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Posts Tagged ‘word count’

I am fond of saying that one of the reasons I’m a writer is because I have absolutely no talent for higher math. I’m pretty good at straight arithmetic, I managed to hold my own in algebra (with a great deal of struggle), and geometry was relatively easy–but when I try to advance beyond that, forget it. Many of my friends can read complicated equations like I read the newspaper (yes, some of us still do read the newspaper, and not on our phones), but to me they don’t even form a language, let alone a readable narrative.

Words, on the other hand, have always been my bread and butter. I was always the best speller in my elementary classes (among the boys, anyway), and I was a top English student in high school. Now I’m a writer. My friends with physics degrees can build models of quarks, but I can build models of worlds.

It is ironic, then, that so much of what I do is defined by numbers. There are sales numbers, obviously, and numbers of reviews (never enough), and ranking numbers at Amazon (although I realize as well as anyone how arbitrary they are, it doesn’t stop me from looking). And there are other numbers, as well–first among them is word count.

When you’re writing a short story, word count defines what kind of story you’re writing: flash, short, novella, etc., and where you can sell it, because magazines have parameters, based on their page counts and budgets. Some are firm, some have a little elasticity, but they all have the limits. You have to know this if you’re going to have any success at all, because your 17,000-word novelette may be brilliant, but its potential markets are few.

Word count also defines something quite different: It defines how difficult this job is. Think about it. A commercial short novel these days runs no less than 65,000 words, and you’ll find damn few of those. Most are at least 80,000 words. My longest novel so far ran 122,000 words. The novels I’m writing now are designed to come in at 60,000. And these words are not random; every one of them is specially selected. How hard is that?

Let me give you some context: The average person speaks about 16,000 words per day. That means that my typical novel is the equivalent of everything you say for four days. And it all has to be entertaining, suitably paced, and come to a point. You think you could talk that way for four days straight?

I do. Granted, I plan some of it out ahead of time, and it may take me ten weeks, but in the end it’s the same thing. The next time you’re reading a book, take a look at its page count, and multiply by 300. That will give you a rough idea how many words it is (depending on the book, of course, but bear with me). Then ask yourself, “Could I write that many words in a fashion so entertaining that people would pay money to read it?”

If the answer is “yes,” then close this window and get to writing. But if the answer is “no,” then the next time you finish a book, take a few moments to rate or review it on Amazon or Goodreads.

After all, in writing, it’s the numbers that count.

#SFWApro

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