Writing a book is hard work. You spend a lot of time typing away at your computer working to create the best book you can. You pour your heart and soul into your new book, working to fill your vision of a book that changes your readers’ lives. When you’re wrapped up in a book project, it can be so tricky to decide when it’s time to stop and publish. When is it time to stop editing and let go?
Here, I’ll tell you the best way to know when your nonfiction book is done. I’ll walk you through a process to help you decide whether you’ve written enough or you need to add more. Whether you’re in a rush to finish writing your book or if you’re so stuck on making it perfect that you can’t stop editing, this episode will help you find your book’s endpoint.
How Long Should Your Nonfiction Book Be?
If you’re struggling to find the perfect endpoint for your book, don’t feel bad. Even professional writers and novelists struggle to know when it’s time to be done with a book project.
One of the keys to knowing when your book is done is knowing how long it should be. When you’ve written a book that’s covered all the bases and is the right length for your audience, you’re done adding length.
Your book’s ideal length depends heavily on the amount of free time your reader has. If your audience is people with a side hustle or parents of young children, they’re probably not going to have time to read a 600-page book. Conversely, if your audience expects an extremely detailed step-by-step how-to guide for your topic, your book will probably need to be a bit longer.
If you don’t know who your ideal reader is for your book, definitely hit pause and go figure that out NOW. You can’t write a good book without knowing who’s going to read it. Your reader avatar will tell you so much about your book, from how long it needs to be to what information needs to go in it. If you need extra help creating an avatar of your ideal reader, check out Episode 3 of the Blogger to Author Podcast.
Do Busy People Need Short Books?
I know a lot of your reader avatars are really busy people. In fact, there’s a bit of a trend right now with very short books in nonfiction self-publishing. Author-entrepreneurs create these books to build their businesses, and the short length makes them a fast read, and it makes the books cheaper to print, too.
But, before you jump on the short book bandwagon, take the time to think about your reader avatar. Yes, they might be busy, but reading a short book without all the information they need would be a waste of time. If you waste their time, they’re never going to trust you or like you.
I’ve read some of these books and when I finished I was left wanting more because the author didn’t give me all the information I needed to go out and do what they were teaching me. If you sell me a 100-piece puzzle but you leave out 10 of the most important pieces, the puzzle’s not worth much to me. But, if you can teach me everything and include enough detail that I can easily go out and do what you’re teaching me, I’ll be your fan for life.
Efficiency here is the key. It’s inefficient to make a book longer than it needs to be. It’s also inefficient to keep a book short for the sake of shortness and leave out important information. It all comes back to your ideal reader and what they need.
So, how do you figure out what your reader needs so you know how long your book needs to be?
What’s Your Goal for Your Book?
I’ve already hinted at this, but if you want to know what your reader needs, you need to know what’s your goal for your reader. What do you want your reader to learn as they read your book? Do you want them to learn a new skill or embrace a new belief? If you’ve met that goal, you know your book is done.
It can be tempting to stop writing and just call it done if you’ve hit a patch of writer’s block or you’re struggling to come up with new ideas. Don’t throw in the towel just yet if your reader hasn’t reached the goal yet.
If you’re in this situation and feeling stuck, I recommend going back to your original goals for your book and refocusing on your reader. Get in their headspace. If you want to be a great writer, you need to get in the habit of constantly reminding yourself of what’s running through your ideal reader’s head.
Also try talking to audience members who closely resemble your ideal reader. Think about past and present clients who are like your ideal reader as well. What did they have questions about? Where did they get stuck and need extra help? Those are the parts of your book that you might need to flesh out a bit more.
What’s Your Reader’s Endpoint?
If you want to know when you’re done writing a great book, you need to know what you want your reader to understand at the end of that book. The best nonfiction books—the books that build businesses and change lives—all give their readers a transformation.
The transformation could be big or small. For a cookbook, that transformation could be giving them an arsenal of recipes that fit their dietary needs and the time they have to cook. For a self-help book, that could mean completely rewiring how they look at themselves and their world.
Your book doesn’t have to be completely life-changing to be a good book, it just needs to get your reader a result they want. Bestselling authors know that self-publishing a book that gives their readers a win is the best way to build their businesses.
Your Book’s Endpoint: An Example
Here’s an example from my own experience:
My goal for the ideal reader of my first book, Yoga for Runners, was to be confident in their ability to use yoga to become a better, more resilient runner. My ideal reader was a runner who was very new to yoga, so I included information that beginners would want, like tips for finding the right yoga mat. I explained the differences between the different styles of yoga. And, of course, I showed them my favorite yoga poses for runners.
I did everything I could to make sure that my readers had the knowledge and tools they needed to successfully start a yoga practice that would make them better runners. That book wasn’t perfect (I’m hoping to release a 2nd edition soon), but I think it did the job, and I’ve had many blog and social media followers recommend the book to their friends. I actually have had some decent sales numbers in Great Britain because of word-of-mouth advertising.
If you need extra help finding your book’s endpoint and how to get your reader there, my Fast Author Framework is here to help. It’s the framework I use to help my clients write amazing books that give readers the real results they’re looking for.
