27 October 2015

What's in a Word Count?

Counting words seemed to me initially to be a counter intuitive concept. After all, is it not about the quality of the words rather than the quantity? Yet the guidelines for first-time authors to be accepted into established categories are rather strict. A novel must be over 40,000 words, but most publishers need 80,000-100,000 words to charge a standard amount of money and compete on a bookshelf. Thrillers are even longer at 100,000 to 175,000. I suppose it is a value per word marketing proposition.

                            Classification Word count
                    Novel over 40,000 words
                     Novella 17,500 to 40,000 words
                      Novelette 7,500 to 17,500 words
                     Short story under 7,500 words

Flash fiction, a new category, can be as little as 53 words, 300 words or 1000 words depending on who is defining it. A memoir needs to come in at 70,000-90,000 words. Sci-fi and fantasy goes longer at 120,000. Of course, a successful writer like JK Rowling, JRR Martin of EL James can write whatever they want. But a first-timer needs to follow the rules. Or not. Perhaps taking a risk can pay off?

Then I realized that, in this case, what I am writing is an entertainment novel. One that is meant to be fun to read on a beach somewhere on an island to which someone has escaped. This book could be part of that escape and, if entertaining enough, it will have done its job. It is, therefore, all about getting the number of words down to get it out and selling. It is quite reasonably a job to finish it.

With that thought in mind, the words started to fly. This was to be  a learning experience. The next one I could take more risk with.

One day, I wrote more than 10,000 words. The next day, only 5,000, but I also worked out the toughest part of the plot that day. I am now at 60,000 words and my goal was for 80-100,000.  I am not far from my goal. I am not far from finishing my first draft. It's been great fun to write. It will be a pain to edit.

It will also be a challenge to see if anyone likes what I have written.  It is not literary. It is factional entertainment. I hope they enjoy it. But if they don't like it, it won't matter too much because I have enjoyed writing it.  It has caused me to become a writer, something I have always wanted to be.

I don't consider the non-fiction books before this to have made me a writer, although I did become an author through them. What's the difference?  An author compiles. A writer creates. In my mind at least.

My next step is to become a great writer. Now that will be an interesting leap of faith. And courage. The Old Man and the Sea is under 30,000 words.  Heart of Darkness is only 40,000 words. It means every word is carefully chosen and every sentence artfully crafted.

I have started this blog to help inspire creativity. My experience is that the more one works at being creative, the more likely one is to succeed.

When I first became a copywriter, my initial work was pedestrian and predictable. I didn't have the experience to know that a headline like "Spring into savings" was contrived and hokey and seriously overused because it is obvious. It took a while to learn that asking a provocative question, one that cannot be answered with yes and no, can be very powerful if the answer is unexpected. When I learned that, I started getting awards, and new clients, and raises and promotions. Working in that environment I received tangible feedback and recognition in many ways along the path to success.

Being a writer is a solitary concern.  There is not much reward along the way if one is not satisfied with oneself.  You have to wait for years sometimes before you find out if what you've done is any good.

That's why it's important to focus and enjoy the journey. The destination is a long way away.

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