Publisher Word Count for Magazine Writing

Publisher word count tool
When you write an article or manuscript for a magazine, you’ll usually be asked to hit a predetermined word count. There would seem to be nothing complicated about this. It’s the exact reason we created WordCounter. You place your writing into the text area and you instantly know the number of words you have typed. One would assume that magazine editors and other publishers wouldn’t have any issue with this number. The problem is that they likely will.

Why is an accurate word count not useful to many publishers? There is a simple reason that may not seem obvious at first, but it makes a lot of sense once it’s pointed out. Below is the reasons why we decided it was important to include a publisher word count in the details section for those who will be submitting their writing for publication.

Word Length

Word Counter counts the individual words written. “He is at a big park” is six words. “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” is one word. The problem for publishers is the six words take up 19 character spaces (20 if you place a period at the end) while the single word takes up 34 character spaces. While the length of the words will even itself out to a certain degree over the length of one’s writing, each writer will still produce different length articles even when they have the same word count.

When a publisher asks for a certain number of words, they are doing so in anticipation the writing will be the length needed to fill the space allotted for the article. It’s the space the article fills which is of the utmost importance to the publisher, not the actual word count. The problem is that explaining to the writer the exact length can be complicated, so they give a word count and hope that produces writing that fills the space allotted for the article. An article with unusually long words would likely go over the anticipated length, while an article with many short words would fall short of the length needed by the publisher.

To help make things a bit more accurate, there’s actually a publisher’s specific word count. Instead of counting each individual word, publishers have agreed upon the definition that a “word” is six characters long including blank spaces. This solves the issue of words being different lengths and gives a much more accurate estimate of space an article will use as compared to simply counting individual words. Using this definition, “He is at a big park.” would be three and one-third words (including the period). On the other hand, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” would be five and one-third words.

The Word Counter Publisher Count calculates a word to be six character spaces and applies it to your writing to come up with its total. This isn’t perfect for publishers, but it’s a lot more accurate than counting individual words. If you are submitting work to a publisher, you can ask which of the two methods they would prefer when you attach a word count total to your submission.

34 comments

  1. This is an interesting way to look at word count I never considered before, but it makes a lot of sense. Thanks for sharing!

    1. While it may be interesting, it really doesn’t apply today. This was more of a situation when their work computers around where you can manipulate the fonts and sizes to make it work. I would be surprised if you found any magazines which would pay you by publishers word count rather than by a standard word count.

      1. I’ve been paid by using the publishers word count formula this year. I think it’s just a matter of which publisher you happen to be working with. It’s definitely not as common as using standard word count, but there are still publishers to will use it, especially if it is for a print publication.

  2. Using e publisher word count will almost always give you more words than the straight word count. If the editor doesn’t care and you get paid by word for your articles, using publisher word count can increase your salary for an article by as much as 30% If you write for magazines or newspapers on a per word basis, this count is your friend.

    1. i copied and pasted “The international level of the synaptic exchange between various idea that, in a post-structural sort of analysis, give way to all the meandering tropes which make up our existences through an intersectional framework all add to the propinquity of intradimensional experiences, all within a subpar trope that mellifluously delineates all our existences’ sakes.” three times and it said I was a college graduate. XD XD

    2. Very interesting article and this makes so much more sense now. Although having a word count and a publisher’s word count that vary so greatly is a bit confusing as to which one I should write toward when I have a set word count to meet. Will definitely be utilizing this information in the future, but I hope it doesn’t get me in trouble.

  3. Why would a publisher ever pay you for more words than you actually wrote? This doesn’t seem smart on their part.

    1. The publisher cares much more about the amount of space than will be filled than the actual word count. This is why they are willing to pay more for the correct space even if there are less words. It saves the editors a lot of time and hassle.

  4. Wouldn’t it make more sense to tell writers a character (+ space) limit? I’m assuming that the publisher chooses the font, so they would know exactly how many characters or spaces could fit on a line. Give or take character space usage issues (Extreme example: llllll vs mmmmmm) I think it would be easier to determine the amount of space being used.

    1. This probably makes sense, but I think word count is a standard industry metric whereas character count isn’t so much. Then you get into the same problem with short sentences that maybe a paragraph in itself. You still have all that white space even with the character count. There probably isn’t a perfect solution when it comes to doing this but the publishers word count is a bit more accurate than a standard word count.

