How Long Should My Book Be?

Before starting to write your book, it’s imminently helpful to know how many words your book will contain. Knowing your final word count, even if it’s an estimate, provides a number of benefits.

How long should my book be? by Blake Atwood Photo Credit: ucumari via Compfight cc

Set Daily Word Goals

For instance, if you know your deadline and your total word count, you can set daily word goals to help you maintain momentum. One of my favorite features in Scrivener is “Project Targets,” which allows you to set your deadline and your total word count. Scrivener will do the math for you and then provide you with both a specific number of words per day you must write as well as a visual representation of that goal. After setting your project target and reaching a daily writing goal, a new window will pop up within Scrivener letting you know of your accomplishment for that day. After using this function for a week, you start to become quite addicted to the satisfaction of seeing that pop-up window. For details on how to use Project Targets in Scrivener, check out Gwen Hernandez’s post, “Project Targets in Scrivener 2.X”.

Plot Your Course

In addition to helping you set a daily word goal, knowing your total page count helps you better map the course of your book.[ref] One of the reasons Breaking Bad is considered to have one of the best final seasons of any TV series is the fact that the writers knew exactly how much time they had to tell their story.[/ref] It will assist you in knowing how long each chapter should be, as well as how many chapters you should include. Knowing when you’re about to approach the middle or end of your work can help you make necessary transitions. If you just keep writing without a solid goal in mind, it’s very likely that your finished work will include unnecessary padding, a definite turn-off to any would-be reader.

Edit Ruthlessly

Lastly, setting a total word count will help you in the editing process. If you’re aiming for a short, 50,000-word book and you’ve written 75,000 words, you either need to do some serious cutting, or you need to reconsider the scope of your book. If you’ve only written 25,000 words for your 50,000-word book, maybe you need to do more research, rethink the topic you’re covering, or decide to release a short ebook instead of a short ebook and physical book.
To sum, establishing a firm total word count from the outset of writing your next book is essential to setting daily word count goals, smartly plotting the course of your book, and greatly assisting you in the editing process.

But, the question remains: how long should my book be?

When I considered this question for my book, I recalled a post by literary agent Rachelle Gardner outlining suggested word count totals for various types of books. The numbers below are taken from her post, “How Long is Your Book?”.

  • Novella: 20,000 to 50,000 words
  • Novel: 50,000 to 110,000 words
  • Suggested nonfiction length: 50,000 to 70,000 words
  • Epic / Saga: 110,000 words or more

But here’s the thing about book length and the digital age of publishing: you can write as few, or as many, words as you’d like. If you’re only considering releasing ebooks, you don’t necessarily have to write 50,000 words or more for a nonfiction title. It can be 20,000 words and, as long as it’s full of helpful or thoughtful content, you can sell it, like my online friends Jim Woods’ and Erik Fisher’s Ready Aim Fire! A Practical Guide To Setting And Achieving Goals.
There’s one significant caveat if you write short ebooks and want to release a print version: you won’t have a spine. I’m not calling you a coward; I’m just telling you the truth. If your book is too short, you won’t have enough pages to widen the spine enough to contain legible text. (This is one reason why you’ve likely read so many books that seemed at least one-third longer than they need to be. All of that was spine-filler.) Per CreateSpace’s own recommendations, “For books with 130 pages or less, we strongly recommend a blank spine. Blank spines are required for books with less than 101 pages.”
On the other end of the spectrum, you could write a 200,000-word magnum opus that only exists as an ebook. Because you don’t have to pay exorbitant print costs for such a monstrous book, you’re not hurting your bottom line by releasing such a long book. However, if this is something you’re considering, you should strongly consider serializing [ref] Releasing sections of the book as independent books themselves, as part of a series.[/ref] the book.
Regardless of how many words you do decide to write and sell, be sure to take your word count into consideration when pricing your book. While this is only a small part of the equation, you need to ensure that the time you spent on crafting your book sees a worthwhile return on investment … but we’ll get to the book pricing question in time.

Now it’s your turn: if you’ve published, how long was your book and why? If you’re currently working on a book, have you set a total word count? Why or why not?