Following the Guidelines

Do people read the rules when they join an online community? I don’t think so because if they did I wouldn’t have to waste my time explaining why I’ve just denied their submission to join a private forum the day after they join the message board (which I no longer do because if they can’t be bothered doing the right thing then why should I be bothered).

This makes me wonder if people actually read the guidelines, given by an editor or publisher, before they submit their manuscript.

It’s important to remember that the guidelines are there for a reason and if we (in our wisdom) decide that we’re going to ignore them, then it’s a sure way to receive a rejection letter. That’s fine if your goal is to receive the most rejection letters in writing history but if that’s not the case then you’re simply wasting your time and money on countless submission that will never be read, let alone be accepted.

Most publishing houses receive dozens, if not hundreds, of submissions in a month and it would be annoying to see that their guidelines are constantly ignored. That alone would see your work returned unread. What’s more, and this is the most important part, if an author can’t be bothered following simple instructions before they are represented then how can the publisher be sure that they would follow editing instructions afterwards. That might be a risk they are not willing to take.

A serious writer will follow the guidelines. It will show that you’re a professional, that you know what is expected and this might get your manuscript off the slush pile into the editor’s hands.

What happens then will depend on your writing, but that’s a different post.

Word Count

This is an issue that haunts most aspiring writers. Most word processors are equipped with a word count feature, but this is NOT the way to do it. Even though using this feature will give you the actual word count used, the printing industry works it out differently.

If you look at any two pages in a novel and then counted the actual words on those pages, you’d get a varying answer. It stands to reason that most pages will be different so the printing industry uses a formula to work out the average word count per page.

There are many formulas to be found but I’m only going to mention two. These are the two I’ve seen used the most and once you decide which formula you are going to use, whether it is one of the following or another, stick to it and stop worrying about word count.

Before I go into the formulas themselves, the page setup is an important factor. Most editors want us to use a standard size paper: in USA this would be 8 1/2 inch x 11 inch; in other parts of the world it is 210mm x 297mm (commonly known as A4). We should also use a non proportional type face such as courier new in size 12 font, as it’s easier on the eyes when reading. The margins should be at least 1 inch on all sides.

I actually used both of these methods on my own work and was amazed that they gave me the same answer, so I can safely say that I write 450 words per page (single spaced) but remember to change your manuscript to double spacing before you send it out.

Formula 1
Take a sheet from your manuscript that is quite full of typing. Don’t use a sheet with a lot of dialogue. Count the number of letters, including spaces and any punctuation marks, across one line of text. Say you get 60. Divide this by 6 and the answer is the number of words per line, which is 10 in this case.

Now count the number of lines that can be typed on down the page. Remember to count the blank line between paragraphs. Say you get 45 lines for single spacing. You multiply 45 by 10 and this gives you the number of words per page (in this instance 450 words).

Then you multiply the words per page (450) by the number of pages for the whole manuscript and this is our total word count.

So if I have 250 pages to my manuscript, this means that my total word count is 112,500 words.

Formula 2
The other method is to count the number of words in 10 lines (say you get 100) and divide the total number of words by 10, which means you have a line word count of 10.

Count the lines on an average page (again, say you get 45). Multiply the total number of lines (45) for the sample full page by the approximate word count for one line (10). This gives you the word count for one page, which in this instance is 450.

Then multiply this total count for the words on one page (450) by the total number of pages (our example is 250) in your manuscript. This is the total length of your manuscript in words would then be 112,500.


  • Always use single spacing to work out your word count but remember to change to double spacing before sending your manuscript to an editor.
  • Even if there is only three lines of type on a page, the page is still considered to have a word count of 450 words because in the printing industry the area used is what matters not the actual number of words.
  • Be sure to check with the editor or on their website, before sending your manuscript to them, to find out if they have a preferred method of working out the word count because some publishers do.