How to Count

December 21st, 2005 · 1 Comment
by SusanGable

Okay, if the title of this piece sounds more like it should be for a nursery school class, I apologize. But it seems that this might be of interest to the industry.

A follow-up on my last post about Harlequin cutting words from their longer lines — I received information from the Senior Editor of my line (Superromance) that basically what’s going on is a change in HOW we count words. Instead of using the old standard of ms formating for the 250 words per page method, we are now moving to the new computer word count method. That means that my last Super, which was 340 formatted ms pages or 85K on the dot for the old method (I’m one of the long-winded writers who pushed to the edge of the alloted space, big surprise (g)) and is 71K-ish by the word count function in Word, is exactly on target for the new range of word count. (Actually, that means I could have written a couple of other scenes I wanted to include. No, that wouldn’t have been good, because the font was small enough as it was.)

They encourage writers to write tight, avoid cliches, etc. — in other words, to carry on pretty much as we have been.

Interestingly enough, in the new issue of the RWR (Romance Writers Report from Romance Writers of America) there was a letter to the editor requesting an article on which publishers count words by the old method, and which ones are now asking for computer word count. Because as you can see, which one you want makes a BIG difference. If you’re looking for a 70K ms, and you’re using computer word count, but I query you and give you the old 250 wpp method, then you’re going to dismiss my ms for being far too long — when it may not be so, given the example I used above.

Believe me, I understand all the reasons for the 250 wpp method — how a single word line of dialogue counts in the book the same as if you’d written a full line of dialogue there. So I don’t need to know the why.

But what do you think? Which method do you prefer and why? Do you think it would be helpful to have some consistancy among publishers, that they’re all using the same method so we know which number to give them when offering word count? Or do query letters now need to include a line like this:

This is a completed 85,000 word ms (250 wpp – or 71,400 words using computer count) that…

In other words, do writers need to be offering both counts now when they query? That would be one way of assuring you don’t trip yourself if you don’t know which method the publisher uses.

So, I’m still a little confused about Harlequin’s cutting word count, but then, what else is new? Confusion seems to be par for the course in this biz.

File Under: Square Pegs

1 response so far ↓

  • Steve // Dec 21, 2005 at 7:01 am

    I offer both. No one has complained and a few have liked the fact that both word 6.0 and the old system are compared. Agents are having to get used to this too. In fact it means selling a MS with fewer words, so agents and publishers have to adjust thier thinking.