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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Counting words with Annalisa Crawford


That was some party yesterday, wasn't it? No time for hangovers though, I have to clean up around here. *Sweeps confetti under the rug*. I've got a guest!

It's my absolute pleasure to welcome Annalisa Crawford from Wake up, eat, write, sleep to my blog today. (If she added 'blog' to that title, she'd have my whole life!) Annalisa's novella, Cat and the Dreamer was released on 14 February. Here's what you want to know:

As a teenager, Julia survived a suicide pact, while her best friend Rachel died. Julia’s only escape from her guilt, and her mother’s over-protection, is her imagination. When Adam arrives in the office, Julia’s world takes a startling turn as she realises reality can be much more fun than fantasy. Finally she has someone who can help her make the most of her life. But can she allow herself to be truly happy?

Buy it here:

Now, take it away Annalisa!


Firstly, a big thank you to Sarah for inviting me over to her blog today. Posting on someone else’s blog is a bit like being inside your TV and looking out, slightly disconcerting but lots of fun.

Did you know that War and Peace has approximately 570k words (a Google search brings up varying counts – that’s an average), To Kill a Mockingbird has 99k, but The Color Purple only has 67k? I did - because I’ve previously Googled them (and before Google, I searched Yahoo!). I used to be obsessive about word counts. In fact before the internet, I’d grab books from my shelves just to count words:

Average words on a line x number of pages – 1000 or so for empty spaces = The Word Count.

And then I’d compare the counts to my own novels, fall short and feel disappointed. Put your hand up if you recognise yourself in this… erm… please tell me I’m not the only one!

I also – still – buy books based on their thickness. There’s nothing better than seeing a short novel on the shelves: if they can get published at that length, so can I! I’ve found some wonderful books doing this, but I also realised they were the exception to the rule.
In an attempt to increase my word count, (unpublished novel #1 for example, started life at 23.250 words) I developed The Method, otherwise known as Write & Delete - a six-point plan to increase my wordage:

1. write your story, preferably longhand
2. type up the first draft, editing and developing as you go
3. print out and then delete the file (or move it to another part of your hard drive if you’re not brave enough to delete it completely – just don’t look at it anymore)
4. read the print-out, make notes, scribble all over it, huge chunks of prose should appear as if by magic
5. retype
6. return to #3, and repeat as many times as you choose.

BUT, WAIT… these days, is word count so important? Am I stressing about nothing?

When I wrote Cat and The Dreamer – the first version was written about seven years ago – I loved the story, I thought it was perfect, but I assumed it would never get published, solely based on the fact it was only 22,000 words – too long for a short story magazine, far too short for a novel.

Seven years ago, if you remember, was before the explosion of ereaders and ebooks. And when that explosion happened, people were suddenly clamouring for books to read on their Kindles. Now there are Nooks, iPads and smart phones too, the clamour has grown.  Can you imagine reading War & Peace on your smart phone?

Shorter pieces, it seems, are now much more desirable than they are when printing volume costs and unit costs have to be taken into consideration. Based on this, and after some thought-provoking comments on my blog, I pulled Cat and The Dreamer out of its drawer and submitted, and the rest is history!

It's taken me a long time to realise it, but in today's market size is not important. People are selling individual short stories of 2000 words, and making a name for themselves. Simply write the story you want to write, make it the best it can be, and there will be more of a market than you think!

Thank you so much to Annalisa for visiting, and for making me feel more hopeful about all my work that doesn't seem to fit any known word count! Do you think word count is still important? Or do you think 'anything goes' these days?

92 comments:

  1. Thanks for having me over, Sarah. No confetti for me, though? lol

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    1. I'd have kept if for you, but I think someone spilled beer in it :-)

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  2. I agree it was some party yesterday, I have only written on someone else's blog once and it was lovely.
    Enjoyed your post.

    Yvonne.

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  3. I agree, in today's market, anything goes. I have 3 short stories currently burning up the racks, but my novels are doing very modest sales. I also think with the ease of the .99 story, some people jsut pop them up to read while waiting in line somewhere. Works for me.

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    1. I guess, in the end, it gives the reader more choice. It's interesting that you're able to compare the two.

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  4. As you said, when print was dominant word count was important; and people still like a long read; but there's definitely a market for short stories and novellas now with e-versions.

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    1. Although, a lot of foreign translations seem to be shorter, novella length works. I've always wondered if shorter books are the norm elsewhere, or whether the translation cuts out a lot. But that's a whole other post!

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  5. I agree that anything goes. At least I have seen anything go :) We live in a fast, fast world and shorter novels or stories don't seem as short, especially as ebooks where the page counts vary by each device.

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    1. Exactly, all that page turning can make even a short novel seem quite long.

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  6. Phew, it was a fabulous party! The blogosphere was on fire!

