Thursday, March 29, 2012

Really there's no one-size-fits-all word count for fiction

I began my obsession with word counts a couple of weeks ago, at the beginning of writing a short story. I was 3,000 words into the first section and already wondering if the final draft would be too long to be published in a journal before I was finished with the thing. That, coupled with a new account on Pinterest, led me to create a Word Count Chart (which, FYI, I also pinned there on my Writers Tools and Tips board.)

Of course, there is no rigid definition of either a short story or a novel. I made the chart to get a general idea of what territory I was in—flash, novella, etc. But once you're ready to look for a publisher, it's best to know what your potential market wants: each literary magazine may have a different definition of the short story along with a suggested word count.

And those definitions may vary for special issues or occasions. For example, Glitter Train, which publishes only fiction, has a wide word count—"2,000 to 20,000 words"—for its Fiction Open. But they also have a Very Short Fiction Award for "up to 3,000 words."

I know of no short cut for finding a journal looking for a particular word count—but you can find journals according to genre through the Poets and Writers Literary Magazines database, and then link to individual journals to check their writers' guidelines.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

More on word counts

My last post offered a list of suggested word counts for particular genres. But what if you'd like to know the exact word count of a published novel?

For children's books, check out the Renaissance Learning web site [thanks to Cheryl Rainfield for this tip!]. You can search by individual Title, by Recommended Reading Lists, or by Popular Groupings. Click on the link for the book title, which will take you to a page that lists info including number of pages, reading book level, and word count.

[Note: this next part has been amended] It is more difficult to find word counts for adult fiction...
  • FYI (so you won't waste your time on this): Amazon Help says that its Search Inside the Book allows "text stats" searches, but it doesn't seem to work anymore.
  • Indefeasible blog has a post that lists the word counts for famous works: Great Novels and Word Count (the author said he compiled them using English teachers' web sites)
  • Just for fun, check out the Wikipedia page, List of longest novels

Word Count Chart

I couldn't find a chart anywhere in print or on the Web that showed suggested word counts for various genres, so I made one myself. (These are mostly general ideas/estimates and are not to be taken as gospel.)

Friday, March 9, 2012

1. The end of the world as we used to know it; 2. Zombieland

1. Last night I rode the Metro to D.C. for the first time in many months. What struck me most was that every passenger was looking at and tapping on a smartphone—not a paper newspaper or book in sight. Even the Metro construction worker I passed on the way to the escalator was taking a break and... looking at his Kindle. It was as if a nuclear war had obliterated all the non-virtual text in-hand in the world. (Except for me. I pulled out my latest edition of one story magazine, which I keep in my purse, and read one of the finest short stories I've read in a while, “The World to Come” by Jim Shepard.)

In the past, when sitting on the Metro, I could tell who was reading a romance novel, who was reading historical fiction, etc. I sometimes struck up conversations with people who were reading authors I love.* But how would I know what they were reading (or doing) on their phones? Hunkering over a phone is not an interrupt-able activity. They could be reading work emails, writing texts to their boyfriends, researching restaurants. Each passenger in his or her own miniature workstation, accessing and accessible to invisible conversations.

2. This is what I find so eerie and irritating about all the smartphone technology. A person is there, and yet not there at all, their minds like the little yellow man on Google Maps, pinned to a web page. Lately I've been running into people jabbering loudly to themselves whom I think are crazy until they turn their heads and I see the small cylindrical earpiece that connects them to the Matrix. Wherever I see groups of people sitting down, there's always now a significant percentage of them looking at their cellphones. Even at the comedy club I went to last night, during the actual sets, every few minutes someone pulled out a phone and tapped into it. For all I know a play-by-play of the comedy competition was being uploaded simultaneously to dozens of Facebook pages or Twitter accounts. Or people were checking their emails.

I have lately coveted a smartphone—partly, yes, because I envy my hubby's ability to pull out his semi-smartphone and find a restaurant close by or settle trivia arguments with correct answers. But mostly because the power goes out in our house at least twice a year and I can't access my email—more than an irritation when your at-home editing work often depends on a swift response.

But I worry about being accessible always, and of the temptation to constantly share my thoughts and visage with everyone everywhere. Worse, I worry about becoming another zombie—what I call people who constantly check or look at things on their cell phones. They are there, and yet they are not, each in his own little world, sucking up data with his tiny device, wanting ever more.

* FYI - I never interrupted any readers, only talking to them when they had set a book aside...