How Many Words Should Your Book Be?
It’s the million-dollar question; How many words should your book be? Being honest, I didn’t consider book word count when writing my first nonfiction book (a memoir) in 2009 to which one person referred to as sheets of paper. Ouch.
My memoir has a page count of around 27K words. A good size for a memoir is 40K – 70K. Looking back; I notice places where the writing is rushed and chapters to add additional material. I created an outline and have plans to expand the book to 60K words.
Being a first-time book writer who was self-publishing, I decided the first time out it’s better to write a shorter book. I determined the average book length by guesstimating how many pages is 1000 words because it’s easier to break a project into smaller, more doable chunks.
Hundreds of outlines, book projects and years later, I would never start writing my own book or one for a client without doing the following things:
- Determining book structure or genre
- Creating an Outline
- Determining how many words in a book and in a chapter
I write and publish books in the New Writing and Digital Publishing Universe which simply means modern times and Amazon Self-Publishing. I also publish on Kobo and Gumroad.
To determine how long the average book is for a novel, consider the genre. For nonfiction, consider the nonfiction book structure.
People read differently these days and eBooks are the Big Disrupter.
People enjoy reading books on electronic devices like Kindles, iPads, smartphones, laptops or PCs. Of course, many people still enjoy reading a physical copy. You’re asking what does the way people read in modern times have to do with book length?
Well, books are judged by perceived value. With a physical book size matters more often than it does not. A thick nonfiction book is perceived filled with more wisdom. A thick fiction book is perceived filled with more hours of entertainment.
Although reading habits and book lengths are trending downwards; readers are conditioned to think bigger is a better value. Super sizing a fast food meal means adding more calories, super sizing a book can mean more fluff in nonfiction and in fiction, details that don’t propel the story forward.
On Amazon book publishing (KDP) a reader first determines book value by looking at the cover and book description. Amazon’s platform is always changing and previously the site determined how long is a novel or nonfiction book based on font, line height and spacing. They may still do so, but these days the way they calculate pages seem to most accurately reflect the actual pages of your manuscript. Whereas before you book might have appear longer or shorter in length after when it appeared on that platform.
Kobo online bookstore makes that information easier to comprehend.
There are pros and cons to the way both platforms share amount of book pages.
With a physical book it’s perceived value is determined by book cover, book description and also size and that’s because you can hold the book in your hands. I work in the book industry and I can tell you there is still a stigma with people believing a smaller sized book does not have much value and or isn’t a ‘real book’.
Smart readers know that a really long book can bore you to death, seem repetitive, and be filled with unnecessary details that don’t propel the story forward. But a shorter book can have shortcomings. No pun intended. The story can feel rushed and could have been fleshed out better if fiction. If nonfiction the material can feel rushed or could have been presented in a more logical fashion.
This post will help you determine a good book length and will cover:
- Fiction (Novel, Novella, Short Story)
- Traditional vs. Self-Publishing
- Writing Muscle and MVP
I mentioned that I work in what’s been called the New Writing and Digital Publishing Universe which simply means today’s time. These days the ideal size for a nonfiction eBook is 25K words. If you want a physical book then you’ll want 60K words. There is only a slight difference between an eBook and physical book. An eBook is an electronic version that may or may not have a physical copy. A physical book may or may not have an electronic copy.
I have a nonfiction book on the topic of outlining that deals with the single topic of book outlining. That book is just over 25K words.
Supposed that I wanted to expand my eBook to a physical book? I would not stuff the book with fluff since everything I wanted to share about book outlining has been shared. So, if I wanted to expand the book, I would expand it to include outlining, writing, publishing and marketing, etc. to cover nonfiction book writing and publishing from A to Z. There are some cases were a fewer or larger word count might be warranted for certain books.
As an example, if I wrote an autobiography telling the story from my life from A to Z the word count for the book would easily double to 100K. But since a memoir only covers a slice of your life, a shorter word count is perfect.
TAKEAWAY: Don’t expand your book with fluff just to hit an accepted word count, if your books needs expanding consider adding more topics and fleshing out the material. There are some books that quite naturally lend themselves to fewer or higher word counts.
- Fiction novels is 50k to 100K.
- Fiction novellas 10K to 40K.
- Short stories 10K to 8K words
The word count that works best for your book will depend on the genre. Books in the romance genre start at 50 K. Urban fantasy or science fiction epics are around 100K words.
I just completed a Cozy Mystery series. A cozy mystery is a mystery that is a subgenre of the Mystery and Suspense genre. Whereas book in that genre seem to run around 70 to 100K. The length for a cozy is 50 K to 75K words.
TAKEAWAY: Don’t overthink anything. I do sometimes, but I work hard not to. Break rules. I do. Sometimes books that break rules become bestsellers, but more often they do not. But you won’t know if you play it safe.
