Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thoughts on... Word Count

I did not write everyday this week. (Sadface.) Well, it's not easy setting aside time to write as a mother of four. This past week I had managed to sit down in the evening to write after the kids were in bed a few times. I wrote out a scene in my notebook and the next morning I typed it up. That worked well. But there always come days when after the kids are in bed for the night my brain is just totally fried and I can barely put two sentences together. Yeah, that happened a few times this week as well.

So I'm still working out my schedule. Fitting writing time in around my kids' crazy antics is... problematic, but probably doable. Possibly when they are "napping" in the afternoon. (My kids no longer sleep, they wait. Except for the baby who is an angel.) The real problem is getting my mind to focus on the writing after being harried by them all morning. BUT! If I save my shower for after I put them in their rooms and shower before I write, that's always been known to help get me into the creative frame of mind. (This plan will have to wait a few days though since right now our water heater is broken and there are no hot showers. Sob.) I can totally do this! I can be a writing mom!

Anyway, I am still 2759 words ahead of where I was before I started writing in earnest again. I also have a new map of the region my current WIP begins in. Since ultimately it will traverse a good portion of the world, I'm working on a larger world map as well. I like having maps. It helps me to visualize the plot.

I've been thinking about word count this week because I honestly have no idea how long the story in my head is. For all you people doing NaNo right now, 50,000 is called a novel. But I'm writing an epic fantasy which are often expected to be around 100,000 words. Fantasy readers seem to like our door stoppers.I'm not really sure what my goal is for my WIP.

I read recently that these are the word count definitions used for the Nebula (Science Fiction) awards:

  • Short fiction: under 7,500 words
  • Novelette: 7,500-17,500 words
  • Novella: 17,500-40,000 words
  • Novel: 40,000 words and up
 And I know that in the world of ebooks, shorter works have had new life breathed into them. Indie authors tend to decide the price of their books based on their wordcount. You can download short stories for .99 easily. (You can also find novels for that much, but I ask where do you go from there?) 2.99 seems to be one of the go to prices for novels. (But novels how long? Shorter novels?) While I remember reading that a successful fantasy writer, Michael J. Sullivan, put up his fantasy series for 5.99 and had marvelous results. (Which makes me wonder, were these the typical door stopper fantasy novels? Does that mean fantasy readers are willing to pay more because they expect more?)

But what occurs to me is the potential in a system where price is a factor of how long the work is. You needn't write with a certain word count in mind. You don't have to say to yourself "This is a novel so I need to squeeze 100,000 words out of this story idea" or "This is a novella so it needs to be between 17,500 and 40,000 words". It seems to me that in such a world you can just write the story however it works in your head and then count the words and say "Oh, 70,000 words, I guess this one is a novel" or "This one came out to 8,000 words, should I call it short fiction or a novelette?" (I kinda really like the word novelette, by the way.) And then set your price according to what you have to offer and clearly state it in your product description:

This is a novel of 60,000 words or roughly 240 pages.

That's using the standard 250 words equals a page, which isn't really accurate, but a good average. I think I'd price such a novel at 2.99. If I did end up with a door stopper of around 100,000 words I'd probably go with 4.99. Just under 5 dollars seems a good limit for a good little future indie author like me.

So at this point, the point of all this is, I don't have an ultimate word count goal. I'm just going to write and write until the story is done and see what I have at the finish. I find that idea very liberating.


  1. Writing with kids in the house (I am a mom of 5 - but only two young-er -8 & 7 - ones left) I totally appreciate your statement about getting settled enough to write after being 'harried' by the kids all morning! It's so true! Ha!

    I'll be thinking of you - I remember how it was a few years ago. But after they've harangued and hassled all day, they transform into little angel faces as they sleep in their beds, right? It's a conspiracy! Ha.

  2. Just write until you finish the story.

  3. in the ordinary printing world 70,000 is more a novel length (Sci -fi shorter) - but with e-books we can make our own rules yay!! However if you write a long fantasy or a series you shouldnt sell yourself short - you put in the work and if youre drawing maps etc you are putting in the work -
    anyway the children grow too fast so enjoy them your brain will recover

    all the best for coming week

  4. I'm with Alex. Tell the story first. Then I suggest you cut and condense in the edits. Thanks for posting those statistics on the awards. I was wondering what the cutoffs were for the Nebula.

