How many words are in my novel?
If you do some research online, you might discover that a book’s “word count” is a surprisingly complicated issue.
There are two main schools of thought on the matter. The first group feels that the precise word count given by modern word processors is adequate to describe the size of a manuscript. The other side points out that factors like varied word length, dialogue, half-pages, section breaks, and chapter breaks can drastically change the size of a printed work. This group argues that your word count should be adjusted to more accurately describe the space your book will need when printed rather than the technically specific number of words your work contains.
Obviously, agents, editors, and publishers are more interested in the latter estimation of the space needed to print your work. However, in today’s electronic age, they can deduce this on their own with just a few mouse clicks, and don’t necessarily need you to make printing space estimations for them.
While it may have been different in the past, it is now generally assumed and expected that an author will give a precise word count (for novels, rounded to the nearest 1,000) rather than one adjusted to indicate printing space. To be clear: you can, and probably should, use precise word count to describe the length of your book. Sources you might find on the web that push you to use an adjusted word count are based on rules from a pre-computer age.
However, should you desire to use an adjusted word count to indicate printing space, or are simply curious about how agents, editors, and publishers might describe the length of your work, read on:
Adjusted Word Count / Formula Word Count
The number of words in a manuscript is not a reliable indicator of its final number of printed pages. For instance, the final printed book length can vary greatly depending on the length of words used in the book. A series of short words such as “I’m not in the car” is counted as five words by your word processor, whereas a longer word with the same number of characters such as “misidentifications” is counted as just one word.
Additionally, many sentences (especially dialogue) do not use up an entire line. For instance, “She said, ‘Hi!’” is only three words, but the remainder of the printed line will go unused and unaccounted for in terms of printing space required.
To address the problem, publishers define a “word” as six characters, including spaces. Under this definition, both “I’m not in the car” and “misidentifications” are 3 words. However, to account for the remaining line space after “She said, ‘Hi!’,” a little math is required (see below).