SELF-PUBLISHING AND TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING BOOK LENGTHS
If your goal is self-publishing (AKA the New Writing and Digital Publishing Universe) or traditional publishing whatever path you choose will also determine book’s length.
If your goal is to be traditionally published, research agents and big and small publishing houses to see submission guidelines.
Trad published books have a lot of mouths to feed. The agent has to eat, the publishing company has to eat, the author has to eat and it’s not possible to eat off some skimpy piece of work with a low perceived value, so even though word count is trending downward they will tell you what word count they need so that everybody eats.
If your goal is self-publishing keep your pulse on the platforms where you want to sell books. Since I’m new to writing the Cozy mystery genre and I publish on Amazon and Kobo. Each day I check the Top 100 list like my 401 K.
A Self-published book also has a lot of mouths to feed. Your editor and cover designer have to eat, and the author has to eat, etc. Even if you are a big name indie author you probably have a better chance at winning a multimillion lottery as opposed to selling your book for 9.99. The way you sell books so that you can earn a fair amount for your book may be by splitting one book into two or three books and pricing the book on sites like Amazon and Kobo with sweet price points of what readers are willing to pay for a book from an unknown author. That price is 99 cents to 4.99.
Indie authors don’t just create your own book length as some believe you can do. You’ll find out fast from readers if your book’s word count does not meet their expectations. You’d also be insane to permanently price a big thick book at 99 cents and expect to eat.
There are newbie authors who don’t have their ear on the pulse of pricing in the indie publishing world and they insist that as a new and unknown author they will not sell their book for gasps 99 cents. Yet some of the most recognized authors in the world sell their books at sweet price points. I digress.
TAKEAWAY: Book lengths whether traditional or self-published are the same depending on genre or nonfiction type. The difference comes in how the books are packaged to sell and the reasons why.
WRITING MUSCLE, BUDGET, & MINIMUM VIABLE PRODUCT
Writing Muscle. I work with authors every single day who believe you can run a marathon (write a book without training). People who have never written a single word plan to write this big massive first book that will make the Amazon best seller’s or New York Times bestselling list, win an award, sit on Oprah’s couch. Perhaps a better approach is to set a realistic writing goal to finish your project.
The first nonfiction book I put on Amazon in 2013, was 5,000 words and 21 pages (the memoir was never put on that platform). At the time that’s what my writing muscle was strong enough to handle considering that’s the size of blog post and articles I’d been writing. A few thousand-word count books were also more acceptable back then. 5,000 words these days is a long chapter and not a book. Readers might even call it a pamphlet or blog post in a book review.
There are still eBooks on Amazon that fall below what many accept as the minimum viable length because there are A) free or 99 cents B) contain information that most readers agree have found value. Don’t think value is just subjective either. Value in this case means, you write a 10-page book where the reader is guaranteed to make say 50 bucks by using said marketing technique.
Or, C) the book is from an established author. Not so fast even if your book hits A, B & C, 25K words is still ideal.
Shorter works provide an opportunity to practice craft on a more manageable scale.
MVP vs MVL
A minimum viable product is a product good enough to get released to test the waters, receive feedback on if you should move forward and if so what are the tweaks needed.
An MVL is the Minimum Viable Length of your book.
What MVL is not? It is not low quality. It is not meant to stay at the shortest length if in writing you the material something magical is happening. If so, keep going.
A good reason to sent the MVL in the fiction genre or Nonfiction Book Structure is a smaller word count is easier and more affordable to manage.
With the Cozy mystery series that I recently wrote under a pen name, I have the following word counts.
Book 1 (novella) is 14 thousand words.
Book 2 (novella) is 17 thousand words
Book 3 (novel) started out at a little over 50 K words
A cozy mystery is a fun type of mystery story. There is a base formula and tropes to follow. That made me think – eye roll – that I could easily write the books, and I could not. In this case I’m glad I started with doable novel and novella book lengths.
Takeaways: Setting forward with an MVL is not setting low, but realistic expectations. Writing a book will test the muscles, so be practical and not foolish.
Your budget or lack thereof should also be taken into consideration for book length. It takes a lot more money to get a copy editor for a 100 K book than it does for a 50 K or even 14 K novella. I’m not suggesting that you limit your creativity for a budget if the creative muse hits you. I am suggesting that if going in you don’t have a big budget that might also be a factor for books length.
Takeaway: Know thine budget or budget for the larger project.
Each book whether nonfiction or fiction, will have its natural length and your writing might fall outside acceptable lengths. And that’s OK because there are exceptions to the rules. However, and this is big, in most cases the rules and not the exceptions work.
Case in point. Author and Entrepreneur Tim Ferris book Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers is HUGE.
Amazon list it as having 707 pages. Kobo list it as being 787 pages, 214 K words and some 17-19 hours read. Interesting though he could break it up in all sorts of ways like it could be 3 books of 200 plus pages since each story about each mover and shaker could be stand alone.
So, what will your book length be?