Writing By Numbers


georgeknows333x500-1As far as I know, there aren’t any packages with paper, pens, and numbers you fill in to write a masterpiece, so that’s not what this is about.

It’s the simple fact that I hate numbers. Now, as a former biologist, who specialized in the most math heavy specialty in biology, that may seem odd. However, by the time I was in grad school, computers were just entering the scenes and there were wonderful programs that could do the biostats in seconds. With a matrix of nine characters across (leaf measurements) and five hundred across (number of plants), it made life easy.

I still can’t balance my checkbook. I can’t remember my phone number. And I have a heck of a hard time keeping score when I judge dogs. I let someone else take care of the addition.

Why didn’t anyone tell me the truth about how intertwined numbers were to words? My learning curve is difficult.

Word count. Yes, no matter what you write, if you traditionally publish, with large or small press, it has to be within a certain word count. In some cases, you get paid by the word. In some cases, you need to cut-off by or after a certain amount of words. Word counts rule. In middle-grade books, they seem to prefer about 25k to 40k, with the average at 35k. Mine are about 50k. This is why I prefer to write for tweens: I have ADD, anything more than that 50K and I’m counting blades of grass. Stalks of dandelions. Clumps of dog hair. Most everyone else here is probably writing 80k-100k based on one quick pass on the Internet.  Right now, George Knows sequel, Tillie’s Tale, is looking to come in at 60k. I’ll be doing some cutting. (George is trembling. Never say cut in front of an intact male dog).

Rankings. When books come out, there are a lot of places that rank it, like Amazon and Barnes and Noble. There are rankings for the genre, the topic, the kind of paper the book is printed on. From what I’ve seen, rankings are in part generated by key words. If the book is a mystery about a dog written for children, then it will be in several different rankings. Children’s Books, Mystery, Animals, Dogs. Each word can be taken away, and as you get closer to the main category, Children’s Books, the numbers get bigger. It’s preferable that the numbers are small. George came out at number five under Children’s>Animals>Dogs I was thrilled to be next to Old Yeller, which was four. By the time it was just Children’s Books George was 33. And then he sort of disappeared into the cellar. Now he’s buried in the catacombs.

Lists. Where the important numbers come into play. The bestseller lists. Better to be a low number than a high number, but great to have made it to the list at all. Go NYT and USA Today!

Royalties. When I wrote magazine articles I was paid by the word. For some reason, my articles were cut quite a bit and my columns were very short.  Now I’m paid a percentage based on what vender the book was sold through. Numbers I couldn’t even guess at.

PR. The most troubling numbers of all. Worse than balancing a checkbook without knowing the budget. There are a lot of different types of PR, from getting your name recognized (an aside, I did this as part of my learning curve. It was expensive and it was stupid. My name is ALREADY well represented on search engines because of other aspects of my life. Not too many people will search for Tween Mystery Basset book, and if they did, they still won’t get George because of those mystical key words.)  There are blogs tours, for which PR firms charge by the number of blogs booked. There are street teams, where a small membership isn’t generally useful, but a larger membership can be worse.  And social media numbers.  Is it worthwhile for a fan page on Facebook to have 20k likes, when only 15 people actually bought the book? Should you actually pay to ‘boost’ posts to get more views? Do you want to Tweet to the universe, or just to a section?

Rewrites: George Knows came out as an ebook first and is coming out in paper at the end of May. I was told to go over the galley pages word by word before the editor would go to print. So I did. Each. Individual. Page. And Word. The words that I’d already rewritten at least a dozen times last year. The book has been out since December. Um. I had 25 pages of rewrites. I have no clue how two editors and I never noticed the errors, including a transgender Hodag dragon. Not good for a kid’s book.

I sort of wish there were Book By Number kits. Maybe I’d be able to figure this whole thing out.

Mindy Pic  Biography:

I’ve worked in a hazardous waste lab, where under the sign for the Right To Know Act, was added: ‘If you can figure it out’. I’ve been a metals tech, a bakery clerk, a professional gardener, taught human anatomy and ran two university greenhouses. Along the way I picked up my Master’s Degree in Biology, specializing in the population genetics of an endangered plant. I am also a top breeder, handler, and trainer of English springer spaniels under the prefix Muddy Paws. Every time I think I understand dogs, another one comes along and proves all my beliefs are totally wrong. Then I was gypped and ended up with a tubby, egotistical, magical basset as a muse. It’s a good thing my husband, the Tall Dude, has a real job, and makes great unpaid kennel help. I’m also a member of the SCBWI, since they seem happy to take my money. http://www.scbwi.org/members-public/mindy-mymudes


Find me on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mindy-…) and George at Basset Bones. (http://bassetbones.wordpress.com)



5 comments to Writing By Numbers

  • Mud, I loved George, and will be picking up a copy at ConCarolinas for my youngest nephew. About word count and YA and MG. Can you share your thoughts about the loooong word count of the Potter books, and the shorter word count requested by many other traditional publishers.

  • The family’s loving George Knows and were laughing their butts off. Probably partly because I was reading George’s voice like Dug from Up. 😉 Only thing I might suggest so far is to hyphenate the longer word strings. I had to keep stopping to suss out what it said. But I do like George’s “voice” and I think you nailed that. By the by, what is tuna fudge? heh!

  • Love this look at all of the numbers, Mud. Thanks for turning a not-always-fun subject into a fun read. 🙂

  • mudepoz

    I’m cheating and letting Wikipedia answer:In 1995, Rowling finished her manuscript for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone on an old manual typewriter.[60] Upon the enthusiastic response of Bryony Evens, a reader who had been asked to review the book’s first three chapters, the Fulham-based Christopher Little Literary Agents agreed to represent Rowling in her quest for a publisher. The book was submitted to twelve publishing houses, all of which rejected the manuscript.[26] A year later she was finally given the green light (and a £1500 advance) by editor Barry Cunningham from Bloomsbury, a publishing house in London.[26][61] The decision to publish Rowling’s book apparently owes much to Alice Newton, the eight-year-old daughter of Bloomsbury’s chairman, who was given the first chapter to review by her father and immediately demanded the next.[62] Although Bloomsbury agreed to publish the book, Cunningham says that he advised Rowling to get a day job, since she had little chance of making money in children’s books.[63] Soon after, in 1997, Rowling received an £8000 grant from the Scottish Arts Council to enable her to continue writing.[64]

    Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – 76,944 words
    Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – 85,141 words
    Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – 107,253 words
    Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – 190,637 words
    Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – 257,045 words
    Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – 168,923
    Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Approximately 198,227

    Word count went up when he left MG after the first book.
    And it’s not necessarily what you know but who.

  • mudepoz

    You know, I actually took a minute to think about this. The book wasn’t a stand alone. The premise was that Harry was going to grow up during the books. While he’s enjoyed by the younger set, he really wasn’t designed as the typical Mid Grade.