MUSED
BellaOnline Literary Review
Mused BellaOnline Literary Review Front Cover

Calculating a Word Count

Word Count applies to fiction submissions, non-fiction submissions, and play submissions. In all three areas, the purpose of a word count limit is to ensure the printed Mused issue is evenly balanced for all artists. For instance, imagine that we had a Mused issue which was 60 pages long - and where 58 of those pages was simply Story X by G. Smith. This would now be a G. Smith exclusive issue, rather than an issue which celebrated the talents and achievements of many people around the world. There are other magazines which are able to handle the long submissions, and have the financial support to make that feasible. With Mused, since we are an all volunteer effort, with no advertising or other income to subsidize our costs, we simply cannot afford to create 200 page issues that only features 2 long submissions. We need to focus on the shorter works so that we can help promote as many artists as we can with each issue.

Page Length
So we begin with the concept that the purpose of the word count is to set an upper limit on the length - in pages - that the finished work will occupy in the printed version of Mused. This is a hard thing to judge.

For example, if you ask Microsoft Word about the word length of this sentence:

Interrogating an enormously infantile teredactyl about antidisestablishmentarianism tendencies of prototypical politicians, the detective cross-examined his suspect repeatedly.

Word will report that there are only 17 words in that line. True - but it is MUCH longer than saying:

Asking the big baby bird about rogue ideas of new reps, the cop asked his guy again.

Both sentences have 17 words but clearly the second line is MUCH shorter. This is only 17 words - you can imagine how this situation balloons out once you get into thousands of words.

This is why in classic newspaper and magazine word counts they didn't count *actual* words. Instead, they take the total character count - including spaces - and divide by 5. So if you have 25,000 characters in your story and you divide by 5 then you have an average of 5,000 words in your story. That way every person has an equal access to page space, whether they happen to choose long words or short words for their work.

Line Breaks
Once you look at character count, you also have to take into account the number of line breaks in the story. Line breaks take up space on a page and can have an impressive impact on the overall length of a story. For example, imagine you began with this intro, which happens to be from Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters. "My dear Mr. Bennet," said his lady to him one day, "have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?" Mr. Bennet replied that he had not. "But it is," returned she; "for Mrs. Long has just been here, and she told me all about it." Mr. Bennet made no answer.

Take a moment to see how much vertical space (up and down) this phrasing takes up on the page.

Now look at how much space it takes up when phrased like this:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.

"My dear Mr. Bennet," said his lady to him one day, "have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?"

Mr. Bennet replied that he had not.

"But it is," returned she; "for Mrs. Long has just been here, and she told me all about it."

Mr. Bennet made no answer.


Again this is just one small phrase. If you expand this out to take into account an entire story, then the way the story is parsed out can have an incredible impact on the number of pages it takes up. The exact same story, using different wording and different break points, can go from being 2 pages long to 20 pages long. At the smaller limit it is perfectly suited to working with Mused; at the longer limit it is far too long to maintain our balance.

Mused Limits
Mused allows 5,000 words for a fiction story, 5,000 words for a non-fiction story, and 15,000 words for a play (because we only run one play per issue). As demonstrated above, when we say "words" we do not mean actual physical words. Instead, we take the content which is submitted to us - including spaces and page breaks - and we divide that character count by 5 to come up with a way to equitably compare all submissions against each other.

If you are using Word to determine your word count, you would want to look at the character count value. As shown above, if you tend to repeatedly use gigantic words, then you could conceivably have a character count of say 50,000 characters for a work that only has 5,000 actual words in it (i.e. your average word was 10 characters long). This would be longer than our entire issue :). So your aim to begin with should be a character count more in the range of 25,000 characters (25,000 / 5 = 5,000 words).

I want to make clear that we are not saying here that you should 'dumb down' your word choices to use simpler words rather than longer words. We are simply saying that we run shorter works in Mused. If your work is long, it might be much better suited for other publications that are suited for long works. If you want to run in Mused, rather than changing long words to short ones, I would suggest trimming out excess words. A common trait that many writers share is that they can tend to be "long winded". If you can instead grab the reader's attention with fewer, more meaningful words, it can create a stronger visual impact and help the story move along.

There will be times that you get your story within 25,000 characters and it still hits the length limit of Mused. Remember that Word (and other software packages) count only letters and spaces in that 25,000 count. At Mused we also count hard returns - the "characters" that create the line breaks. Again, as shown above, this is because a story filled with hundreds of line breaks ends up taking up many more pages than a story without all those line breaks. To be fair, we have to take the line breaks into account. So be sure to keep your story from jamming right up against that 25,000 character limit in Word, because if it does, it won't have any wiggle room left to account for the line breaks.

Feel free to contact us if you have any questions!

Submission Forms
Fiction Submission Form
Non-Fiction Submission Form
Play Submission Form

General Mused Submission FAQs
Main Submission Guidelines




By far the best way to get an idea of what our literary review is looking for is to peruse our past issues!

Archive of Past Issues