Words, Words, Words. Who keeps track? Writers!

By Jill Amadio

Words, words, words. More than three million of them.

That’s how many a Tamil in India wrote. Granted, the words were spread over 26 volumes but still, quite remarkable. Chinese authors wrote lengthy books, too, while contemporary writers like J.R.R. Tolkien confined himself to a mere 558,003 words to complete The Lord of the Rings.  J.K. Rowling wrote 1,084,170 words in the Harry Potter series. Carl Sandburg threw half a million words onto the pages of Remembrance Rock, while Stephen King prefers to write long, and his thriller, It, has a whopping 1,138 pages for a paperback price of around $30.  A bit heavy for reading in bed. Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five is around 500 words under 50,000, and Tolstoy’s War and Peace that everyone thought to be the longest book in the world offers 587,287 of text.

I was curious last week as to word count while putting the finishing touches to my 9/11 novel. Based on a true story, I found, to my horror, that the manuscript only contained 61,000 words. I know for cozies that is acceptable but anxious to check out what the going word count was for novels these days I went online to research.

Happily, the consensus is that the majority of publishers are content with a range of 50,000 to 100,000 of an author’s polished prose. One site claimed that anything over 40,000 is acceptable. However, books by C.S. Lewis, Roald Dahl, and George Orwell among others were bestsellers with books under that number of words.

It actually depends on genre. A literary novel, one site tells me, and by the way what the heck is a literary novel as all writing is, by definition, literary, no? No. It turns out that literary fiction must be intellectual, have depth, character and style. Surely, mysteries fit right into the middle of those requirements.

Publishing industry standards can vary. Authors of romance novels typically write between 80,000 to 100,000 words, and science fiction and fantasy can exceed 140,000. Westerns are, surprisingly, shorter, between 45,000 and 75,000, and novellas can be from 18,000 to 40,000 words The Reedsy blog site points out that a too-long word count is a symptom of a major plot or pacing problem.  First drafts can usually tell us whether we’ve overstepped the yardstick, and where to cut. Most editors warn writers not to edit their manuscript until that first draft is complete, and keep an eye on bringing too many characters into your story.

It is tempting to include extraneous material when your write about a favorite hobby or pastime you love but it’s a no-no for publishers unless it’s a theme like knitting, baking, or cheese. Frankly, I enjoy learning something new and my current read, The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths is an archaeological mystery that briefly explains many of the basics of the discipline in dialogue, the perfect place.

Thus armed, I began to edit my latest novel’s first draft and found I was right in the ballpark of acceptable word count. Of course, if you are going to self-publish with KDP, or other places, you can make up your own rules. But if readers expect a certain number of pages in your series it makes sense to adhere to that. Another point to keep in mind is that if you are adding an audiobook to your editions it could require a rather lengthy listening period that could get tiring.

A godsend to writers is the software that continually counts your words as you write and at the same time posts the page number you are currently on. A few writers I know never look at those results over periods of days or weeks in order to be wonderfully surprised when they finally do take a peek. Or not. They say that being required to produce or eliminate a certain number of words is soul destroying.

As several authors have commented when considering word count: “When it’s done, it’s done. When the tale is told, it’s told.”  End of story.

How To Earn $1 Million on Your First Book… or NOT!

Jackie Houchin

bag of moneyI was going to write this post on “how to make $1 million on your first book” and follow the story of paranormal-romance writer Amanda Hocking who actually sold 1.5 million eBooks in 2010 and made $2.5 million. “All by her lonesome self. Not a single book agent or publishing house or sales force or marketing manager or bookshop anywhere in sight.”

Following tips she’d gleaned from the blog of JA Konrath (an internet self-publishing pioneer, who boasted of making $100,000 in three weeks), she also uploaded to Smashwords to gain access to the Nook, Sony eReader and iBook markets.  “It wasn’t that difficult. A couple of hours of formatting, and it was done.”

Then… she got a $2 million contract from St Martin’s Press and… yada, yada, yada.   Here’sHerStory

Today the self-published book market is flooded with books, and unfortunately a lot of them are inferior in quality in one way or another.  Authors in a rush to publish don’t take time to write a quality story, edit, format, proofread, and design a cover professionally. And less than half of them make even $500.

So what’s a newbie author like me to do?

I’m currently working on a middle grade children’s book manuscript. It is a collection of twelve stories from the POV of seven kids who are the children of Missionaries in Africa. The kids take turns writing emails to their friends back home, telling of adventures, mishaps, mysteries, and lessons learned. In the process they reveal amazing bits of African culture, as well as showing how kids anywhere can use the Bible to help them in life.

Because it is unabashedly a Christian book and might be difficult to market, I decided to self-publish.  I’m also determined to make it the best possible book I can.

Okay. No problem.

I’m a journalist and a reviewer. I’ve written tons of stories for my granddaughters over the years. And these twelve stories have been “kid tested” to more than a dozen children at my church. (They loved them.)

