Why Your Word Count Matters

Your word count matters.

Should you be concerned with your book’s word count? Absolutely. Knowing and understanding why word count matters is an important indicator for your project. Let’s make sense of these numbers.

One of the scariest requests a writer can get is to add words to a manuscript she thinks is complete. Suddenly, what you thought was done or close to it, needs an extra chapter or (and this happens) an extra 5,000 or 10,000 words. That’s a lot of words to add to something you thought was done. But why does word count matter? Wouldn’t coming in with a low word count just mean the book will be shorter?

It’s not quite that simple.

There are two reasons why word count is important.

The first reason is word count helps a reader determine if your book is a fit for him. Every reader has an expectation for how long a book will be based on the genre they are wanting to read. For example, if you write a novel and it is long, like Russian literature long, there will be some readers who will balk at it instead of reading it. They just aren’t up for investing 40 hours into a novel.

Recently when we were working on Jon Acuff’s book Soundtracks, we helped Jon intentionally choose an accessible word count, because like he said, “You don’t want to give an overthinker (his target reader) a 400-page book on overthinking. That’s like giving an anchor to someone who is drowning.”

“Word count helps your reader find your book.”

Typically, your contract with your publisher will require that you deliver a manuscript with a specific word count, usually somewhere between 45,000 and 60,000 words for a nonfiction book. Which brings us to the second reason: You will be contractually obligated to deliver on that word count. Is there some flexibility? Yes. But you shouldn’t bank on it. You need to know that your publisher could reject your manuscript if you fail to hit your target word count. And if they do, they’ll require you to repay everything they have paid you up to that point. If you’re monitoring your word count as you write, you’ll know you need to address this issue before you deliver your manuscript.

When it comes to the tools you use to measure word count, it’s so important that you use the right tool. That means using Microsoft Word, not Pages or Google Docs. Not only is Word the industry standard, but it’s also what editors use to navigate editing your manuscript. They will not accept your manuscript in any other program. Purchasing and learning how to use Microsoft Word is a great investment in your writing career. A lot of authors also use Scrivener which offers a large assortment of tools for writers. When considering a large project like a novel or nonfiction manuscript, it can be a great place for organizing many different parts of the project. But when your manuscript is finished, you’ll need to export it into Word and deliver a Word file to your editor.

The word count is obviously not the only factor that determines whether your book is suitable for some and not for others. It is one of many. But now that you know why it matters, you can focus on the most important factor – the content.

TAKE ACTION: Learn the Rest of the Process for Developing a Good Book Idea

Before you spend countless hours writing a book proposal or fleshing out chapter summaries, you need to know if you actually have a good book idea. We’ve got an awesome course that’ll help you strengthen your book idea. It’s called “How Do I Know If I Have a Good Book Idea?” Through these videos, you will discover the essential elements of a strong, marketable book idea. Whether you’re just getting started or revising a current manuscript, this course will help you focus your efforts for the best possible result!

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