How Many Words Should a Book Be? - ToughNickel - Money
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How Many Words Should a Book Be?

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate. Author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. Former trade newspaper editor.

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"How many words (or pages) should my book be?" That's a common question I hear from budding, even experienced writers, as they work on their books. The short answer is to use as many words as it takes, and no more than that, to tell your story or convey your message. The long answer is a bit more complex.

What Are Common Word Counts for Books? (And Why It May Not Matter)

As noted in a 2012 Writer's Digest blog post, books that are adult novels usually range from 70,000 on the low end, up to 100,000 or more on the high end. Other fiction works can vary in length, depending on the age of the audience and type of book. Children's books may be only a few thousand words. Nonfiction can be all over the word count spectrum!

Remember, more words do not automatically equate into more value for the reader! Word count is not a measure of word worth!

Remember, more words do not automatically equate into more value for the reader! Word count is not a measure of word worth!

— Heidi Thorne

Book Word Count vs. Pages

Because of the wide variety of standard trade book sizes and layout configurations, estimating how long a book should be by the number of pages is generally not helpful. Similarly, the number of pages in raw manuscripts typed into Word can vary widely based on paper size, margins, font, and space options.

Here's where authors need to become savvy marketers who are familiar with their competition. Read, read, read in your genre! Not only is reading a professional development activity to make you a better writer, but it also gives you a good idea of what are common book lengths in your market. Especially read those that are best sellers in your arena.

Amazon can also be a help in this research. Search for similar books to yours on Amazon.com and go to the Product Details area on the book's product page. It will tell you how many print pages that book is. In addition to knowing what successful authors in your market are doing, it will also give you a good idea of what volume of material the readers in this market are willing to accept and absorb.

What about eBooks? Page counts are irrelevant since screen size is determined by the reader's device and choice of font size. However, Amazon shows the number of pages a Kindle eBook would equate to in print, as well as the file size of the eBook, so you can make a rough comparison.

The "War and Peace" Book Word Count Problem

While I may give them credit for comparing their work to others in their genre (as suggested earlier), I think some writers are plagued by what I call the War and Peace problem.

Leo Tolstoy's classic novel clocks in at significantly over 500,000 words, making it an effective doorstop if you get tired of reading the print version of it. Some writers with visions of literary grandeur think that they need to come up with thousands upon thousands of words, just like War and Peace or other super long work, to be seen as legit in the eyes of their readers. But really they might be trying to be seen as legit in their own eyes.

Interestingly, the War and Peace problem is not limited to fiction. I've come across several nonfiction authors who sport a high word count like it's a badge of honor: "My book manuscript is 150,000 words." I hope my indifference to these brags isn't too obvious. Based on my own focused-topic print books (5.5" X 8.5" trim size), approximately 20,000 words has printed up to about 80–100 pages. Even more in-depth business books than mine can weigh in at the 250–300-page range. So 150,000 words could easily rack up around 700 pages or more in print and up to a couple of pounds of paper weight.

These folks may also be suffering from another word count problem we'll discuss next.

Brain Vomit and Movie Franchises

Unnecessarily high word counts for book manuscripts can also indicate writers' desire to unload or unleash every possible thought or book idea they have ever had into one, all-encompassing work.

Maybe they believe that this is their one shot at writing a book and don't want to leave out anything. At the risk of sounding gross, maybe they do this because they think that vomiting the entire knowledge and creative contents of their brains into one book will make them appear talented and all-knowing. Either way, these high word count works can come off as unfocused, amateur messes.

The most commercially successful authors usually write multiple books, even a series of books, to keep their fans engaged—and financially supporting their work—for years to come. Think of your books as if they were movie franchises, with one book building interest in the next. Break up super long manuscripts into relevant installments in your own book "franchise."

Put Your Nonfiction Book on a Word-Count Diet

When I get a high volume nonfiction book manuscripts to critique or edit (usually upwards of 80,000), I can almost bet that I'll find a lot of overused examples and stories.

These manuscripts are stuffed with empty word "calories" from stories about famous people (Jesus, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Buddha, Steve Jobs, Stephen Covey, Abraham Lincoln, Napoleon Hill... pick your favorite icon), quotes (usually from the same cast of iconic characters, as well as a host of other thought leaders), and stories they found on the Internet or elsewhere.

The point is, these aren't THEIR stories or material in any way. I even saw one book of this ilk on the market where I guesstimated that only about 10 percent of the content was the author's original ideas and stories. Yikes! Plus, some of this material may NOT be in the public domain and could prompt a copyright infringement lawsuit. Double yikes!

In addition to the War and Peace problem, I've surmised that this bad writing habit for nonfiction stems from these reasons:

Looking for Authority. Newer or less famous authors may feel that their material isn't good enough. So they include familiar stories from these rare and enlightened icons in the hopes that their books will gain some authority. Honor YOUR power and honor your stories! Don't YOU want to be the one people quote?

Don't Really Have Anything to Say. If you don't have anything to say, don't make great leaders of history or other thought leaders unwilling contributors to your book. Wait until YOUR book and YOUR ideas are developed enough to go to market.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2017 Heidi Thorne

Comments

Robert Sacchi on February 20, 2019:

Thank you. It's good to know there is a venue for shorter works.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 20, 2019:

Hi Robert! Either feast or famine, eh? :)

I've had similar issues with my nonfiction books. I'd love to have them in the 40K range. But most of mine tend to be around 20K and I've said everything I want to say. So I know what you're facing.

