Page counts (was: What does $3 a page mean to you?)

Subject: Page counts (was: What does $3 a page mean to you?)
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sat, 24 Apr 2004 10:49:40 -0400

Krista Van Laan wondered: <<I don't know why publishers don't use word counts, especially since they like to use Word. In my experience, they created a ridiculously complex method for us to count our pages, all in an effort to make it as much like an old typewriter as they could -- asking for a manuscript in courier, double-spaced, not taking advantage of word counts, etc.>>

This mystifies me completely. In fact, "character" counts would make even more sense, since it's far easier to (based on known frequencies of various letters in typical English text*) estimate how many _characters_ will fit on a typical page, and this gets you past known problems related to determining what constitutes a word. After all, if you're writing about the separation of church and state, 300 instances of "antidisestablishmentarianism" will take up far more space than 200 instances of "hug" if you're writing pulp romances.

* Learned about this trick when I _briefly_ studied basic cryptography as a youth. Codebreakers use these tools to crack simple letter-substitution codes.

The "courier" requirement is probably an overreliance on traditional rules of thumb that worked but that may no longer be relevant. Older publishing staff undoubtedly grew up using manuscript pages printed in courier (i.e., "typescripts" produced by typewriters) to estimate book lengths, passed this practical and effective rule of thumb on to their replacements, and the practice continued long after it was no longer necessary.

My take on this: The best way to estimate lengths is to do a trial layout: dump a sample of typical text by the author into the proposed layout template (or use a standard template if each book will be designed differently), do a quick search and replace to bring the styles into conformity with the template (if necessary), then see how many pages this takes up. Compare this to the word count for that chunk of text, estimate how much space each column-inch occupied by a graphic takes, and you've got an excellent tool for estimating how long the book will be.

--Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)


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RE: What does $3 a page mean to you?: From: Van Laan, Krista

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