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Monday, January 07, 2013

Does Word Count Still Matter?

I saw a link on the Master Koda Facebook group and I wanted to comment on it, but I realized it would be too long and decided to blog about it instead. It deals with word count in writing and how much is enough. Please read this link by BookEnds, LLC about word count before going on with this post, since it ties directly into the aforementioned post.

I agreed with with the post but what struck me was the tenth paragraph, especially the passage "...as long as we're still selling books in primarily a paper format..." That part really got me thinking. I wouldn't call myself a techie, but I am an advocate of independent/self publishing and ebooks and ebook readers. Traditional publishing is in an upheaval and I think the future lies in ebooks. Yes, I know there are many who still prefer physical books, but ever since discovering ebooks and getting an iPhone and iPad, I no longer buy physical books, unless it isn't available as an ebook and I really want to read it. I think physical books will eventually be replaced by ebooks.

The article stated word count was related to printing costs, because more words means more pages which means the book is more expensive to print. Ebooks have no paper to print, it is all about file size. They can be as short or long as they want to be. Without printing costs, authors can sell their books at the price they want (and that pricing dilemma is whole other topic I won't get into).

With ebooks having no printing costs, does word count still have validity? Should certain genres have a set range for their word count? In my opinion, no. Word count is no longer a matter of expense. Word count should be ever how much the story needs in order to be told. Adventure Hunters, my first novel, runs about 63,000 words. The first draft of The Super School Uniform is at 96,000 words and is a little bit over three-fouths of the way done. It may well be over 100,000 words. Of course I'll shorten it, I follow Stephen King's formula of 2nd draft = 1st draft - 10%. But if it needs 90,000 words to tell it, it will be 90,000 words.

Ebooks are measured in kilobytes, not pages. Digital books have no weight. You can fit the contents of the Library of Congress in your pocket if you want. The point is, you no longer have to worry about the weight or thickness of a book.

With that freedom, the real issue of word count comes down to the author and pricing. Pricing, not expense. Let's say you've written an epic fantasy or sci-fi book (since they tend to be longer, even BookEnds says so) that is over 200,000 words. It's an ebook, there are no pages to print, thus no worry about expense. But as the author, you have a variety of options on how to sell and price your work. You could sell it as a single volume for the same price as your other works. You could sell it as a single volume for a higher price, reasoning that more words should mean a higher price. But why sell it as a single, split it up like Lord Of The Rings and sell it as two or three volumes. The choices are almost limitless. At this point, the pricing is in the hands of the author (if they are independent or self published). One volume for $4.99, one volume for $8.99, three volumes for $3.99. Really, anything is possible.

But what about the reader? I admit, without the physical thickness of the book, it's a little difficult for me to judge where I am in a book. Am I approaching the middle, is it about to end? I like that most apps have a progress bar to tell you where you are. But word count doesn't matter to me. I would have no problem reading a short story as well as one of King's massive tomes. In fact, I'd prefer larger single volumes to multiple parts. I found Lord Of The Rings on Kindle as a single edition for $17.99. A little steep for my taste but I'd rather pay more for a single volume than separate ones. Plus, with no weight or thickness, I'd be more likely to buy it as an ebook than looking at the massive physical book. Do I really want to buy a book thicker than my wrist? Imagine the workout of lugging that thing around! No, I'll take the ebook, thank you very much.

Obviously, people will still print physical books and word count still matters to some. But as we move away from it, it will become a moot point in the future. I plan on writing my books as ebooks, perhaps only printing them as gifts for friends and family without e-readers. But authors, especially independents and selfs who market primarily ebooks, shouldn't worry. Word count isn't important, telling the story is. The story sells the book. Write ever how many words it takes to tell the story.

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