You’ve got a great book idea. Maybe you’ve even started to outline or write your book. Then the fear starts to creep in. How long should a nonfiction book be? When will you be finished with your book? How do you know when you’re “done” or if you need to write more?
In fact, one of the most frequently asked questions I get is “How long should my book be?” How many words should be in a nonfiction book? How many pages long should your book have?
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.
- “How long should my nonfiction book be?” The generic answer.
- Word count ranges for different nonfiction genres
- Questions to ask yourself to find the right word count or page count for your book
- How to find the word count of your book manuscript
- Action steps you can take to find the perfect length for your book
Listen: How Long Should a Nonfiction Book Be?
How Long Should Your Nonfiction Book 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.”
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…
- If your book teaches beginners how to paint with watercolors, how much information do you need to include to make sure that they feel confident in their new painting skills by the end of your book?
- If you’re walking your readers through an important mindset shift so they can have an important outlook on life, what baby steps do you need to take them through to get them to the larger shift at the end? How much do you need to explain in each baby step to make sure that your reader really “gets” it?
- If you’re writing a health or weight loss book, what do you need to teach your reader so they’re empowered to live a healthier life or lose a few pounds? Have you included all of the steps that are necessary to get them to their end goal? Have you explained those steps in sufficient detail so your reader can easily follow them and get to their goal?
How to Find the Perfect Length for Your Nonfiction Book
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:
- What do you want your reader to have learned to do by reading your book?
- What major mindset shift do you want your reader to make by the time they’re done reading your book?
- How will your reader’s life be better after reading your book? How will your book help them find that improvement?
- What goals do you want to help your reader accomplish by the end of your book?
- What do you want your reader to feel empowered to do when they’re finished with your book?
- What do you want your book to do for your business? For example, if you want it to help prepare customers to be clients for your service-based or coaching business, what do they need to learn through your book?
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.
Questions to Ask Yourself about Your Nonfiction Book’s Length
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. And, it’s very hard to keep a reader’s attention as a book gets longer.
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, short-ish tends to be better.
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 nonfiction 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 journal pages, tables, and so on to add length, depending on what would be appropriate for your audience.
Word Count Ranges for Different Nonfiction Genres
I know, I know. You’re still looking for a target length for your nonfiction book manuscript. You’re worried that you can address all of your target reader’s concerns but your book will only wind up being 50 pages long. I’ll give you some target book lengths so you can see how your manuscript stacks up.
The average word count of a nonfiction book in traditional publishing is around 60,000 words. Target word counts are often included in contracts between the author and publisher.
The average nonfiction book that’s self-published tends to be a little shorter, running between 20,000-35,000 words. Self-published authors tend to have more creative control over their books, and they often don’t have a professional editor to help them lengthen their books.
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:
- Short book (around 100 pages): 20-25K words
- Self-Help: 35K-60K words
- Health & Wellness: 40K-60K
- Business books: 50K-60K words
- Memoir: 80K-100K words
Word Count for Fiction Books
Fiction books are usually much longer than nonfiction books. There are always exceptions to the rule, of course, but most fiction books range between 50,000-120,000 words. Adult fiction tens to run around 80K-120K words.
Average word count varies by genre: many romance novels are on the short end of the range, as are young adult books (usually 40K-80K words). Science fiction books are generally around 80-120K words. Epic Game-of-Thrones-style fantasy novels tend to have higher word counts and can be upwards of 200,000 words.
Word Count vs. Page Count
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. Also, page counts are somewhat irrelevant for reflowable eBooks.
For example, you can fit more words on each page of a 6″x9” 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 increase your nonfiction book’s page count.
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 a 45,000-word book. 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.
The Ideal Book Length for Printing
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 79 pages to be able to fit words on the spine.
In my experience, they will sometimes give you an error message unless your book’s a little longer, around 100 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 the 120-page mark so the book title and author name on the spine are easy to read. If your book’s too thin, the letters will be very small and can be hard to make out.
How to Find Your Nonfiction Book’s Word Count
I think most of you know how to check your word count, but just in case, here’s how to find your book’s word count in the major book writing programs.
Finding Word Count in Scrivener
Scrivener is by FAR the most popular piece of software for authors. Because it’s designed for authors, it’s pretty easy to find your word count. Scrivener actively displays the word count for the text section you’re working on at the bottom of the screen.
If you want the total word count of your manuscript, go to Project > Project Targets. Here, you can even set goals for your writing session, which can help you stay on track with your book timeline.
Finding Word Count in Microsoft Word
In Microsoft Word, go to Review > Word Count. If you want to check the word count of a shorter section of your manuscript, simply select that section and look up the word count. The number displayed will be just the text you’ve selected, not the entire document.
Finding Word Count in Google Docs
A disclaimer: Google Docs probably isn’t the best choice for writing an entire book. It can get very laggy, especially when your document gets longer than a few pages. If you’re absolutely dead set on using Google Docs, I strongly recommend using a separate file for each chapter.
You’ll find the word count in Google Docs under Tools > Word Count.
Does The Length of Your Nonfiction Book Matter?
Here’s what book length really boils down to: will the length of your book affect book sales?
Yes, to a point. In nonfiction, a 150-page book will often sell better than longer books, books that are 300 pages or more. It’s hard to find the time to make your way through a 300-page book. And, it’s hard to find the motivation to read a bigger book unless you really love the topic or the author.
This brings me to my biggest caveat: if you convince your reader they absolutely need your book, it doesn’t really matter how long it is.
To really know how long your nonfiction 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.
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