Friday, September 29, 2006

Questioning Word's Word Count

Here’s a question I’ve debated thoroughly over the years:

Dear Zack Company,

I'm writing because I've seen different guidelines online regarding how to count words in a manuscript.  Several stated that using the Word word-counting tool doesn't give the proper manuscript count.  Do you have a system you prefer and is there an industry standard?

Thank you in advance for any help on this.

Laila Weir

Ms. Weir apparently hails from overseas someplace, given the country code on her emailed phone number.  Sorry, Laila, that’s long-distance, but I’m happy to address the question here.

As I understand it, Microsoft Word counts anything separated by two spaces as a word.  Thus “a” is a word and “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” is a word (that I probably misspelled).  Back in typing class, the rule was five characters, including spaces, were a word.  The rule of thumb in publishing is that a page with one-inch margins and using a 12-point, monospaced font (Courier, for example), will contain approximately 250 words.  So if you use US 8.5” by 11” paper, a Courier font and one-inch margins, just multiply the number of pages by 250 and that should be pretty accurate.

Alternatively, take the character count (including spaces) that Word provides and divide by 5.



Jpatrick said...

Yes, and that 12-point monospaced font should be in lines that are double spaced.

I said...

To give Word its due, it has always given me a word count that's right around 250 words per page (within 25 words) when writing fiction.

Anonymous said...


What about submitting to agents in Times New Roman 12 point?

I understand that courier allows publishers to gauge the length of the finished work, but what about the agent? Do they want to see it in courier? Is subitting in Times New Roman okay or considered a serious faux pas?


Andrew Zack said...

Faux pas? I don't know if I would go that far, but if you know Courier is the preferred by publishers, why wouldn't you simply submit in Courier. To save a few pieces of paper? Since you'll only ever submit in a full ms if it's requested, and those requests tend to be a small number (if they are not, congrats!), then it seems penny wise and pound foolish. Use Courier or Dark Courier from the start and save yourself the headaches.


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