So all I have to do is a minor rework so they fit together smoothly, check for typos and grammar errors, and ask a friend to help me upload it to Kindle and Createspace. Right?

WRONG!

IMG_3243As I began to read blogs about self-publishing and downloaded PDFs like “Checklist for Publishing Your Book” and “Which Format Should I Choose” and followed marketing blogs with tips on using  social media, launching your book, advertising, newsletters, and websites, I discovered there’s a lot more to consider.

How to self publish your bookI bought and read “How to Self Publish Your Book” by Craig Gibb, which details about titles, pen names, and blurbs, as well as editing, cover designs, formatting, promoting and marketing options.

Word by Word Editing“Word by Word, An Editor Guides Writers in the Self-Editing Process” by Linda Taylor describes in detail the process of content and copy editing, proofreading, formatting, and all the front and back matter I would need to write for a complete “up-loadable manuscript package.”

 

My take away, if I am determined enough to do it:

  1. Write/rewrite my stories so they are polished to a mirror shine and have a kid-compelling first chapter.
  2. Get my manuscript professionally edited. (I sent in a sample 750 words to be edited free to one publisher, and was aghast at all the track changes suggested!) A proofreader is also high on my list.
  3. Get professional help in formatting my manuscript for the various eBook and print options. (There are just too many things that can go wrong, and I know from a dear friend on this blog that the learning curve is steep.) This is especially important because I want to include photos or illustrations.
  4. Get a cover designer/illustrator who can format for both eBook and Print, and who can portray the vision I have for the stories.

How much is this going to cost me?  A lot.

Can a middle grade children’s book with a Bible slant recoup that in sales?  Only God knows. I’m really NOT out to earn $millions. Any profit I make will be channeled back into the Africa ministries that I love.

But… I DO have a person who has promised to read the book and write a foreward for it. He’s worked with Wycliffe Bible Translators and travels the world as a Partnership Facilitator. He’s been to Malawi many times.  Who knows where THAT contact might lead.

And YOU might even know a 7-12-year-old who thinks it would be fun to grow up in deepest, darkest Africa!  And want to read my book.

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Bloodbath at the Keyboard

4618c-bonnie

Bonnie Schroeder has been a storyteller since the fifth grade, when her teacher suggested she put her vivid imagination to work as a writer.  She took the advice to heart and has pursued the craft of fiction ever since. In addition to her women’s fiction novel Mending Dreams, she is the author of numerous short stories, screenplays, and nonfiction articles. She lives in Glendale, California.

 

 

Over a year ago, I wrote a post about editing, full of measured and objective advice about reducing one’s word count. I boasted that I had trimmed 5,000 words from my Work in Progress and had “only about 10,000 words” more to cut. I achieved that goal almost painlessly.

Proof that the Universe has a sense of humor: I was offered a publishing contract, but only if I could remove another 3,000 to 5,000 words from the manuscript.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” I muttered as I started reading, convinced I had already pared the word count to the bare bone. At this point the manuscript consisted of about 109,000 words.stack-of-papers

This last read-through, performed after the manuscript had “cooled” for a couple of months, was a humbling experience.

There was still plenty of fat left in those pages.

I had apparently developed a fondness for the word “so,”—to the extent that it had become invisible to me on past readings. As in “So,” she said, “what have you been up to?” Or, “So, are you going to tell me what happened?”red-pen

Removing all those “so’s” made a tiny dent in the word count, but I had to get more aggressive.

You know the edict, “Kill your darlings”?

I’d done that, sliced them out with a push of the “Delete” button, and I was convinced I’d purged them all. But oh, no.

The number of darlings I found on this last go-round astonished me.

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Out went some of my favorite paragraphs, ones that looked lovely but added nothing to the storyline.

The bloodbath continued unabated, and this time there was pain. I loved some of those passages—I loved them too much. I’d labored over every sentence, every phrase, every word, and removing them from the manuscript was like ripping off pieces of my skin.

What made it worse, as I highlighted passages and pressed “Delete,” was the realization that no one but me would ever see these words arranged just so, words I’d sometimes had to wrestle onto the page to convey a certain image, a certain feeling. I hated myself for condemning them to obscurity.

“But wait,” cried a tiny voice at the moment of my deepest despair. These precious prose snippets weren’t really gone; they were safely housed in a prior version of the manuscript, safe within a digital file on my computer, backed up to the cloud and three separate flash drives. They could live on, forever if need be, waiting for me to resurrect them in another book, another time.

Maybe I will, and maybe I won’t, but I sleep better knowing they’re there, waiting patiently, and if they never get their moment in the sun, they won’t know.

After all, they’re only words.

Aren’t they?

I did meet my publisher’s requirement, so the agony was worth it. I trimmed another 3,998 words from the manuscript, and it is now a relatively svelte 105,000 words. But I still miss some of those paragraphs. . .