Question: Help me understand this about page word counts.

Help! My series title sucks

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Full Member
Sep 23, 2022
Vancouver WA USA
This always baffles me, and I'd love to hear others' thoughts about it. Am I the only one experiencing this?

Over and over (in the U. S., at least), I've seen requests for submissions to be formatted with double-spacing, one-inch margins all around, and 12-pt Times New Roman font. I also see it stated, in such requests and also in various commentary, that a "page" of text for a standard book constitutes about 250 words.

My problem (or confusion, bewilderment, etc., etc.): the two do not match up. Right now, for example, I'm considering submitting the first 1250 words of my novel to a "first five pages" competition which asks for 1250-words formatted as described. In the Q&A, it spedifically states that a standard published page is generally 250 words. Well, not in the novels I'm reading....but anyway.

I suppose if I were still typing my manuscript on a typewriter--which this thinking goes back to--that would likely be so. But like most of us today, I type on a computer, and fonts on computers are proportional. The same formatting requirements for spacing, margins, and font lead to far more words on a page. Curious, I took a selection of text out of my novel and set it up (dbl-spc, 1" margins) without paragraph indents, first in 12-pt Times New Roman font, and then in 12-pt Courrier font (which is close to typewriter font). With TNR = 399 words on the page. With Courrier = the first 263 words of the same text. In Garamond, it's over 400 words.

So on my laptop, 1250 TNR12pt words, double-spaced and with 1-inch margins, even with several space breaks stretching it a bit, do not quite fill four pages. Not five. I guess, then, that I should submit four pages as my "first five pages" if I am to keep to the limit of 1250 words for this contest. On average, the word count per page in my novel is running about 320 words per page (including dialogue, paragraph indents, scene breaks, space at chapter ends).

This discrepancy is frankly annoying. Am I the only one who finds it so? Wouldn't it make sense for those setting the parameters for submissions to update their thinking to the computer age and state page and word count equivalence more accurately? Or why not just use the total word count and skip the number of pages? Seems logical to me.

Am I missing something? Or just stating the obvious. I dunno . . . . o_O

Maybe I should have titled this post a rant instead of a question. :eek:
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I think the discrepancy comes because computers have changed everything about publishing in less than a generation. Competitions tend to be orchestrated by committees rather than one person, so instructions are a reflection of whatever decisions and information discussed by the committee. What will get you disqualified is going over the word count. Don't sweat the small stuff.
I would aim for 1250 words, or under, trying to get your balance and ending just right... Then format the results.
That's what I'm doing. It's what makes sense. I'm not rewriting the opening (I've done so at least 20 times, I think--I've been working on this novel for years (sigh)--and I'm in the final revision polishing stages, as well as reducing my word count), so I'll just submit the first 1250 words and see how it goes.

I think my post was more about my irritation that so many contests and also agents keep equating a "page" having the standard format written in today's proportional 12-pt TNR font with 250 words produced on an obsolete typewriter. They're not equivalent and the discrepancy could easily be avoided if they would only state the word count limits. Duh.

I've calclated that the pages in my novel, with standard formatting and the TNR12pt font, run on average 327 words, which fits right in with the novels I'm reading. I write quite a bit of dialogue, which, of course, affects the word count per page. Out of curiosity, I've checked the word count on a selection of novels I've read and found it to run between 310 and 437 words on a page. I don't read a lot of commercial genre fiction, which I think sometimes has fewer words on a page and fewer pages per book.

It's interesting how all this keeps evolving, isn't it? I recently bought an extremely popular book originally published in the 70s--The Women's Room by Marilyn French--and it's almost 500 pages (5.5x8.5) absolutely smothered in words page after page. I read it back then, and I'm reading it again--and thoroughly enjoying it. I've started reading another more recent novel, The Revolution of Marina M by Janet Fitch, and it's pretty dense and long, too. As you may have guessed, I go less for quick plot action and more for the psychological/emotional stuff of characters' interior worlds as well as historical and cultural world-building. :)
discrepancy could easily be avoided if they would only state the word count limits
Yes, absolutely. Or all ask for the same thing.

I've got samples in a file with my first 5, first 10, first 20, even 50 pages... and again for 3,000w, 5,000w and so on. And some in PDFs (rather than doc or doc.x) when requested.

But I do tend to stick to my own standard pages – Life is too short – in 12pt double-spaced Times Roman. I think if I fiddled individually with the margins, too, I'd lose my mind.

Help! My series title sucks

Blog Post: The Legend of Spring-Heeled Jack