  5. I can appreciate the sentiments of being 'fried' with kids in the house. And you're right, you can do this! The writing will find a way, especially as the kids get older.

    I also agree with placing little importance of word counts. I've abandoned that idea and am just writing for a solid 1/2 hour a day (will increase it in 2012 to an hour) to get myself back into the writing habit.

    Happy writing!

  6. The whole idea with word count being so important in publishing is based on the idea that people don't want to read anything long. And kids, especially, don't have patience for anything long.
    My experience so far with young readers is that longer=better, so I think it's really just adults, especially agents, that don't have patience for longer works. I say especially agents because people love George R R, and he writes 1000 pages of nothing happening.

    I say tell your story and don't worry about the length.

  7. Nadja, I've only got one in school, then two pre-school kids and one baby. I cannot say how much I'm looking forward to the middle two going to school! Freedom!

    Alex, that's what I plan to do. :)

    alberta, I think it often depends on the genre. I'm mostly an epic fantasy reader and I think it's more or less expected for epic fantasy to be nice and meaty.

    Michael, I'll probably end up needing to add to my first draft. I tend to write sparsely the first time around.

    Nanny, my current goal is to just get to a place where I can find time to write everyday, even if it's only for 10 minutes. Once I get more disciplined about writing, I'll try going for longer.

    Andrew, I have to chuckle at your George R R Martin comment. Yeah. I think people will always have the patience to finish the story, no matter how long, if they get hooked.

  8. Word counts went out the window for me with my last novel, when I was halfway through and thought I was out of ideas, but ended up with 140,000 words by the end... Now I just keep drafting until it's editing time :-)

  9. Best of luck to you :) Thanks for the word count list too; I keep forgetting how many words makes for what kind of story :)

  10. High five to another writing mom! I understand the planning the shower and writing time ;) I'm hoping to get my WIP finished before my due date - seems like the baby is growing faster than the book. Thanks for the encouragement and numbers on word count!

  11. Deniz, 140,000! That's huge. I don't think I could make it anywhere near that even if I thought it was necessary.

    Jamie, thanks. It is very interesting to see official cutoffs.

    Jenna, babies grow faster than everything in existence. It's crazy. Write while you can! ;)

  12. I have always disliked the "must be a limit" to make.

    When the story is told, it's told. The story should dictate...nothing else.

    Always disliked academic work for that reason: why take 50 pages to say something when you can write it in five?

  13. Go for it! Write what you feel and don't worry about word count, it will end where it is supposed to!

  14. A lot of good questions here, especially relating to pricing for ebooks. I may have to worry about that in 2012.

    Okay, now I just scared myself.

  15. Stuart, I agree. But my understand is that there usually is a limit... in traditional publishing anyway. One more reason I like the freedom of indie publishing.

    J. A., thanks! I intend to! :)

    Donna, me too, I hope. *crosses fingers* Honestly, I'm mostly scared by the formatting. So I'll probably make my husband figure that part out. ;)

  16. I've been very hung up with word count. Your thoughts are very liberating. Thanks much!

    All the best as you raise your brood and write your epic.

    Have a great day.


  17. Thank you for stopping by with your comment today! I love hearing from people willing to interact on blogs.

    Sounds like your novel is progressing well :) I'm a huge fantasy fan, so I'll be looking forward to hearing your book is finished.

  18. Word count is a measurement that I guess must be taken into account for the sake of definitions. It's kind of a hassle. It would be a bigger hassle if we were actually counting the words ourselves. Thank word programs for word count--and I'll take their word on the count they give me.

    Blogging from A to Z

  19. Go for it, Sarah! I tend to go back-and-forth on the word count thing, too. I have a decent range in mind and then I just run with it. I remember someone submitting a short story for my crit group, and they were afraid that the ending felt rushed because it needed to fit a certain word count. My thought was: write the story that needs to be written. First and foremost.

    Best of luck to ya!

  20. Nice blog.



  21. When I was younger I wanted to write long, long novels in response to those I enjoyed reading. I liked being lost in one book for a good log time. Now I don't worry so much about word count. I just try to have a story full enough to tell. The one I'm writing now is 83,232 as of this morning. A few chapters left to go. Then the editing and rewriting, which may include pruning- usually does.


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