You’ve got a great idea for a book. Maybe you’ve even started to outline or write your book. Then the fear starts to creep in. Just how much do you need to write to finish your book? How do you know when you’re “done” or if you need to write more?
One of the most frequently asked questions I get is “How long should my book be?” I understand how frustrating it is to not know exactly how much you need to write. And, I get that you want to finish your book sooner than later, and you don’t want to have to be writing longer than you have to. So, I’m creating this episode to help.
Here, you’ll learn the generic answer I give whenever I’m asked how long someone’s book should be. Then, I’ll share the framework I use to help decide what needs to go in your book to help you get a better idea of what your book needs to include to be “long enough.” Finally, I’ll give you some general ranges of the length of the average book in several different nonfiction genres so you can compare your book to industry averages. And, I’ll wrap up with some action steps to help you figure out how long your book needs to be.
Whenever an author asks me how long their book should be, I give them a somewhat unsatisfactory answer: “However long it needs to be.”
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I know it’s frustrating to not know exactly how many pages or words your book should be, but let me explain. Your book should serve your reader, first and foremost. That means your book needs to be long enough to get them to the transformation you’ve planned at the end of your book. For example…
Let’s dig in a little more. How do you figure out what transformation your book will give readers? It comes down to your goals for the book. Here are some questions that might help:
Also take the time to consider the amount of detail your reader will need. What examples will they find helpful? How many examples will they need to really get what you’re trying to say? Will stories help them understand what you’re teaching in greater detail? Are there steps that you’ll need to break down in explicit detail? Do they need you to be extremely descriptive when you’re explaining things? The more detail and examples they need, the longer your book will need to be.
Knowing the answers to these questions and having a vision for your book and what it needs to do will help you discover what needs to go in your book. That, in turn, will help you figure out how long your book needs to be.
To figure out how long your book needs to be, I think there are a few questions you should ask yourself:
How much time does your reader have? If the ideal reader for your book is someone who is really busy or already feels overwhelmed, you probably don’t want to make your book a 300-page tome that will take them forever to read. Overall, the average nonfiction book has gotten shorter over the past couple of decades, and I think it’s because readers are busy and they’re often hesitant to pick up a book that will take them forever to read.
The majority of nonfiction books published today are around 150-200 pages, and definitely shorter than 250 pages. There are, of course, exceptions. But, for the most part, unless a book is a national or international bestseller and has rave reviews, the average reader isn’t going to want to grab a massively long book to read just for fun. They’re looking for quick wins, and if you can get them those wins in under 200 pages, it’s all the better.
What’s your goal for your book? Do you want to get your book into bookstores, or will you only be selling on your website or through Amazon? (Keep in mind that getting your book in bookstores takes a lot of hustle and it’s not the end-all-be-all of having a book. Go listen to Episode 99 if you haven’t already to hear a story about how self-published author Lyn Lindbergh impressed a buyer for Barnes and Noble with her self-published book.)
If you really want your book to be in bookstores, it generally needs to be a little longer and more substantial. This is particularly true if you want your book to make it into bigger chains. Most book buyers for larger booksellers don’t want to buy self-published books that are around 100 pages. They’re looking for something more substantial that will present itself well on their shelves. BUT, if your book falls into this category, don’t worry. Your book doesn’t necessarily have to be dense text. For example, you could add in journal pages, tables, and so on to add length, depending on what would be appropriate for your audience.
I know, I know. You’re still looking for a target length for your book manuscript. You’re worried that you can address all of your reader’s concerns but your book will only wind up being 50 pages long. To help you get a better idea of what length you should aim for, here are some word count ranges of a typical book in different nonfiction genres:
(Remember, these are generalized ranges—there are always exceptions to these rules.)
You might be wondering why I’ve listed total word counts instead of page counts. The length of your book will depend on the number of words you can fit on each page, and that will depend on your book’s trim size. For example, you can fit more words on each page of a 6×9” book (which is standard in many nonfiction genres) than a 5×8” book. Having additional material like tables, charts, illustrations, and photos will also add to your book’s length.
A general rule of thumb is that you can fit about 300 words on a page of a 6×9” book. So, if you want your book to be about 150 pages long, you should aim to write about 45,000 words. If you’re falling short or you don’t want to add more words to your book, you could go to a smaller trim size to make your book feel more substantial.
One thing I want to note here: there’s a minimum number of pages that your book needs to have for many print-on-demand services like KDP Print to put your book’s name on the spine. On their paperback cover setup page, KDP Print states that your book must be at least 100 pages to be able to fit words on the spine. But, in my experience, they like to give you an error message unless your book’s about 130 pages. I’ve seen self-published books be successful that are shorter, but they’re few and far between. I recommend to all of my clients that they aim to make it to that 130-page mark so they can have their book’s title and their name printed on the spine.
To really know how long your book should be, you must know the transformation you’re trying to get your reader through your book. So, if you haven’t done so, I want you to set aside some time to think through what you want your reader to know or be able to do at the end of your book. Get really solid on that transformation and how it’s going to help your reader.
Then, think through what your reader will need to learn, know, and understand to get to that transformation. Write down any steps that they’ll need to take to get from where they are through their transformation. If you work directly with clients, think through the journey a client takes when you lead them through a similar transformation. What shifts do you need to work them through so they’re ready for the transformation at the end?
When you understand the path your reader needs to take in your book, you’ll begin to understand how long your book needs to be. You need to make sure you include all of the information your reader needs to get that transformation, and you need to explain that information in enough detail that the path to transformation is easy for your reader. When you’ve accomplished all of that with your book’s manuscript, your book is as long as it needs to be.
If you try to do this analysis yourself but you’re still getting stuck, I can help. I’ve created a brand new “Your Best Book Plan” Strategy Session to help you make sure that you’re including all of the right information in your book (and excluding all of the wrong information). First, I’ll send you a questionnaire to learn more about your book, what you have outlined, and your ideal reader. Then, I’ll do some market research for you and combine that with my experience as a developmental editor to help you review, organize, and improve your book outline and plan. Finally, we’ll meet on a video call to work together to create a plan for your best book. Best of all, I’m offering $50 off for the first 10 clients who sign up for a “Your Best Book Plan” Strategy Session. Learn more and sign up here.
And, make sure you tune in to next week’s episode. I’m going to be featuring an on-air coaching call with an aspiring author and leading her through many of these questions I’m asking you to consider. I think you’ll really find it helpful, whether you’re still planning your book or you’re in the middle of writing and you’re looking for ways to improve your manuscript.
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