Also, if you’re in the health and wellness niche, pick up your copy of my brand-new book How to Write a Wellness Book: A Planning Workbook for Wellness Authors. It’s a workbook that walks you through the book planning process and helps you plan out your goals for your book and your book’s endpoint in detail. Snag your copy on Amazon!
When to Stop Editing
Let’s assume you’ve made it through the writing process. You’ve written an entire book that answers all of your reader’s questions and gets them the transformation they want. When do you know when you’re done with the editing process? When is it a good time to say, “Okay, I’m done,” and get it published?
Certainly don’t publish your first draft. We all make all sorts of mistakes in first drafts, even if we’re writing carefully. When you finish your first draft, you’re too close to your manuscript, and it’s easy to let mistakes slip through the cracks.
The best thing to do is to walk away from your book manuscript for a few days and come back to it with fresh eyes. You could send it off to an editor when you’re done with your first draft, but I think you’ll get better results for your money if you do some self-editing before handing your manuscript to a professional.
Are You Done Editing? Questions to Ask Yourself
The point of this episode isn’t to do a deep dive into the editing process, but here are a few questions you can ask yourself as you’re editing to help you improve your book:
- Is this (sentence/paragraph) clear? Is there a way that I could rephrase it so it’s more easily understood?
- Have I given my reader all the information they need to implement what I’m teaching?
- Would my reader benefit from additional examples or details?
- Is there anything I need to omit because it’s not relevant, or more information than they need?
- Have I engaged my reader? Would a story, personal example, or even a funny quip capture more of their attention?
The important thing to keep in mind while editing is what your reader needs. When you focus on your reader, it makes editing easier. It’s no longer an endless pursuit of perfection. Instead, you’re done when your book will successfully get your reader where they need to go.
A Note on Perfectionism
A few authors will go out and create sub-standard books because they just want to publish something. Others are the exact opposite: they’ll spend days obsessing over sentence structure and would spend years editing their books if they could.
Here’s the harsh truth: your book is never going to be perfect. There will always be typos, even in New York Times bestsellers. (Luckily, if you self-publish using a print-on-demand service, typos and other small mistakes are very easy to fix.)
Giving in to your perfectionism is a great way to ensure that you’ll never become a published author. Endlessly tweaking each section and chapter seems productive because you’re doing actual writing and editing, but it’s not getting you closer to your goal of publishing your book.
I know you want your book to be something you’re proud of, but it’s not helpful to obsess over every little detail. You’ll drive yourself crazy, and your book won’t be in your reader’s hands, where it needs to be.
At some point, you need to figure out when your book is “good enough.” When it represents you well and you’ve included everything you can to give your reader what they need to implement what you’ve taught, it’s time to publish and let it go.
Dealing with Deadlines
Sometimes, you don’t have the luxury of endless editing. If you have a hard date set for your book launch and it’s coming up fast, you need to create the best book you can in the limited writing time you have.
Sometimes, having a hard deadline is good news, especially if you have perfectionistic tendencies. It stops you from spending months on edits in a futile effort to create the perfect book.
Assuming you’ve set realistic goals for the time it will take for you to write your book, it should be good to go when launch time comes around. But, if you’ve procrastinated, you might need to prioritize and spend your time making the book the best it can be in the time you have left.
The best way to deal with tight deadlines is to avoid them in the first place, of course. Ideally, you should give yourself ample time to write and edit your book before it’s time to publish. But, we don’t live in an ideal world.
If you’re crunched for time, there are a few strategies you could use to finish your book and not have it be completely awful.
Strategy #1: Hire help. If you have the budget, consider pulling in a ghostwriter and/or an editor. They’ll have the time in their schedules to flesh out your book and make sure it’s free of as many mistakes as possible.
Strategy #2: Cut your book short. If you’re writing a book that’s taking your reader through a process chronologically, you could simply change its endpoint. If you’re writing a book about taking a coast-to-coast road trip, make it about a trip to Kansas City or Chicago, not all the way from L.A. to New York. That’s a lot less material to write and edit.
Strategy #3: Write only what your reader needs. If you don’t want to change your book’s endpoint, you may just need to get laser-focused on the content you’re writing. Every word you write should be about something your reader absolutely needs to know. If you cut out all the fluff, you’ll be spending your time only writing and editing the most essential parts of your book.
Dealing with tight deadlines isn’t ideal, but it definitely happens. Hopefully you won’t get stuck in this situation, but if you do, you can use one of these strategies to help get you out of it.
What You Should Take Away from This Episode
How do you know when you’re done writing your book? Ask yourself these four questions:
- Have you met your goal for your book?
- Have you gotten your reader to the right endpoint?
- Are you letting perfectionism get in your way?
- Do you need to change your plan because you’re under a tight deadline?
Your answers should help you decide when your book is done. Sometimes it’s scary to finish your book because that means it’s ready for the world to see it. But, if you’ve followed the tips in this episode, you can feel confident you’ve written a great book that your readers will love.
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