This just in…

My manuscript is complete! Ready for submission!

Word count: 83,500

Microsoft Word pages: 280

Chapters: 33

Time to write: 13 months

Dance with me! C’mon, you know you want to.

Writers’ Roundup: January 29

I’m on a high, about to jump into my final round of revisions! But I’ll pause for a moment to compile some links for you from this week:

  • The paradox of memoir, Ami Spencer writes, is the more personal details you reveal, the more readers will relate.

Be sure to check back here Monday, when author Dani Shapiro will join us as guest. I’m pretty excited about that.

Word count, with a little help from Amazon

Did you know Amazon.com has a new function that gives a word count for each book?

(I did not discover this myself. Props to Suzanne for pointing it out.)

This is awesome enough for me to get excited over. Why? Because it allows me to check out length for published books in my genre. To be picked up by a traditional publisher, my manuscript needs to fall in a similar word-count window.

How to find a book’s word count: Go to that book’s page and scroll down to “Inside This Book.” Under that heading, click “Text Stats.” (It’ll be a blue link.) A new window will pop up. Under “Number of,” you’ll see “words.” That’s your number!

I did a little reconnaissance for a few books in the Competitive Books section of my proposal. Here’s what I found:

  • Eat, Pray, Love: 130,000 words (Could this be right? If it is, it just goes to show that books with more than 100,000 words — which most agents say is too many — can do fabulously well. If it’s not accurate, well, then this Amazon function isn’t as cool as I think it is.) 352 pages.
  • Somebody’s Heart is Burning: 85,000 words. 336 pages. (This author actually told me her book came in at 85,000 words, which makes me think the feature is accurate.)

* For full titles, authors and descriptions of these books, see What’s on my travel memoir bookshelf?

What did I learn from this? That my word-count goal of 85,000 – 90,000 is right on target.

What other Amazon tricks do you use?

Word count update

I don’t usually post word counts, but several friends have asked recently how long my book will be.

I just finished revising (and cutting) Parts I and II, and together they’re nearly 70,000 words. That’s 224 manuscript pages, double-spaced in Microsoft Word, Times New Roman font.

Ideally, I’d like the manuscript to come in at 85,000 words. (Why? Because to be published, my book needs to be about the same length as most travel memoirs already on store shelves.) More realistically, I’ll keep it under 90,000.

That means Part III has gotta be a shortie. It is shorter than the first two sections, but this updated word count will inspire me to cut even more.

Onward!

A brief question on word count

Please indulge this word-count newbie for just a few moments.

What should I use to determine word count? Is Microsoft Word’s word counter a good measure?

Here’s why I ask: I’ve been told manuscript pages usually contain about 250 words per page. But I’ve got one-inch margins all around, and when I highlight a page in Microsoft Word the count generally comes to between 290 – 350 words.

(I’m guessing this is one of the reasons why word count is better than page count.)

I know what you’re thinking: I’m not supposed to worry about length until I’ve completed the manuscript, because the book will be as many words as it takes to tell my story. But measuring progress helps me feel productive, and I’d like to articulate that progress in words.

So, thoughts? How do you measure word count?

UPDATE: Thanks to one of my readers, I’ve figured out why my pages amount to more than 250 words — I use Times New Roman font. The 250-words per page count apparently applies to Courier New.

So I’m going with Microsoft Word’s count — I’ve written about 50,000 words. Assuming my travel memoir falls in my goal window of 85,000 – 90,000 words, that means I’m more than halfway there!

Literary agent Rachelle Gardner addresses memoir

Memoir includes elements of both nonfiction and fiction, as I’ve discussed before on this blog. While literary agent Miss Snark calls it a pesky category buster, until today I was ready to call it the forgotten genre. Although literary agents seem eager to represent memoir, most don’t specifically address the genre or its submission guidelines online.

So when literary agent Rachelle Gardner called for questions on her Rants & Ramblings blog, I jumped right in with inquires about memoir. Today she answered them! I’ll paste part of her post here, but for her full answer and readers’ comments (which are quite helpful), check out the entire post on memoir guidelines.

Alexis Grant asked: Would you consider a post on memoir guidelines, since memoir falls somewhere between fiction and nonfiction in many ways? For my travel memoir, should I query when I have a proposal and several sample chapters, like nonfiction, or wait until the manuscript is complete, like fiction? What’s the usual word-count window for memoir? Are there any other areas—aside from reading like a novel—where I should follow fiction guidelines instead of nonfiction?

Great questions! I think memoir requires the most out of a writer, because it’s non-fiction, so platform matters. But it’s also story-driven and the writing is the most important aspect, so it requires the level of attention to the art and craft of writing that fiction does.

I don’t think there’s a hard and fast rule about whether to query with sample chapters or a complete manuscript. With a first-timer, I always prefer to read the whole thing before I make a decision whether to take it on. At the very least, I want to read three or four chapters, and perhaps rough versions or outlines of the remaining chapters.

I DO recommend finishing the manuscript before you query. Like with a first novel, you are going to discover so much in the writing process. I believe your book will morph and evolve throughout the writing, and so those first few chapters, though written, will not actually be complete until you’ve finished the book. A memoir is a work of art much more than the typical non-fiction book.

If you don’t read Rachelle’s blog, start now. It’s worth your time!

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Nixing page count, adopting word count

I hate word counts.

The numbers mean nothing to me — How much is 10,000 words, anyway? It’s like describing the cost of dinner in Japanese yen, a currency I don’t understand.

Word count is so useless to this newspaper journalist that when a magazine editor assigns one to my story, I immediately translate it into inches. Column inches may be an absurd way of determining length, but it’s a method I’m familiar with. (Twenty inches, the length of a typical newspaper story, is equal to about 700 words.)

But I’m quickly learning that the length of my travel memoir must be expressed in words, as readers of this blog informed me after I blogged about page count. Once again, since memoir is nonfiction, I erroneously assumed I should use length rules that apply to nonfiction and count pages. But memoir has to read like a novel, and for that reason it follows many fiction guidelines, including the dreaded word count requirement.

So how many words should my travel memoir be?

Plenty of blogs address the topic for fiction, which typically runs 80,000 – 100,000 words, and nonfiction, up to 100,000 words. (I’m generalizing here; some genres run shorter and there’s an exception for every rule.) But the blogosphere seems to have forgotten memoir, a category lost somewhere between fiction and nonfiction.

Tanya Shaffer, author of Somebody’s Heart is Burning, generously wrote to me after I mentioned in my last post that her book came in at 318 pages. That’s nearly 85,000 words, she told me.

So I decided to estimate word count for the other two travel memoirs I referred to in my page count post.  It’s Not About The Tapas, by Polly Evans, comes in at 284 pages. Assuming each published page has between 270 – 350 words, that would give the book a word count window of 77,000 – 99,000. Do the same math for Rita Golden Gelman’s Tales of a Female Nomad, with 304 pages, and the window becomes 82,000 – 106,000 words.

What does that tell me? My travel memoir should probably fall between 85,000 – 100,000 words, similar to some types of fiction.

All of this is moot for now. I’m figuring it out so I can point myself in the right direction, but at the moment I’m following the advice of memoir author Karen Walker, who added her voice to the slew of comments on my page count post.

“Trying to figure out the word and page count while I’m writing stifles my creativity,” she wrote. “Maybe you can, just for now, tell the story you want to tell. See where you end up – then edit to get [the word count] where it needs to be.”

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