Sunday, May 6, 2012

Page Count Versus Word Count

When I first began to write, one of my chief concerns, shallow as it might sound, was will my book be "long enough" to be an actual book?  I think a lot of newbies have that concern, and it makes us a little more, um, verbose than we normally would be.  We tend to draw out minor plots points in an attempt to give our ideas sufficient girth.

Of course, I did absolutely no research on the average length of a novel and based it solely on what I thought it should be.  I wanted something around 500 pages, for surely that would let people know I was a serious writer and knew what I was talking about.

I set about doing this by having a page count goal.  Of course, I failed to note that not everyone writes in size ten Arial font.  The type and size font can skew the number of pages, but I didn't want to be bothered with such mundane things when I had a story to tell!

Once I was done, I tried to figure out if I had a good size book.  Believe it or not, I actually picked up several books and counted the words per page to get an idea of how many were usually on each page(note - average count was 329).  I felt relieved - my pages had between 520-600 words per page.  Wow, I thought, this was going to be easy to turn into a "real" book.  After all, most of what I'd written was around 250-300 pages, so doubling it to account for the difference would give me a 500-600 page book.  Then I started researching the industry - a bit belatedly - and found out that an unpublished author probably shouldn't shoot for a War & Peace epic.

When Salvation Day first came out, it meandered at 175,000 words!  Imagine my consternation when I found out that this was more than double what most agents or publishers wanted from an unpublished author.  They insisted that readers wouldn't tolerate this kind of thing from an unknown.  As much as I might disagree with them - I think one of the reasons The Stand or Executive Orders does so well is precisely because the book has the depth readers want - agents and publishers control all of the gates, so one must conform, at least a little, if one is to break out.  Anne Rice or JK Rowling can defy this convention, but they've long since established themselves.  Those of us who don't yet have a following have to play by the rules until we're famous enough to write our own rules(both Rice and Rowling have clauses in their contracts that forbid further editing from publishers...with a track record of sales, I guess they can dictate that).

Discovering the rules for word count has made things easier, once I broke through the mental barriers surrounding them.  I can now tell my stories without worrying if they're big enough.  Believe me - I write stories of sufficient girth that they'll meet the criteria without needing to pointlessly wander down paths that are only marginal to the overall plot.

Instead of trying to write four pages a day now, I'll stick to 2000 words at a time.  It gets me to the goal a great deal easier and with less stress than before, and I don't have to guess at how thick my work will look like on the shelves.  And I promise that the next time I want to feel good at the number of pages I've written, I'll increase the font size to 20 and pretend what it'll look like next to The Shiva Option.

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