Words per diem – what do the pros average?

This weekend, I was struck by a simple idea – using the power of twitter to be able to whisper to multiple authors at once, could I get a consensus on what they’re average word count is?

Why?

Because I’m curious. Because like most unpublished writers, I flip-flop on the importance of word count. Is it important? Is it superfluous? On the one hand, I firmly believe tracking it is just a psychological trick to get us to write more and has no real value otherwise. As a realist, I recognize that that power is intoxicating.

Who?

I asked 30 science-fiction and fantasy authors with a presence on twitter. Of those, just over 20 got back to me, and nearly 20 had answers (a few didn’t comment, and one made me do math homework to get answer between 0 and 130k). Who I asked is a matter of public record, and I may include their names at the end of this piece. I’ve decided, though, to make you do the extra work of figuring out who said what to me (also all public knowledge), namely because the intention here was not to pit one author against another, but to instead get an idea of whether there was a normalization to the data.

Well, was there? Did everyone say the same thing?

First, the graph, sans names (because this wasn’t about comparing individuals, and because that graph was hard to read). The blue line represents the minimum words averaged in a day, the red the max. Most authors reported back the same figure for both, while some told me they had a bare minimum, and what they tended to average (hence the gaps).

Words Per Diem

 

And the same graph sorted against min/max input (slightly easier to read)

Per Diem Words (sorted)

Surprisingly, no and yes. While about half of them fell in the solidly ~2000 words a day, many had variances. Some write less at the start of a project, or on days where they work their other bill paying jobs. At some point, just over half average 2000 words a day, but not for the entire cycle of the project.

What really surprised me was some of the lower numbers came from authors I’d consider prolific (more than a book published per calendar year). As one author told me, “I probably average only 1200 words a day […] but I work hard on making them right…”

And that’s the take away for me

High word counts are great, but low word counts aren’t bad if they’re the right words. I knew going into this that the question of word counts is highly subjective and doesn’t really reflect anything about the work that’s produced. Still, it was interesting to see the consistency among so many writers on what a solid word count for a day looked like when they’re working on a project.

Who was kind enough to humor me with at least a response?

These are in alphabetical order of their twitter handle, because it was the quickest way to sort them 😉 This isn’t the complete list of who I asked, just the list of the folks that responded.

  • @author_sullivan – Michael J. Sullivan, author of the fantasy series the Riyria Revelations (released) and Riyria Chronicles (coming soon), as well as the upcoming Science Fiction book Hollow World
  • @bbeaulieu – Brad Beaulieu, author of the fantasy series The Lays of Anuskaya
  • @brentweeks – Brent Weeks, fantasy author of the Night Angel series and Lightbringer books
  • @BryanThomasS – Bryan Thomas Schmidt, science fiction author of the Saga of Davi Rhii
  • @catrambo – Cat Rambo, author of EVERYTHING, usually in short story length
  • @chuckwendig – Chuck Wendig, author of the (fantasy? science fiction? horror? something urban?) Blue Blazes, along with a bunch of other sassy writings
  • @gailcarriger – Gail Carriger, our fantasy guide to steampunk vampire mashings in the Parasol Protectorate books
  • @garygibsonsf – Gary Gibson, science fiction author of the Shoal trilogy, currently working on the Final Days books
  • @gryphoness – Erin Hoffman, author of the fantasy trilogy of the Chaos Knight
  • @happynerdjohn – John Marco, fantasy author, his most recent book The Forever Knight was reviewed somewhere local
  • @jamietr – Jamie Todd Rubin – possibly one of the most approachable, talkative science fiction writers I know (possibly)
  • @jay_lake – Jay Lake – I’d hate to think I need to give Mr. Lake an introduction, but just in case, let me know
  • @LordGrimdark – Joe Abercrombie, the King of Grimdark some might say, fantasy author of the The First Law trilogy, Best Served Cold, Heroes, and Red Country
  • @Mark__Lawrence – Mark Lawrence, he that mangled my mind by answering with a math problem, author of the fantasy books The Prince of Thorns and King of Thorns, and the upcoming Emperor of Thorns
  • @MykeCole – Myke Cole, modern fantasy author of the Control Point series
  • @nealasher – Neal Asher, science fiction author probably best known for his Polity books, who took the time to shoot back a number from Crete
  • @patrick_swenson – Patrick Swenson, editor at Fairwood Press and author of a Tor book slated for next year (2014)
  • @SamSykesSwears – Sam Sykes, fantasy author of the Tome of the Undergates trilogy from Pyr
  • @SteveUmstead – Steve Umstead, science fiction author of the Gabriel trilogy
  • @tobiasbuckell – Tobias Buckell, author of mostly science fiction novels, he’s always been kind, even when I ask for inane things for him to autograph

Thanks to everyone that participated in this mini poll, I appreciate you taking the time!

 

[UPDATE 2013-06-05] Corrected a few mistakes an attribution – sorry if this causes the post to reappear in your feeds 🙂

28 Replies to “Words per diem – what do the pros average?”

    1. Thanks 🙂 I hope folks enjoy without reading too much into it. It’s all subjective, and this doesn’t take into account writing times, number of drafts, and all of those other factors that are unique. But it’s also fun to see where you fall in this sampling 😉

  1. Hey Mike – thanks for asking and posting. If I could just clear a few things up…

    * I don’t have a Riyria Saga series. I have Riyria Revelations (released) and Riyria Chronicles (coming soon) maybe you meant to combine the two but just wanted to clarify that a bit

    * My new science fiction book isn’t Hollow Earth…it’s Hollow World.

    1. Michael,

      Correcting – GAH. You’d think I’d know these things, or at least fact check, rather than blithely write things down off the cuff without any verification or corroboration. Bah – sorry :/

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