A Word About Word Count – well 772 actually!
Word Count. Is it important? Sort of.
Is that the answer you were hoping for? I’d be surprised if you said ‘Yes’.
So, the question is, should we all be writing our next novel with word count in mind? No. But it does help to know how many words your book is rattling up as you go along, just for the heck of it. Then when you’ve completed your great masterpiece you can check the Word Count using Microsoft Word (obviously) and you’ll be left with a figure of, let’s say 64,000 words. So what does that really mean? Is it enough? Too few? Too many? Does it really matter? Are publishers concerned about word count? Sort of.
It seems there are lots of people wanting to know the word count of popular books, and if you Google the question you’ll find one or two answers that appear to offer the magic answer, but to be honest they don’t work, well they do, but not enough times for my liking. Sort of.
Going back a year or so there was a feature on Amazon (USA only) that showed you the actual word count of some books, but as far as I can see that has been discontinued. Apologies if you know something I don’t (it’s likely) but it’s not something I want to have to rely on.
There is also a website called Renaissance that can give you the word count of popular classics etc etc, but it’s not what I’m after either.
Okay, so two things now spring to mind….what is the best word count for a modern book, be it adult fiction or children’s book, and how can we all find out the actual word count of books we like?
Answers: there is no ‘perfect’ book length but I can give you some ideas. According to some pundits the ‘average’ length of a novel is around 64,000 words. But average, as we all know, is meaningless. However it does give us a starting point. Lord Of The Flies was 62,000 (give or take) Brave New World was 64,000. Yet there are examples like War And Peace at 544,000 and Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy at 46,000.
So word count in itself is meaningless in some respects. Sort of. If the book is good it will sell and be popular. I remember someone once saying to me “Children’s books should be short, there’s no point writing War and Peace!” Oh yeah? Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is 257,000…
But, here comes Answer 2, which I think is where it does get interesting. Sort of.
I find word count works with books I really enjoy. I’m intrigued by word count. I often try and guess the word count just by the feel of the book and a quick glance through it. Yes, that does sound rather sad doesn’t it? Slightly more difficult is to try and estimate word count by just reading and enjoying (or not). But it’s not accurate. The only accurate (ish) (sort of) way to find the word count is to count them yourself. ‘What?’ I hear you cry. ‘You cannot be serious?‘. Yep. Sort of.
It’s easy enough to do. This is my way. You may have a better one, but this works for me. I look for a page with a full dense page of text and I count the number of words accurately…lets say 260 words.
I then count a slightly less dense page…they are there……it comes out at 240 words. I now have my ‘dense page’ average of 250.
I casually flip through the book and look for half pages or short pages and count them (roughly)…these will average out at half pages. I make a note of the half pages.
And finally I check the number of pages in the book. With a calculator I multiply page number by average page count less the half pages…..it sound ridiculously difficult and time consuming but in reality it isn’t and it’s surprisingly accurate. And that’s what I do. I like to know what’s what.
Sorry to have taken so long to explain all this word count business, and I forgive you for thinking “Steve, why bother? Life is too short (484 billion words)” to which I can only reply, “It’s just something else I can use in my checklist to try to get the best possible book” plus, on one last serious point….. in my role as self publisher, word count let’s me tell my potential clients how large their book will be and the cost of printing that number of pages. It’s what I do. That’s why I do it I suppose. Sort of.