Vintage old books

Page Count vs Word Count in Fiction Books

During several book signings, one question frequently asked of me has been, “How many pages is the book?” I always explain that the novel is over 90,000 words. The person’s expression, tells me that I might as well have been speaking a foreign language.

I have no idea why the publishing industry has not educated the reading public that word count determines the length of a novel and not the number of pages, and that  a 70,000-word book can have more printed pages than a 90,000-word novel.

There are several reasons for this that are useful to the publisher:

  • Font style and size: A font style and size will either increase or decrease the number of characters per page. Times New Roman font delivers fewer characters per page than Garamond. The industry standard for size is from 10 point to 13 point, with 11 point being the average.
  • Margins: The size of the margins and space allowed for the gutter (margin at spine) can manipulate the page count.
  • Space between lines affects the number of characters on a page.
  • Depth of drop on chapter title page: This is another tool to increase the page count, or in the case of a fatter book, to decrease the number of pages.
  • Trim size: That is the finished size of the book. Obviously, the larger the book, the more words that will fit into it. Often, publishers will use a larger trim size to accommodate the large print editions for those readers seeking a more comfortable font size.

Publishers have various reasons to manipulate the final page count. If the work is a bit lean in a traditional mass market size of 5 x 8 inches, then a larger font size, larger margins, etc will give the appearance of length and therefore value for the price.

If the book is meaty in length, that would necessitate the use of a smaller font size, more narrow margins, shallow drop on each chapter title page, slightly larger trim size, etc. Publishers want to make a profit on each book sold. Manipulating formats for a particularly long book allows for fewer pages, and thus lower production costs.

I’m not suggesting that word count determines the worth of a book in literary terms. The worth of a book lies with the reader, whether it is a novella or a tome. I just wanted to shine some insight onto  why page count is not a valid ruler to novel length.

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