How to Work with a Scholarly Press: What’s in a Word Count?

How to work with a scholarly press:  What’s in a word count?

by Erika Gaffney, Publishing Manager

Why do publishing houses ask prospective authors to estimate the extent of a book manuscript in words rather than pages?  A word count—and it must be emphasized, this should include notes and bibliography, as well as the main text—gives the publisher the best indication of the length of the eventual book in typeset pages.  This in turn allows a press to gauge with reasonable accuracy how much investment the book will require, and therefore to assess whether the project is likely to be economically viable.

A page estimate is much less helpful in this regard.  Given the dizzying array of computer fonts available—as well as different options in terms of font size, margins and line spacing—the number of words contained on a page can vary dramatically from author to author.

So the prospective author who hopes to secure a contract, or the contracted author who has committed to meet the terms of that contract (which usually includes a minimum and/or maximum extent, stated in words), must be conscious of the word count of their manuscript.

But what is the fastest way for an author to obtain an accurate word count?  Word processing programs include a tool that makes it easy!  Here, for authors using Microsoft Word (2003 or 2010), are instructions on conducting a word count:

For Microsoft 2003:

–         Open your Word document prior to conducting the word count*

–         On the menu at top of the screen, click on “tools”

–         From the “tools” drop down menu, select “word count”

–         In the bottom left of the dialogue box, make sure to check the “include footnotes and endnotes” option

–         The word count is displayed in the second line of the dialogue box

For Microsoft 2010:

–     Open your Word document prior to conducting the word count

–     At the bottom of the page is a gray tool bar. In the bottom left corner is an indication of how many pages are in the document; right next to that is an indication of the number of words in the document

–     the number of words given at the bottom may or may not include notes; to doublecheck, click your mouse on top of the word count

–     clicking on that word count brings up a dialogue box; look at the bottom of that box to ensure that the box labelled “Includes text boxes, footnotes and end notes” is checked; if it isn’t, check it

–     Once you’ve ascertained the box is checked, the word count displayed in the second line of the dialogue box is the actual word count, including notes

Whether one is a prospective or contracted author, knowing the importance of the word count—as well as how to conduct one—is a tremendous advantage in working with a scholarly press.  Happy counting!

This is the second post in our occasional series: “How to Work with a Scholarly Press”

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