copeland’s blog address is here.

My cousin — a very bright young woman and a talented book editor – once told me that a novel manuscript is at least between 200-300 pages, but then she told me not to worry about the word count.

“Worry about whether you’re doing your story justice,” she said.

So yes, I can definitely say that I’m writing a novel, not a novella or novelette. But I still dread the number changing every time I hit that backspace button.

  • Henry Baum

    I think your math is off. 60,000 words should be around 160 pages. I think 150’s a good minimum for a novel vs. novella.

  • One of the great things about eBooks is that word count is not as important as it used to be.
    No, I am not saying that publishers(self or otherwise) can charge $15.99 for a 3,000 word short story. But if you can tell your story in 25,000 words you can still sell it. Conversely if it takes 120,000 words then go for it.

  • This is helpful. I’m writing my first novel, and trying to work out whether it’s going to be the right sort of length.
    Although mostly I just worry about word count to get my ‘daily k’ quota down: I wasn’t getting on with it until I made a cast-iron rule that I’m not allowed any recreational internet, including social networking, until I’ve done 1000 words a day.