Tag Archives: word count

Size Does Matter…

About 13 years ago, when we bought our current home, my wife and I decided it was time for a big screen TV. Off we went in search of the perfect home theater system. People who are old like me will recall that 13 years ago rear-projection TVs (there were no LCDs back then) cost several thousand dollars. In fact, the difference in price between the 55 and 60 inch units was over $500. While I was in the middle of making the argument for saving $500 and asking if we really needed the extra 5 inches of viewing space, my wife suddenly turned to me and yelled loud enough for everyone in the store to hear “Contrary to what you men believe, size does matter!”

For the record, back then they also did not make washing machines large enough for a human being to hide in.

So what does this have to do with publishing? The answer is that a few weeks ago we received a manuscript that was approximately 12,000 words long about coping with fibromyalgia. The author explained that the reason for the short length of the manuscript was that people with these types of diseases don’t want to read long books looking for help – they want quick answers. While I can appreciate why a book of this length would be perfect for the target audience, some of the realities of publishing make it difficult to bring this book to market:

  • For books shorter than 108 pages we pay a fixed price for each copy which is printed. That means we pay the same amount to print a 50 page book as we do for a 100 page book. The issue is that we can’t charge the same price for a 50 page book as for a larger book, so the profit margin on a 12,000 word book (which is about 50 pages) is too low to cover the cost of editing, cover design, typesetting, and press fees (which are what we are charged by our printer to review the digital images of a book for printing).
  • The obvious question is why not come out with the book as just an eBook? The answer is there are two ways one can publish an eBook. The first is to do a quick spelling and grammar check, find a single stock photo for the cover, and upload the Word document and cover for conversion to an eBook format by the vendor who will sell the book (for example, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Smashwords). While this is a quick and inexpensive way to publish a book, it often does not result in a quality product – there is only so much spelling and grammar checks catch, and the programs that automatically covert Word documents to eBooks can sometimes result in poor formatting. To ensure a quality product requires the same level of editing, consideration for the cover design, and “typesetting” (in this case creating the HTML files that will be converted into an eBook) as coming out with a paperback. In truth the only thing we would save by coming out with eBook-only versions of our titles would be the press fees the printer charges. Given that we also could not charge much for an eBook of this length, again we would probably not cover our publication costs.

In the past I’ve spoken about why we rarely publish books over 100,000 words, both because of the associated costs and what readers expect. In the case of manuscripts below 45,000 words, the reason we don’t publish them really come down to cost – the cost required to produce a quality book of this length would probably not be recovered due to the low retail price a book of this length would require. In instances like this, my recommendation is often that authors find a reputable editor (more on this in a future blog) and self-publish the manuscript.

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Biblical Word Counts…

I ask readers this week to bear with me while I share some statistics from the site King James Bible Statistics. I promise this is going someplace:

  • Total words in the Bible (KJV): 788,280
  • Total words in the Old Testament (KJV): 609,269
  • Total words in the New Testament (KJV): 179,011
  • Total words in the four Gospels: 82,590

Why am I sharing these numbers? Simple. This week we received an “alternative interpretation” of the history surrounding a famous African leader. Total word count: approximately 551,000 words. That’s right – the manuscript was almost as long as the Old Testament. While there is a part of me that applauds someone for being able to write this many words on a single topic, another part of me is asking what was this author thinking?

I’ve commented before on the fact that there are reasons most publishers have word count guidelines. The first has to do with the cost associated with printing a book. A publisher is less likely to take a chance on a 150,000 word manuscript by a new author than an 80,000 word manuscript by the same author simply because of the cost associated with printing the book. But the other reason is that people have a finite attention span (which is dependent on age) and expect books to be a certain length depending on genre. This is one of the reasons Young Adult books can be as short as 50,000 words, while Science Fiction tends to be upwards of 100,000 words or more – it’s what readers of these genres have come to expect.

So before you submit your 150,000-175,000 word manuscript for review to a publisher, ask yourself a simple question: If the story of Jesus Christ could be told in 82,590 words, does your manuscript really need to be as long as the New Testament…

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