Tag s | book proposals

Book Proposals: Word Count

There is an important question that needs to be answered in your book proposal in the “Manuscript Status” section. What is the length of your book?

This information is important whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction.

How Long is Your Book?

Think carefully before you declare a word count in your proposal. I don’t know how often I’ve seen someone propose a 280,000 word manuscript…or on the other end a 28,000 word manuscript. (One zero can make a big difference!)

Your book may be complete and you are just telling the agent or editor its length. But your word count might be a reason it is being rejected!

Here is a simple rule of thumb. Take your word count and divide it by 300. The answer will be the approximate page count of a printed book. Therefore, a 280,000 word manuscript becomes a 900 page doorstop. And a 28,000 word manuscript is more like a booklet or novella of 90 pages.

Please don’t tell us “my book is 150 pages long.” We don’t know if it is single spaced, double spaced, in a teensy sized font, or in giant print. That is why word count is the measure.

You might say, “But with e-books the word count doesn’t matter!” True, to a certain point. But e-books are one format … and not the only one. Major publishers still sell more than 50% of their books in printed form. The longer the book, the more expensive it is to print.

If that is the case then what is the ideal length? It depends.

I can hear the cry, “Steve! That is a singularly unhelpful answer!”

There are exceptions to every example given below. So please take the advice as estimates and generalizations, not rules.

Fiction: It does depend on your genre and whether you are targeting a particular publisher. If you want to write for the Harlequin Love Inspired romance or suspense line your manuscript should be around 55,000-60,000 words. If you are targeting the longer form novel your story should be between 80,000 and 100,000 words. There is often room for more than 100,000 words, but don’t go overboard.

If you are writing an epic fantasy and want Enclave Publishing to grab it, the length can go higher, because that genre lends itself to longer stories (hence the word “epic”). The top end for an epic fantasy can be up to 130,000 words in some cases. (But science fiction does not usually hit that length.)

If you send a fiction proposal like the one I received this week with a word count of 19,000 … it will be rejected. That is barely enough for a novella.

Contrast that with the other novel proposal I received this week with a word count of 540,000 words.

Makes the “no thank you” pretty easy to write.

Non-Fiction: Do the math above. A 90,000 word book is going to be about 300 pages. Is that a good length for your reader on this topic? Shorter isn’t necessarily better, but it can be an important consideration.

Recently an author proposed a 30,000 word book to a publisher. The publisher was enthused and willing to offer a contract but wants the book to be 42,000 words. [Yes, the conversation was that specific.] If you think about the “math” it changes from 100 pages to one around 140 pages. That extra length gives the book more heft and can be a “fatter” book on the shelf…thereby having more perceived value.

A “typical” non-fiction book ranges between 55,000 and 80,000 words. (180-260 pages in print form)

There is another “it depends” when it comes to devotionals. They tend to be shorter with some having each chapter/reading being only 300 words. If there are 90 readings then it’s a short book, but with artwork and interior design the page count is higher so the word count is only one factor. Or if its a 365 day devotional the word count is going to be very high.

Typesetting Magic

Yes, I know that with typesetting magic one can make a book short or long using different fonts and leading (the space between the lines). I also know that using right side of the page (recto) chapter beginnings can add space. We are not talking about typesetting, this is a general principle discussion.

Your Turn:

What issues are you having with estimating word count?

Why do you think publishers care about word count?



[Some of the above has been adapted from an earlier blog post and from a chapter in my free booklet (word count is 6,000) Book Proposal Tips and Tricks – it is free in PDF if you join The Christian Writers Institute newsletter list or 99 cents if you want to read it on your Kindle.]

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