Questions about the world of publishing? Use the comments link at the bottom of this page and post a question — I’ll do my best to answer. CHU
Q: My manuscript is now 150 pages. How long is the average book? Is it long enough?
A: That depends. Is your story done? Short answers aside, there are some important issues an agent, editor or publisher will consider when evaluating your submission. First, most of us prefer to know the WORD count, not the page count. Author A’s page may be doubled spaced with wide margins and 12 point type while Author B is conserving paper, using single spaced 10 point type in a condensed font. A’s 300 pages may be 50,000 words while B’s 175 page manuscript may total 75,000 words. Most submission guidelines call for 12 point Times Roman with one inch margins all around, but as the recipient of thousands of manuscripts, I know that a good half don’t adhere to this “rule”.
Word count is a much more accurate guide. We have formulas using word counts, page trim size, ratio of images to text, and front/back matter estimates that enable a fairly accurate projection of the final page count. Word count will determine the ultimate print manufacturing costs and impact the editing and design expenses.
Fortunately, tracking your word count is easy. In Word, just go to Tools>Word Count. You can also turn on the Word Count toolbar so you can check continuously. Many authors check their word count at the end of each writing session, to keep track of their progress. Others establish goals such as 2,500 words a week. Regardless, PLEASE put the final word count on the front page of your manuscript.
Industry norms and buyer expectations will also be on the minds of agents and editors reviewing a manuscript. Publishers will need the book to retail for a specific amount in order to recover costs, pay the author’s royalties and make a reasonable profit. The reading public already has certain expectations about how long books should be and what they’re willing to pay. If the word count is too short, the lesser page count may not support the needed retail price. If the word count is too long, the increased production costs may require a retail price higher than the public will pay. Harry Potter being a phenomenal exception, here are some typical word counts:
Adult Fiction — 60,000 to 120,000 words
Novellas — 20,000 to 40,000 words
Young Adult Fiction — 30,000 to 50,000 words
Children’s Picture Books — 500 to 1,500 words
Q: Used copies of my book are appearing on Amazon, but the book hasn’t even been printed yet! What gives?
A: New authors are frequently surprised and confused by the listings for “new and used” copies of their brand-new book on Amazon.com, eBay, and other sites. They are not stolen books or unreported sales. These online “virtual booksellers” are pulling title and inventory information from Bowker or Ingram’s electronic database feed, and they rarely have the books in their possession. Because the books are listed months before the official pub date, they may show up as “used” but they aren’t really used, or even available. The used books dealer will order from a wholesaler like Ingram if and when one of their customers orders the books from them. Yes, a new book. Priced like a used book. Their business model is to make just a little on each book and make it up in volume. Typically, the price per book will be quite low, but the shipping and handling fees are high. Since Amazon often offers discounts and free shipping, in the end, there may be little to no savings. Used books are one of the fastest growing segments of the industry, but not all used books are, in fact, used.
Q: My royalty statement shows book sales in typical numbers, but it also states returns that nearly equal the sales, resulting in very small net sales, and a small royalty check to match. What happened? Were the books really returned?
A: In a word, Dear Author, yes. Like it or not, to play in the sandbox of the huge national bookstore chains, we have to be willing to accept returns. Basically, it is a consignment business. We ship books to our distribution center in Kansas City. Our distributors call on store buyers in NYC who decide which books will go to which stores. Books are shipped either to corporate distribution centers, or occasionally, direct to the stores. Books go on the shelves and if they sell, this information will eventually be reported to distributor who will report to Stephens Press. Ultimately (it is a long, slow process) we’ll be sent payment for those books that shipped and sold months earlier.
It is the books that don’t sell right away that become subject to returns. How do the stores decide which books to send back to the distributor/publisher? We aren’t officially privy to that information, but we know that some buyers will put a return date into their computers at the time the order is placed. If it doesn’t sell in sufficient numbers within X weeks, it is adios for that book. Bookstores want to keep their inventory fresh (and why not, since the books haven’t been paid for?) so returns regularly occur as selling seasons change. Some stores may periodically “clean house” in a particular subject or a new title may push another on the same topic off the shelf. Eventually (six to twelve months, depending on contracts) the stores DO have to pay for the merchandise, sold or still on the shelf. That’s when returns may ramp up — and every publisher has a “returned today, reordered tomorrow” story.
So what happened with our author’s book? We can’t know for sure, but it is probably a bit of all of the above. Unfortunately, the current economic conditions suggest we’re going to see greater returns in coming months.
Q: I’m reviewing the page proofs for my book and the designer has eliminated the indent for the first paragraph of each chapter. Is this right?
A: It is indeed, Dear Author. In fine typography and well-crafted books, the first paragraph of a chapter is not indented. Ditto for the first paragraph following any heading or sub-heading.
Each new paragraph signifies a change in thought, direction or organization of the text. At the start of a new chapter, the reader already knows it’s a new paragraph. As for headings, adding indentation prevents the heading from lining up properly with the text following it.
More indenting rules: An alternative method of setting off each paragraph is to put an extra line break between each graf (shorthand for paragraphs used by editors and designers). This is sometimes called a “white line”. Indents plus white lines are never to be used together — only one or the other. Generally, books get indents. Websites and blogs usually use white lines, in part because different browsers may interpret indent coding inconsistently. Business writing, letters, and reports may use either (but not both).