So, How Many Pages is That?

The last few weeks I’ve encouraged folks to download my tales (which by the way are ALL FREE for the rest of the month of July 2012. Shameless Plug Department: Seriously, go download them all on Smashwords and use the coupon code SSWIN through July 31st.). The vast majority of friends and family on my platform are not experienced e-book readers: several I know are downloading pdf and pushing “Print”. Two or three times they’ve hit me with the simplest of questions, and I found myself groping for a real answer. “How many pages is that?” I confess I didn’t know, though I know what they meant.

So naturally I had to improve the world around me by declaring once and for all the answer.

I half-expected the online world itself to be little help. I Bing’ed the topic and got a slew of “answers” based on the old world of double-spaced manuscript submission. “About 250 words a page” over and over again. Nonsense! Onlyone or two of my paper-style submissions (all still sent electronically) called for double-spaced anymore, and none of my circle of online author friends puts  out chapters for feedback double-spaced. More importantly, that’s not the answer we’re looking for- people want to know how many pages your story would be if it were paper-published (ggrrrrr… one way I’d love to find out! But in the absence of an open-minded agent who “gets me”…)

I reached for the elbow grease. Specifically, I selected three volumes from my real, actual, published-in-paper-and-weighs-something bookshelf and started counting. No, not the whole things. I selected one random page from each book, counted every word, double-checked to be sure that other pages had the same number of lines, and then multiplied. My choices tell you a bit about where I’m coming from, but the publishers and eras vary so I don’t think your results in another genre will be too different.

Have white gold, will lose my temper.

Lord Foul’s Bane by Stephen Donaldson, is one of the classics of the Epic Fantasy genre and probably the greatest anti-hero of all time in Thomas Covenant. I pulled his book because I have such vivid memories of how this author expanded my vocabulary (I held a dictionary in my other hand as I read it). So I figured this would give me a bottom-end word count (longer words). It’s in the classic small-fat-paperback format, same as you see with GRRM (but I was damned if I was going to use him, like he needs more publicity).  Page 135 had 358 words, and the line count was a rock-steady 42 lines per page. Total word count by multiplication (474 pages) = 169,692.

A “killer” mystery!

Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin is an excellent choice for two reasons. First off, WOW! what a masterwork of historical fiction and very much in the Heroic Fantasy line. Second, a much more recent book and third it’s in the trade-paperback format (5×7″) that I lust after so heartily. OK, three reasons- just read this book, do not be a fool. Page 256 held merely 211 words, at 26 lines per page: with 503 pages it was over WAY too soon at 106,133 words.

Another cast of epic-fantasy jerks, but still good.

Shadowmarch is the first in the latest Epic Fantasy series by Tad Williams, who along with “Germ” is the other must-read, I’m-not-worthy lord of the genre today in my opinion. I do think he did much better with The Bone Chair which I believe was his first, but I wanted something much more recent to see if the page counts had changed in the small paperback form factor. They haven’t. Page 332 had 348 words on 37 lines, and with 762 pages that yields a healthy total of 265, 176 words. I feel better about Judgement’s Tale (a mere 202k words) all the time!

How does that compare to what comes out on the screen as we type our masterworks and prep them for e-pub? Some totals from my experience, using MS Word single-spaced and prepping my stories for Smashwords publication (either past or intended):

The Plane of Dreams is 93,676 words over 137 pages. WPP 684

The Ring and the Flag is 31,118 over 59. WPP 527

Fencing Reputation is 46,015 over 79. WPP 583

Three Minutes to Midnight is 13,742 over 25. WPP 550

Judgement’s Tale is 202,193 over 480. WPP 421

I was very surprised at the variation in WPP between my own works: conversation, surely is a great differentiator. The two stealthic tales feature heroes who mainly talk to themselves, so the word counts were higher there. But Plane of Dreams has a ton of description, I might have to consider some restructuring. I was stunned to think the story of Solemn Judgement hadsuch a low WPP- that would be conversation, and he hardly talks to anyone! Then I noted that this older manuscript has the extra line between paras, so I didn’t count it. At all events I came up with an average of 550 WPP in my e-pub tales, as against around 350 WPP when a standard paperback goes into print (much less, obviously, in trade paperback form). And it’s probably different again in hard cover. But let’s face it- the people asking these annoying questions don’t need a thesis, just an answer.

And I’d say that my tales in paper pub would come out about 1.5 times longer in pages than they do online.

Seem about right to you?


About Will

I'm the chronicler of the Lands of Hope tales, available at all the major online retailers.

Posted on July 22, 2012, in or browse all books. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. I’ve sat down and counted my words per mss page before, at double space, 1 inch margins, the count per page comes out to 220-240 words. If you divide yours by that you get: 425/390 pages for The Plane of Dreams and a whopping 919/842 pages for Judgement’s Tale. It’s not always exact I suppose but it should give you a good round figure for anyone who asks.

  2. Thanks Juli! Grinding work, isn’t it? But no one really minds how long the MS is, it’s the book product that we dream of, and how fat that paperback binder would be on the shelf. Germ and Tad have epics that are ~850 pages even with the higher word counts I was seeing. Man, can those two crank it out.

    • Yep. You are right. Grinding work, but we love it, else we wouldn’t write it or read it, right? 🙂 Have you read Terry Goodkind? His second novel in the Sword of Truth series was close to or just under 1000 pages if I recall.

      • Mr. Goodkind, no I haven’t had the privilege. His picture looks like my kind of author though! The lid is definitely off for length in epic fantasy these days. My halcyon days of reading were over by the mid-80s (it’s too much about work now). I’m lucky, I guess, that Tolkein, Donaldson, et al had publishers who reined them in! But I read David Eddings Belgariad back then too, and there are several score hours I want back… rest in peace, but some of his stuff really slipped through the cracks in my opinion.
        Then again, I’ve had a publisher agree to look at “Judgement’s Tale” on the premise that she’d find a way to cut it in half. Never wrote back and I wasn’t sorry- so maybe I’m in his camp!

  3. I’ve gone through the same exercise many times, Will, and the best I can ever tell anyone is “I don’t know.” One book, with a certain type size, will yield X page count, while another will yield Y. Ever read any Robert Parker novels? He is probably my favorite writer, but his works tend to be a little shorter, so his novels have a little larger print style, with a little more white space.

    So, I’ve taken to using the old 250 words/page standard and giving that answer to folks who are asking. Generally, they say “oh, okay” with no more understanding of the actual page count than I have, but they are happy with an answer.

  4. Oh sure, John, take the easy way out! If I wanted to say “I don’t know” all day long, I could just talk to my lovely wife.
    But you’re right, it’s going to vary by a wide margin even within the small paperback form factor. I tried saying “it’s a novelette, it’s a novella” but those don’t make it into the general understanding either (hell, I didn’t know what either one was until I wrote one). Now I can lob a page number at them- they still say “Oh, OK” and you’re right they still seem happy!
    But my inner satisfaction level is just a notch higher…

  5. Hope you’re not in trouble with you wife….

  6. Ha! Well, I wasn’t going to say that, exactly, but …

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