What’s in a Word Count?


We all know that authors are expected to make a bid for a golden word count.  Our magical number that tells us “We Are Done” for the first draft.  These numbers mean nothing to our readers, but to us writers, they are like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Recently, I completed Dark Resurrections.  I came in about 2,000 words short of my goal.  Not a huge problem, I can probably add some more exposition to it during the re-writes to get it to that magical number.

However, as a self-published author, I am even more aware of my word counts than one might think.  Because my word count is going to transform into pages and pages are something readers do understand.

Dark Cotillion was a monster of a book at 121,000 words.  However in a 6×9 book, this meant only 368 pages.  For giggles one day, I made it the size of an average paperback 5.25×6.25.  My book went from 368 pages to a whopping 674 pages.

When I printed Dark Resurrections I used a different print size 5×8.  It was 344 pages long, but only 76,000 words.  However, as I consider redoing my covers for all the books, I must also consider the size of the books.

This is where it gets dicey.  Do I make them all 6×9, the industry standard for self-published?  Or do I make them all 5.5×8.5?  Or 5×8?  The book lengths themselves are going to be affected by the print size.  Probably to the determent of my books.  For example, one of my reviews for The Life & Dysfunction of Nadine Daniels’ said it was “substantial” for a self-published book at 316 pages.  This failed to take into account that it was almost 80,000 words.  About the perfect length for such a novel.  

So, what happens when I make all of the Brenna Strachan novels 6×9?  I will be lucky to get any of the series except Dark Cotillion to 300 pages.

Thank goodness for the ereader.  This is my level playing field.  Yes, the print copies might be short, but since page numbers don’t apply to ebooks…

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4 Comments

  1. I think that a series of books should look related, and that means the same basic design philosophy. In traditionally published novels, publishers have the option of releasing several editions–hardback, trade paperback, pocket paperback–and while POD can do that, I think it’s better for a self-publisher to stick to one format.

    Catskinner’s Book is about 65,000 words, and that’s 280 pages in a 6×9. From what I’ve seen of other trades, that’s not really too short, particularly since I price the trade a $9.99 and most books in the same format are 11$-14$.

    I am deliberately designing Cannibal Hearts to resemble Catskinner’s Book, but it looks like the second book will be 80,000+ words–around that 300 page mark. I don’t really think that’s a problem, though, if you look at a row of the Harry Potter series in the same edition the volumes go from slender to plump to downright obese.

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    • I concur, I’m just sure whether I should format to fit Dark Cotillion, which will definitely be the longest in the series or the “shorter” novels. Up to this point, I haven’t done any “standardizing” except with my Cain novels (all will be 6×9).

      Now that I am thinking of redesigning all the Strachan covers, I want one size and like with the Cain covers, some continuum. A feature that holds them all together, with the Cain covers, it will be bleakness and surrealism. All landscapes with a single “foreground” image that explains the killers. I would want something similar with the Strachan covers… Not the bleakness and surrealism, but something that screams “I am related to the others”.

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  2. I just passed 120K on my work in progress last night. It stands at 358 pages, but I was pleasantly amused the other day when I remembered the standard word count for traditionally published books is 250 words per page. Using that number, my book would be 480 pages. That’s good to know, but as a self-publisher, I don’t want to pay any more for my books than I have to in order to keep my price point reasonable. Therefore, I use 11-point type spaced at 110% and have about 350 words per page. I haven’t heard any complaint from readers. Some traditionally published books have incredibly small type.

    I wouldn’t say there is an industry standard size for self-pubbed books. Font size and line spacing will alter the length of your book even more than a half-inch difference in the book’s dimensions.

    Good post.

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    • Agreed, but as I said, the nice thing about ereaders is they level the playing field. Few people who read Kindle, Nook or any other e-version know what the “page length” is… nor do they care. It’s becoming about locations. I recently had a friend email me about one of my novels and said “I love the description you wrote at location _____” and the only thing I could say was “thanks!”…

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