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How should I count the words?

I've seen a number of different ways to count words, and wonder what is the most common way for a novel manuscript? Some people say it doesn't matter, but I get three wildly different word counts for Mysterious Paris:

MS Word's word count: 43,000 words

word count for 3 pages / 3 * number of pages: 50,000 words

number of characters / 6: 32,000 words


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 15th, 2007 04:57 am (UTC)
Another common method is to format your manuscript in manuscript format (12 pt Courier, double spaced, 1" margins) and multiply the page count by 250. The result will probably be close to 32,000 (the number of characters divided by 6).
Feb. 15th, 2007 05:18 am (UTC)
Nope, I got 48,400.

That's because the number of characters is different on pages of dialogue from pages of long paragraphes.

But thanks for your method.
Feb. 15th, 2007 02:32 pm (UTC)
the idea behind mulitplying the page count times 250 is pretty standard. (with the 12pt Courier as mentioned above). This will average out the pages and include different areas with more or much less dialogue.

In general, the way the pub industry works is that they really don't count words - its easier to say they do - they are worried about that all important page count.

Most manuscripts with the 12pt courier / ragged right and 1-inch margins will come out to 25 lines per page. They figure 10 words per line. (thus 250 words per page). Your new chapters should start about 1/3 of the way down the page. There should also only be 1 space between sentences... though I've seen about much contradiction over that 1 space vs 2. If you are like me and took typing 101 you prob. use 2. Half pages count at 150 (even if its just a few lines or almost complete - they average it out).

The only real way to say what your wc is as far as a publisher is concerned is to do the above format and then see what your page number is.

here is a nice little link:

some discussion on the above method:

when I talked to Robert Sawyer a few yrs back I followed his guidelines on his page: http://www.sfwriter.com/mschklst.htm

publishers btw usually round down for word count while authors tend to round up.

one other PITA can be found here:
so it actually does vary within the publisher. You should also randomly choose lines to count. A good way of doing this Random Choice is to count say the 5th and 20th line of every chapter - that way you don't have any control over what lines you are choosing.
Feb. 15th, 2007 02:44 pm (UTC)
Thanks. I have all the formatting you describe, except for starting chapters 1/3 down the page. I'll have to check again tonight.
Feb. 15th, 2007 03:22 pm (UTC)
Not sure where you are pitching it - or if you are ready, but I understand that most 1st novels run about 65k or slightly more. I might be wrong though. I'm working to make my own around 75k or so by the end of it - in draft 1/5 it was over and that was only at the 1/2 way point. I suspect by the time I'm finished a full draft 2 it will be 85k and then I'll need to trim. Mind you that's just using the WC on Word. I've not yet had the ambition to do it properly.
Feb. 15th, 2007 03:34 pm (UTC)
I haven't started to pitch it yet. I'm considering pitching it as YA.... the mc is about 6 months out of college and trying to figure out what to do with her life. The current high ends of my wc estimates are suitable for YA. The count from Word would have only been OK for middle grade (which this isn't).

It's not just the wc.... my husband thought it was YA when he ready the opening chapter.
Feb. 15th, 2007 04:23 pm (UTC)
I know an agent, and she uses the 250 per formatted page count, as well as the ms word count...generally speaking...

If you don't have an agent, and you're Canadian...which I believe you are...maybe you could contact her with any questions you have?

Feb. 15th, 2007 04:34 pm (UTC)
Michele, I think MS Word is pretty standard nowadays. The other methods predate the accurate wordcount.
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