I'm inclined to not stuff a manuscript with extraneous material just to make an arbitrary word count. (Which is why I think NaNoWriMo is so unhelpful.)

The other thing you need to consider is your audience. Are they expecting a War & Peace length work? Usually not.

Plus--and you should seriously think about this if you self publish--Kindle Short Reads are popular. These are shorter eBooks that can be read in 15, 30, 45, or 60 minutes. In other words, a lunch hour book. Frame it as a short read.

Hope that helps. Good luck with your book no matter how long it is!

Robert Sacchi on February 18, 2019:

Thank you for the tips. My problem tends to be the opposite. I tend to run out of story at about 25k words. Someone suggested I do subplots but that seems like adding extraneous material just to up the word count. Your thoughts?

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 14, 2017:

Billybuc, I think 70K to 90K is a comfortable length for novels. But I've read some that were way longer or shorter that work, too. I say whatever works for your audience and story. Thanks so much for stopping by and have a great weekend!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 13, 2017:

I hover between 70,000 and 90,000 in my novels...seems to be a comfortable span for me to work with. As always, great points here. Thank you!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 29, 2017:

Hi Lawrence! So, so true. Words are precious. Sounds like you've got a good handle on how to leverage your writing into a continuing series. Kudos! Thanks for sharing your experience with us and good luck with your books!

Lawrence Hebb on March 28, 2017:

Heidi

Could not agree more. I 'cut my writing teeth' writing copy for advertising here on the net.

One thing I learned there, don't waste words, they're precious, and shouldn't be abused!

My first Novella was 47,000 words, the second (follow on) stands at 70,000 and ends with a cliffhanger that leads into the third (in the planning stage, but I'll probably finish 'Coyote' first)

Great advice.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 20, 2017:

Hi Coffeequeen! True, I think we've all read books that are a bit light on content... and then there are others. I haven't drummed up the energy to fully read War and Peace either. :) Thanks for stopping by and have a great day!

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on March 20, 2017:

Interesting article. I've read books in the past that I thought could have had more pages in it, and some with less storyline. I've not read War and Peace though!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 12, 2017:

Hi Suhail! I think I'd opt for a shorter book with more punch to it, too. Agreed, teeny fonts in a 250-page book would be exhausting. Thank goodness we can change font size if it's an eBook. :) But I do think that breaking up a super long work into a series is usually the better choice. Appreciate you adding your two cents. Have a terrific week ahead!

Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on March 12, 2017:

Heidi,

Great advice in this article! Probably my two cents here will become part of analysis on how long a book should be ha-ha.

I like non-fiction adventure, but will definitely like a shorter book that has more thrill in it and knowledge, rather than a long book dwelling on writer's inner thoughts and philosophical take on the world.

I don't mind bits and pieces of everything though.

I think a book with short fonts over 250 pages is an overkill. One might as well have two or three books in a series kind of thing.

Regards,

Suhail and my dog K2

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 03, 2017:

Well, Lynn, a story could take any number of words to tell. (Have you seen those stories that are only a few sentences?) I think you helped make the point that the count really doesn't matter. What matters is what it takes to get the message or story told. Thanks for chiming in and have a great day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 03, 2017:

Hi AliciaC! True, I've found looking at the product details for competing works to be very useful for many reasons. Hope it helps you get info you'll need at some point. Glad you liked "brain vomit." :) I couldn't think of any better way to express it. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting! Have a great weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 03, 2017:

Hi again, MsDora! Glad you found it helpful. Thanks so much for your support! Have a lovely day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 03, 2017:

Hi Terrielynn1! Glad you found it useful. Thanks for stopping by and have a great weekend!

Terrie Lynn from Canada on March 03, 2017:

Thank you. This article is very helpful.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on March 02, 2017:

Thanks for sharing your expertise on these facts and explanations. Good articles for reference.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on March 02, 2017:

Thanks for sharing the interesting and useful advice, Heidi. I like the idea of looking at the product details area for books on Amazon. I love the phrase "brain vomit"!

Lynn Weston from Las Pinas Philippines on March 02, 2017:

when you writing a book, I don't think it's up to how many works because a story could be very long or short for that matter.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 02, 2017:

Flourish, you're right. Sometimes more is just, well, more. Thanks for adding that exclamation point to the conversation and for your kind words. Have a beautiful day!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 02, 2017:

Billybuc, sometimes it take well over 100K words to make your point. In others, maybe 10K. It all depends on the material and the market you want to reach. I know you totally understand. Thanks for adding your experience to the conversation! Have a great day!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 02, 2017:

One of mine is 120,000 words...one is 70,000...the smaller one seemed like a ripoff to me, so I now try to aim for 90,000....just a personal preference.

Happy Thursday, my friend!

FlourishAnyway from USA on March 01, 2017:

This was great. More is not always better. Sometimes it's just more. I love your pointed wisdom.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 01, 2017:

Hi Deborah! Thanks for the kind words. Appreciate you stopping by. Namaste to you as well!

Deborah Demander Reno from First Wyoming, then THE WORLD on March 01, 2017:

Great article. Short, sweet, and to the point.

Namaste