How Long Should Your Non-Fiction Book Be?
“A good speech should be like a woman’s skirt; long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest.”
When Winston Churchill said that, he was (obviously) talking about speeches. But the same principle applies to any writing… including your non-fiction book.
One of the most common questions I get from aspiring business owner authors is, “How long should my book be?”
It’s a good question. When we set out to do something as monumental as writing a book, we cast around frantically in search of a playbook or fool-proof formula to tell us exactly what to do.
Size seems like as good a place as any to start… but, when it comes to your non-fiction book for your business, size is not terribly important. It really is what you do with it.
Before I dig into the cheese of this subject, I want to make one thing clear: I’m talking about self-publishing your business book here, not traditional publishers. And I’m talking about non-fiction, not fiction.
Fiction has its own rules, and if you’re a brand new, unknown author, it’s probably a good idea to follow them. Likewise, if you’re looking to get published by a traditional publisher, it’s a good idea to follow their guidelines.
I’m assuming you’re writing a non-fiction book to help you grow your business and boost your credibility.
If that’s the case, read on. Because I don’t want you to make the common mistake many authors make, and stuff your book full of fluff.
You Don’t Need Padding
One of the most common mistakes authors make when they’re writing their business masterpiece is to think it needs to be a big, thick, weighty tome.
Writing a book and putting yourself out there is scary. We all suffer from imposter syndrome to some extent — which can lead to overcompensation in the publishing department. We cover our fear with a giant manuscript.
But I have news for you: your worth as an expert does not depend on the size of your book. It depends on your message.
Fear leads to waffle. Waffle leads to padding. And padding leads to the dark side.
Just look at some of the reviews of business books on Amazon, and you’ll see what I mean. Take a look at some of the low-star reviews, and you’ll likely find some of them complain that the writer could have covered the subject perfectly well in half the number of pages.
They’ll complain about repetition, padding, and overblown writing.
And that comes from either not knowing your subject well enough to write about it in fascinating detail, or feeling worried that unless you have a big book, you won’t be taken seriously.
The truth is, if you have just the right amount of junk in your trunk, you don’t need any padding.
Your message will speak for itself.
A Few Practicalities
You may want to keep practicality in mind, though. If your book is less than 100 pages long, your printer may have trouble printing your title and name on the spine.
That’s somewhere between 35,000 and 40,000 words.
The average non-fiction book (if such an animal exists) is around 50,000 words.
But do not let that dictate your writing.
If your book is less than 100 pages, it’s not the end of the world! You can always print it without any spine printing.
Or you can release it as an ebook edition only.
If your book comes out short, but it’s brilliant — so be it. Don’t pad it to create extra pages.
Instead — here’s an idea — if you really need to add more pages, consider what value you could add in the appendices. Can you include examples of what you talk about? Frameworks? Exercises for readers to do so they can put what you’re talking about into action?
Would your book benefit from a glossary? Or an index?
There are plenty of ways of adding bulk to a book without destroying your message.
Don’t Be Boring
The most important rule of writing is this: don’t be boring.
If you write with that in mind, rather than how long your book should be, your book will be better for it.
Writing to a specific word-count is stressful and unhelpful, and what you’ll get is repetitive fluff and boring waffle.
If your book is boring, it’ll undermine your credibility, and the waffle will make you seem unconfident.
And, of course, boring books are ineffective. They don’t work! How can you hope to help anyone with your book if they don’t read it all?
Or, worse, if it’s filled with so much fluff and unnecessary content it’s confusing.
So let’s make sure that doesn’t happen.
The Lint Trap
You know how you need to empty the lint trap in tumble dryers now and then?
Well, you need to do the same thing with your book when you’ve written the outline.
Start with your Big Idea. What’s the message you want to get across to your reader?
What’s the purpose of your book? What do you want your reader to get out of it?
And who is your ideal reader — who are you writing for?
Keep all those things in mind as you write, because it’ll help to keep your book lean.
When you’ve written your outline, take a good hard look at it. Where’s the lint? Have you included anything that doesn’t directly relate to your Big Idea or the purpose of your book?
If you have, it’s lint. Take it out, or it’ll clog your book.
Cut everything that doesn’t directly relate to your main message and the purpose of your book. You don’t need it and it will only confuse your reader.
Then, when you’ve written your first draft, edit it ruthlessly: kill your darlings.
Ask For Feedback
And after you’ve done that, give it to as many beta-readers as you can and ask them to tell you what they think.
Do they think there’s too much information? Not enough?
Is it confusing?
Is it boring?
Hard questions to ask, and harder answers to hear, to be sure; but at the end, you’ll end up with a book that’s exactly the right length, that people want to read.
Remember, there is no right or wrong length for your non-fiction book. The most important thing is: is it interesting, useful, valuable, and entertaining? If it is, you’re all good.
If it’s boring, you’re stuffed.
So for the love of all that is holy: don’t be boring. Have confidence in your Big Idea, have faith in your abilities, and dare to write a shorter book if that’s all your message needs.
Now go forth and write with moxie!