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Guidelines to Average Manuscript Lengths

Bear in mind that to say you have a manuscript of fifty pages, doesn't adequately convey its length. It depends on how many characters-per-inch (cpi) it was printed at. If printed at 10 cpi, there will be about 250 words per page, making the manuscript about 12,500 words; if printed at 12 cpi, there will be about 300 words per page, making the manuscript 15,000 words. A heftier manuscript of 250 pages can mean the difference between 62,500 and 75,000 words. 

Even some editors ask "how many pages?" which is always surprising. It matters to the general editor for space- allocation, to the printer for typesetting, and to the publisher for costs. If you don't know the cpi of your printed pages, it's simple to put a ruler to some words and count; 10 cpi and 12 cpi are the accepted norms of presentation. Avoid both over-small and over-large print. (Once you know how many words you're averaging per line, you can multiply the number of lines on a few sample pages to get a fairly accurate word-count.) 

Of course, if you're using a wordprocessor, you can get a word-count automatically, but make sure you have the program set to count single-letter words (like "a" and "I"); many come set-up to count only two-letter words and up, but usually have a simple fix you can enter. However, when you put the number of words in the upper right corner of the manuscript, round out the number or specify that it's a computer-count, so they don't think you're too, too compulsive. 

It's important to know the length of manuscript wanted by the publication or publisher. Manuscripts that fall too far outside the parameters are easily rejected. 

It's NOT safe to say, "Oh, well, the editor can always cut it if it's too long." Unless you're major star in the publishing world, editors are more likely to heave a sigh when they note the incorrect length of the submission and heave your manuscript onto the reject-pile. 

Books like The Writers' Market and Literary Market Place give guidelines for nonfiction and fiction lengths desired by book publishers and most major magazines. There's considerably more leeway with books, unless they are to be fitted into a particular "line" of the publishing company where all the books match in format and size.

If you're not sure what a particular serial publication uses, you can do the ruler thing on a printed page. Count a few lines to determine the average number of words per line or column-inch, count the number of column-inches, and do your math. 

The editors of local magazines and newspapers are more accessible to writers (not because of distance, but because of narrowed circulation area and subsequently fewer freelance submissions); simply phone to ask what their guidelines are. Most major magazines also will send their guidelines for the price of an SASE. 

With manuscript lengths, as with most matters in writing, you must do your homework. 

  Average Manuscript Lengths in Words; Approximate Number of Pages
  Remember, manuscripts are always double-spaced.

Short-short story:  500-2500,   2-10 
Short story:  2500-5000,  10-20 
Novelette:  7000-25,000,  28-100 
Novel--paperback:  35,000-80,000,  140-320 
Novel--hard cover:  25,000-150,000,  100-600 
Humor feature:  300-800,  2-4 
Oped:  500-1000,  2-5 
Book review:  400-1000,  2-5 
Newspaper feature:  800-3000,  4-12 
Magazine article:  2000-5000,  8-20 
Nonfiction book:  20,000-200,000,  80-800 
Cookbook:  10,000-200,000,  40-800 
Juvenile picture book:  500-1500,  (varies) 
Juvenile book--mid:  3000-25,000,  12-100 
Young adult book:  15,000-80,000,  60-320 
Poem:  2-100 lines (4-16 lines preferred),  1-3 
Play: one act 20-30 minutes,  20-30 playing time 
Play: three act 1 1/2 - 2 hours 90-120 playing time 
TV script:  1/2 hour,  25-40 
TV script:  1 hour,  55-70 
Movie scenario:  1 1/2 - 2 hours,  120-250 playing time 
Radio feature copy:  15 ds lines = 1 minute;   3 min = 2 pages 
Public Service Announcement:  45 wds = 20 sec 
                                                90 wds = 40 sec one page; all caps 
Speech:  250 words = 2 minutes:  12-15 pages = 1/2 hour 
Book Proposal:  outline/summary; (varies),  sample chapter(s) 
Query Letter:  200-500,  1-2 full pages; single-spaced 
 

 ©Gloria T. Delamar 

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