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Harry Potter and the Tyranny of Word Count

Harry Potter and the Tyranny of Word Count
…when we sit down to write a book

OK I admit it, I put the Harry Potter reference in the title as link bait. Well almost. Take a look at the word counts for each of the Harry Potter books:

  • The Philosopher’s Stone – 76,944
  • The Chamber of Secrets – 85,141
  • The Prisoner of Azkaban – 107,253
  • The Goblet of Fire – 190,637
  • The Order of the Phoenix – 257,045
  • The Half-Blood Prince – 168,923
  • The Deathly Hallows – 198,227

That’s a lot of words, and it illustrates the mountain an author contemplates when we sit down to write a book. Until recently, the length of The Prisoner of Azkaban was pretty much industry standard — 100K words is an economic sweetspot for printing and distribution. Lengths seem to be drifting down of late, because there’s no economy of scale for ebooks.

Who knows? Perhaps we’ll one day return to the sanity of the 35K-word 1970s pulp?

But thirty-five thousand words is still a lot of words!

So it’s natural to look at the project, divide target word count by available days and use that as a measure of progress.

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