Friday, February 15, 2013

Determining Book Length--Word Count vs. Page Count

I'll just jump into this blog post without  a witty, long-winded introduction: page count isn't an accurate determinant for calculating how long a book is. You want to know a book's length, look at word count (with one caveat, which I'll get to later).

So why in the heck is page count an unreliable estimator? Simply put, because so many factors go into page count. A jaded person might put it thusly: page count is easily manipulated.

Compare two books. Book A is 250 pages. The story font is big, and the publisher (or author) sticks blank pages among the chapters. This book could equal 75,000 words. Book B is the same size but 200 pages. The font size is on the smallish side. Its word count could easily amount to MORE than 75,000 words. So, Book B is 50 pages less but a longer story. This happens all the time in all genres.

Here is a more-concrete example. "Strange Bedfellows" is my longest book at 75,000 words. When I put out the first print edition I used Times New Roman font at 12 points. Book size was (and is) 6.25 by 9.5 inches. The page count (and I'm counting from the first page in the book to the last) was 242. Some time later (almost a year later, maybe?) I put out a second print edition because I'd caught a typo on the back text of the back cover. Since I had to change that, I figured I would do a bit of spring cleaning. I changed NOTHING of the story, but I did make the quotation marks consistent (some were smart quotes, some were straight quotes), that kind of thing. I also changed the font to reflect the rest of my print books. The font went to Book Antiqua 10 (Book Antiqua is a bigger font than TNR, so to speak, so a smaller size Book Antiqua isn't that much difference from a TNR two points larger). The "Strange Bedfellows" page count dropped to 213. Wow! That's a significant difference, I'd say. 242 to 213. Exact same story, subtle font changes. By the way, I passed on the production savings to customers and reduced the price of the print book.

I got a print book last year that took quite a bit for me to get used to. Why? The HUGE FONT. I felt like I was reading a large-print book (you know, these books designed for people with vision issues). But I wasn't reading a large-print book. Nope. Given a standard-size font, I reckon that this book's page count would've decreased by at least fifty.

Yeah, I know word count isn't sexy, and some people don't want to bother with it. That's fine, but it does remain the most accurate tool for determining book length. Now, here's my caveat: some word count labels include the extra stuff--say, the excerpt(s) for the next book, the blurbs for the author's other books, all the promotional quotes. In short, every single word in the file is counted. Sometimes, this won't make too much of a difference--no more than 1,000 words (or approximately four double-spaced Times New Roman 12-point font 8.5 x 11 pages). But if an excerpt is long, say several chapters, then it can make a difference. Even so, it may give a more accurate ballpark estimate of length than page count. Smashwords gives word counts automatically, which I applaud. I wish all booksellers would do this, but again, there's that caveat--which is true for Smashwords.

I always list word counts for my short-story collections and novellas--plus, of course, I list that they're short stories or novellas. I don't want readers to feel cheated if they're expecting a novel but get a novella. (My two novellas are about 23,000 words and 24,000 words--a bit less than half the size of a short novel).

One important thing that I think people overlook sometimes is that a longer word count doesn't equate to better quality. I would rather spend $6.99 on a 50,000-word book that grabs me, is tightly written and doesn't have unnecessary subplots than on a 100,000-word book full of bloat and flowery descriptions and four supporting characters that should've been combined in one.

1 comment:

Linda North said...

Nice article. It hits the important points. I've read books that start a story on page 13 because the blank pages, forward, copyright, dedication were counted as pages.