    This word count thing has really got my brain in a knot! I was under the impression (and I can't remember where I got it from) that in the publishing world, novellas are basically a no-go zone... novels of 100 000+ words being more desirable...
    I've been asking myself, where on earth am I going to get 100 000 words from? But this post has given me a fresh perspective on the word count debate.

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    1. I'd NEVER be able to write 100,000 words. If you Google 'novel word counts' there are some sites which total up quite recent books. It gives a better idea of what's acceptable.

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  7. Annalisa, you're right that shorter works of fiction seem to be a lot more popular since the introduction of the ereader. And I certainly hope that continues to be the case, as I'm about to launch a series of shorts!
    When it comes to writing novels though, as opposed to short stories and novellas, I have the opposite problem to you - TOO MANY words! My first novel is currently sitting at just under 120 000 words. Yeah. That one needs to be shaved a bit!

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    1. Good luck with your shorts!

      I can - almost - imagine how hard it would be to cut words that you've slaved over. Good luck with that too.

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  8. I think eReaders have opened the door on so many options, including the length of stories. There's something for everyone out there now.

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  9. Hi, Annalisa! Cat and the Dreamer sounds great!

    Your Method sounds cool--though with carpal tunnel starting, I don't think it would work for me, sadly. But it works for you, and that's what's important. :)

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    1. Thank you. Yes, it can be tough on the hands!

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  10. I write much the same way you do.
    I worried that my books were shorter than most, but there's something to be said for quick easy reads.

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    1. As I said, I used to compare myself all the time, so I stuck to short stories for a long while.

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  11. This is funny to me, because I have the exact opposite problem.

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  12. You forgot one important category--the novella. That's in between the two word counts.

    Shorter books are great for reluctant readers. :D

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    1. Some of the best films are based on novellas - although the only one I can think of, off the top of my head, is The Birds.

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  13. Great post, Annalisa. I tend to write short, as well, so I can relate.

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  14. My problem is writing too many words!

    However, it is good to see that ebooks have opened the door for shorter works. It's nice to see the novella make a comeback!

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  15. I try to stick to the recommended word count as much as possible. But if I'm too high or low, I figure I can always add or cut. :)

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  16. I try to aim for 80K, because that gives me room to play. But, i don't worry too much about it. The novel i'm querying right now is only 56k

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  17. I try to aim for short but my first novel is 120K and my second one is 150K. I despair because I cut and cut and I just can't get them shorter. O.o...

    I think I'm just born to be a fat writer.

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    1. Wow - if that's your count AFTER cutting, what were they before?

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    2. You don't want to know. I'm ashamed *hides head.

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  18. Wow! I'm seriously about speechless from the writing process. I'm the worst because I write too much crap, so I have to delete a lot. I don't hand write anything because it's too slow and sometimes my ADD thoughts come too fast. I love the delete the file part. Scary, but I may try it! Ack. Great post. I love hearing the process of others.

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    1. Deleting was scary the first time I did it, but I found I was getting far too attached to the words that were rubbish. By re-typing you become more choosy about what you put back in.

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  19. I love that about ebooks. Now stories can be any length (within reason). It has definitely helped those who tend to be brief with their words. Good luck with your book. It sounds very cool! :)

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    1. I think it puts the focus back on the story. I admit I sometimes skim over highly descriptive scenes if they don't add to the story.

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  20. I think that's one of the great things to come out of ebooks, that we can write any story and length is only a secondary concern. Thanks for this :)

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

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  21. I think it's not the word count we should worry about but the question of whether we were able to tell the story in how many words we have. It seems to me that Annalisa figured out her story was 20k+ long, and that's how it was supposed to be, so kudos to her! Now she's published and happy with her goal. :)

    So it depends on what your goals are. If you desire to be pubbed the traditional way, then it's helpful to look at word count guidelines as set by the industry (remember, they are only guidelines.) If e-books the way to go for you, then you have more flexibility. But ultimately, it's the story that matters. :)

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    1. Even when traditional publishing was the ONLY way, I was still trying to work out ways around it. I didn't find any, but I have ended up with a drawer full of novellas!

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  22. I think word count limits are becoming looser, but I still like to read long books, if they're good ;)

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    1. With a good story, I don't notice the length. With a bad story, I keep checking how long I've got to go...

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  23. Very interesting and important to remember. Glad you had her over to share with us today! I'm hopping over to her blog! :)

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  24. Very interesting it does seem that word count is not as important because of the ability to put them in electronic formats. Great points!

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  25. I think, as long as it's the best piece of writing you can make it, the wordcount is not an issue any more. I bought a collection of flash pieces and this is the best read so far this year.... now I'm sure I bought your book on a late night amazon bout... just off to hunt for it.
    Hi Sarah *waves*
    Lx

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    1. Thank you Laura - I hope you enjoy it :-)

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  26. I think word count matters a lot less market-wise than it did before--there seems to be bigger audience for novellas/novelettes these days, as electronic reading increases.

