size matters – an intro to word count

by Parker Dupris

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“How long are the stories you write?”

I hear this from almost everyone who knows about this little hobby of mine. For reference, let’s look at a summary of what various sources call works of various word-counts. I’m talking about stories, here – works of fiction that have a plot, characters, theme, conflict, are done in acts, have dialog, and so on.

I write mostly short stories, “short form” in the writer’s slang. How does this fit in length-wise with other forms? Here’s a handy table:

“flash” fiction – around 1000 words long
a short story – 2.5k to 7.5k words
novelette – 7.5k to 17.5k
novella – 17.5k – 40k
novel – 40k+

These numbers are sort of fluffy; different sources might have slightly different values for the different types, but most are pretty close.

“But Parker, how many pages is that?”

If the conversation about writing and word-length continues, usually the person will ask me about pages. It’s nice to be able to classify different-length works according to word count, but what does it all really mean?

How many pages is all that?

Estimating page length is not an exact thing. Lots of different variables go into computing an overall page length figure: how many pages printed? What size book? On an electronic device? How big is the font set to?

All of that matters, but really this is just kind of avoiding the question. Let’s consider a “typical” erotic story – dialog takes more vertical space than narrative or exposition, because you’re adding a new line each time the speaker changes. All of this goes into figuring out “how many pages,” and your own mileage may vary; if you write more dialog, you’ll have more pages, but maybe not more words, right?

Looking at a few of my works of various lengths and doing the math while standardizing format to size 11 Arial font in Google Docs, I come up about 3.38 pages per 1k words, with my particular style of writing. That gives us this a new table:

“flash” fiction1k – about 3 and 1/3 pages
a short story – 2.5k to 7.5k – about 9 to 25 pages
novelette – 7.5k to 17.5k – 25 to 59 pages
novella – 17.5k – 40k – 59 to 135 pages
novel – 40k+ – more than 135 pages

Admittedly, 135 pages is pretty weak for a novel. Most well-reviewed novels are closer to 80k words, that is 270 pages or so. Many are longer.

How much do you charge? How much do you make?

Ahhh, a magic question.

This is usually more artfully disguised when a friend asks. “Can you really make any kind of money, doing this kind of thing?”

Absolutely.

How much, and the details… are the topics of some other blog post.

 

A woman typing on a computer keyboard