Book Length: The Long and the Short of It

People who want to write a book often ask me about book length. How long, or how short should it be? The current trend is toward shorter books to match the shrinking attention span of an audience overwhelmed by information. A publisher is not inclined to publish a 600 page “how-to” opus from a first-time, unknown author. A good length for a non-fiction “how to” book is 45,000 to 65,000 words, or 180 to 280 pages in print. For a memoir or novel, 50,000 to 90,000 words is the sweet spot.

If you find yourself feeling limited by these ranges, here are some ideas to help you keep it brief without compromising on content.

Build a career: You can (and should) write more than one book in your lifetime. Think of your authoring aims long-term. Agents and editors hope for an on-going relationship with an author, not a one night stand. You are more attractive when you have a list of three to five follow up books you could write to go with the one you are writing.

Don’t try to say it all in one book: One of the most common mistakes I see first-time authors make is trying to share everything they know in one book. Not only does this confuse the reader, a book chock-full of general information is harder to market than a clear, simple book written to a well-targeted niche.

Look for opportunities to beak up the information: If you find yourself throwing in new tidbits every time you open the manuscript, take a step back and see what your book actually covers. Are there multiple themes that could be broken down and explored in more depth in future books? Usually, the answer is “yes.”

Make every word count:  Unfortunately, most writers say in 100 words what could be said in 20, thus  books are often heavy on fluff and light on content. Have your manuscript edited by a wordsmith who has mastered brevity.