  5. How do you know if the publisher will accept a publisher word count over a normal word count? Do they always tell you upfront, or is this something that you have to ask?

    1. You should always ask the publisher if they will accept this word count over the standard word count. There may be some that spell it out, but it’s far more common to have to ask if they will accept it for assignments.

    2. I think it’s most common for publishers to ask for a standard word count. It’s easier for writers to understand without having to try and explain what a publisher’s word count is. I also think the Internet is changing things since there isn’t a limit of words and space when an article goes on the Internet (as opposed to a magazine)

    3. Always ask first. Never assume you can use it or you’ll end up being disappointed. It really depends on the publisher. Some use it and others don’t. There is no rhyme or reason to it as far as I can see,

  6. Since finding this tool, I’ve started writing both when I submit my freelance writing. I assume the publisher will pay me with the lower word count, but have been surprised a couple of times being paid the larger word count. That’s added about $50 to my fees I never expected to get. Since both are displayed on the tool, it’s worthwhile and it might make you a few extra bucks.

    1. Oh, I like this idea! There doesn’t seem to be any risk or downside by including both of them and there’s a chance that I could end up getting more money. I assume that you do your writing based on a regular word count when you submit? I think that I’m going to start doing this as well and see what happens.

  7. I’ve tried using the publisher’s word count several times and none of the online magazines I submitted would accept it. They all wanted a regular word count. How can I convince the publishers to accept the publishers were count instead of the regular word count so I can get paid more for my writing?

    1. Online magazines aren’t going to care about publishers word count. They aren’t limited in space in the same way a physical magazine or newspaper is. If you’re writing to be published online there’s a lot more flexibility than if you’re writing for a regular magazine. Publishers word count will only apply to physical magazines.

  8. As writers, we all want to make sure our word counts are correct. For that reason, I think this article is a great guideline to explain how to do this when writing for magazines. Most people assume magazine writing is the same as writing an article for a blog, but print and digital are different and have different needs.

  9. Do magazines even exist anymore? The issue with this articles is that it’s about old media that doesn’t apply to most anymore. There aren’t any length restriction in the digital age. If you’re writing for magazines or newspapers, you’re not going to have a job for much longer. This is old school information that doesn’t apply today.

    1. Wow, another smug millennial who thinks the world revolves around him. Yes, magazines still exist. No, your comment wasn’t cute or funny. Your career advice is sophomoric at best. Just because publisher word count may not apply to you doesn’t mean it doesn’t apply to everyone.

  10. I’ve never heard of publishers word count before this, and I have been a freelance writer for five years. This must not be something that is used much these days. I think I may ask about it in the future just to see if it does exist someplace, but in my experience as a freelancer I have never run across word count counted this way.

  11. I’ve never heard this and I’ve been writing on the Internet for several years. This is the first time I’ve ever heard anything like this. It doesn’t seem like it would be real to me. Why would a publisher pay more than they had to for the same writing?

    1. I’ve had publishers off this to me. It’s a real thing. It’s not all publishers. It is mainly print publishers, not Internet publishers. If you write for print magazines, many publishers will offer you this option.

  12. I find this method for counting words interesting, but not necessarily practical in this day and age with computers. Editors can manipulate page and fonts to get the space they need filled.

  13. Wouldn’t it be easier for everyone if there was a standard way to calculate word count rather than it be different for every publication? Why do people always want to make things more difficult than they have to be?

    1. I don’t think this is realistic since each magazine has a different layout. That would make standardizing almost impossible.

    2. Different magazines have different word count needs. The standard is counting the exact number of words which is fine for online, but as the article says, causes issues for print magazines and newspapers. That’s why a Publisher’s word count exists.

  14. Does anyone have a list of the magazines and websites that accept publisher’s word count? This would be a useful list in my opinion.

    1. This would great to have, but I don’t think one exists. It would help all freelancers if one was compiled, but I think it would be hard to do.

  15. i thought that this meant a way to increase the amount of words you typed, i have to do a 2000 word essay and when i saw that publisher word count was higher than word count, i flipped out. i clicked on the question mark, and i became sad again. 🙁

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