    Interesting post!

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  27. I love that you swept the confetti under the rug. LOL

    This was an awesome interview. Thanks!

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  28. The story should be the most important thing, not how many words it takes to tell it, but I will say that it can be disappointing if a book is over too soon. I like to get lost in a book. My first novel was 80k, which is a good average, but with this one I'm going to try not being so focussed on it.

    It's great that with e-publishing people can be their own bosses and not conform to what a publishing house might expect in terms of wordcount.

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    1. I have a great publisher who has published ebooks even shorter than mine. You just have to hunt around to see what suits you.

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  29. I don't think too much about word count when I'm reading, but I do admit that I don't tend to pick up overly thick books (I do read them from time to time, though).

    My latest WIP is a bit skimpy in some areas, which is unusual since I tend to overwrite, but I already have ideas on where I can inject some wordage.

    I'm glad Annalisa stopped by.

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    1. Thick books with very small print make my heart sink a little - Jane Eyre, for example!

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  30. While my novels are not quite as short as yours, the first drafts usually end up around 50k. And then the cutting starts. I really love cutting... However, I end up shaving off thousands of words.

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  31. I think that word counts is important only if you know your story can be told in a certain frame. Meaning, if it's a normal YA type story, but the word count is 200K, then something may not be quite right there.

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    1. A 200k anything needs a good editor, I'd bet!

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  32. I write for magazines, and I find word count incredibly irritating. It's so hard to tell a story in less than 500 words!

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    1. 500? I think even I'd struggle with that. That's a difficult skill to master!

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  33. I've recently started writing on paper... very liberating.

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    1. I love writing with a fountain pen. I really should have been born 200 years ago. Liberating is a good word for it.

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  34. I'd rather read a book that was a bit on the short side than one that was padded out to fill more space, but if the writer can add more story rather than just more words, I prefer a longer read.

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  35. This was just what I needed to read today, as I've been obsessing over the word count of my novel and worrying it's too short. I'm at about 70,000 words and keep thinking I need to pad the story to get it higher, but then I worry I will ruin the story. This post made me feel so much better!

    Thanks for sharing! And it's great to discover your blog, Sarah, I'm a new follower. :)

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    1. Once an editor/beta reader gets their hands on it, your novel will probably naturally change length with the suggestions you incorporate.

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  36. Okay this post had me laughing. Word count is an obsession to be sure. I guess for the most part the focus should be on the writing/story and everything else truly should be secondary. Great post. New follower too.

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    1. But have you ever bought a book because it looked short? :-)

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  37. Wow what a killer premise that is! Your last paragraph is KEY!!!

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  38. Loved what Annalisa had to say... thanks for sharing her Sarah. :D

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  39. I think that it's not the size but the quality of the story that counts. I've read longer books and thought, wow I could of done without this whole section.

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  40. Hi dear Sarah. Hi Annalisa. What words of wisdom. Yes, yes, yes, finally a market for the longer short story - i.e. novella. Novellas were very popular when books were first published and self-published and now there is a resurgence.

    All best wishes for your book, Annalisa.

    Denise

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    1. Thanks Denise. No one's ever called me wise before :-)

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  41. Thank you for that fresh perspective.
    There really is a market for all lengths, genres and styles.

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  42. Thank you, Annalisa and Sarah, for this interview. Your perspective is very helpful and consoling. I was obsessing over word count when I started my book (How can I possibly write something long enough to even call it a book? etc.) I stopped more recently in favor of just plowing through the writing. So I really appreciate your saying not to worry about it, Annalisa. Thanks!
    xoRobyn

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  43. Sounds great! Thanks for pointing me in her direction. And congrats on your book, Annalisa!

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  44. Well done with your book and thank you for share the way you write with us. It's always intering to know how others do it.

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    1. I love reading how other people write too!

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  45. So fascinating to hear how Annalist writes! I have the opposite problem-- I'm always looking for words to delete! Either way, getting it to "just right" takes a lot of work.

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    1. Yes, it does. I'm currently editing a MS I thought was done and ready. Then I notice 2000 words that were pure rubbish!

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  46. And here I am stressing about getting my 49,000 words up to 60,000 words! Having to play by numbers when writing is no fun, and can cause unnecessary filler, I think. However, how many words would a novella be, as compared to a short novel then?

    Shannon at The Warrior Muse, co-host of the 2012 #atozchallenge! Twitter: @AprilA2Z

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    1. I just checked on my publisher's website. For them, a novelette is 12,000 - 25,000 (so Cat is actually a novelette rather than a novella :-(), a novella is 26 - 50,000 and a novel is over 50,000. Of course, as always, all guidelines are different!

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