Friday, August 15, 2008

How to Determine Appropriate Word Count

My question is this: What is the average word count for a memoir? What is too much? What is the word count (approx) that literay agents and publishers want?
This response is for all my readers, not just this questioner:

The editors I know spend a lot of time on Amazon, doing research. Don't you? Why not?

If you have been, then you might have noticed that some of the books (unfortunately not all of them, but enough to be useful) have a link you can click on about a third of the way down the page (under "Inside This Book") called "Text Stats".

Let's have a look at the Amazon page for Bad Boy: a Memoir, by Walter Dean Myers. Do you see the "text stats" link? Great. Click on it. It tells you how many words are in the book!

How about that. Now, to determine what your word count might reasonably be, you'd look up some of the books in the same genre, age range, and perhaps topic as your book's, and compare their word counts.

Sound easy? It is!

The hard part is knowing what the best comparisons for your book will be, and as much as I enjoy helping people, this part is your problem. Not because I can't be bothered, but because doing the research is a big, important learning experience for authors. Let me repeat: big and important.

Go learn something.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh, oh, what method do they use to count the words? And my wife says I'm ornery.

Susan said...

I love Amazon for all sorts of useful things; the text stats are a good one.

I searched their site for similar books to my last one, and spent an hour or two just reading the readers' reviews and comments. So many likes and dislikes came up over and over again; a few of the reviewers had interesting insights. I ordered a few reviewer's favourites to read for myself, then went back for another edit and caught things good and bad.

I wish more publishers would offer the 'Look Inside' feature: I still like reading a few pages before I buy a book.

TerriRainer said...

Who knew (I suppose most people, I'm a bit slow)? Good info!

I was doing the old "average 250 words per page" guess job! That is so much simpler and more accurate.

Thank you for the info!

:) Terri

Anonymous said...

There's this stuff called word processing software that runs on this new-fangled device called a computer, which is much like a cross between a TV and typewriter, that can count words.

Anonymous said...

I don't know about memoir specifically, but some publishers gave average word counts of the genres they publish in CWIM--so you can get an idea of what they consider appropriate. Other than that, I heard an editor say during a workshop that she got nervous if she received a midgrade ms. that was more than 150 (ms.) pages.

There's also a really quick tool at Renaissance Learning (the people who do the quizzes). It's a little faster than Amazon, if you're just looking for word count.

Wendie O said...

Amazon is usually wrong about the number of words in a book. My picture book of 57 words is listed as having over 150 words. bosh. -wendie)

Anonymous said...

I recently worked on a PB memoir(5-8yrs) with an editor. The very first thing she asked me to do was to chop it to under 1000 words, and I am certain she felt even that was being generous. But truthfully, young people (especially prereaders)just don't have the attention spans for more.

Karl said...

Here's another site where you can get word count, as well as other info. Not all books are in their database but it's pretty thorough.

http://www.renlearn.com/store/quiz_home.asp#quicksearch

Karl said...

Link got cut off. Sorry.

http://www.renlearn.com/store/quiz_home.asp#quicksearch

Kim Kasch said...

I like this answer more than others because it teaches us wanna be writers something rather than giving a cut and dry number to stay under. Thanks!

(I've added this post as an embedded link in my blog - so maybe you'll get one or two more readers ;-)

Editorial Anonymous said...

Wendie O, Are you talking about Busy Fingers?
I'd suggest you let Amazon know there's that mistake.
Look for the bar at the bottom of the page labeled "Feedback" and click on "Is there any other feedback you would like to provide? Click here".

nw said...

Wendie, I would guess they are including front matter and maybe flap copy. While that certainly makes a difference to a picture book, I don't think it would affect a full-length memoir.

Katharina Gerlach said...

Thanks for the good information. I didn't know before because the German Amazon doesn't yet have that feature.

Cat

Amanda Flynn said...

Wow! What a fabulous tip! Thank you so much!

I'm off to take a look!

Word Count Tool said...

It can be difficult to do so, great post.

sherisse said...

Thanks for this. Very useful tool!

Jiltaroo said...

I feel like a child being given this info by a loving parent. Thank you!