Over time, a misconception seems to have arisen that the word count for any book should be 80,000 words. This assumed word count most likely came from the traditional publishing world, and largely related to novels. But the ideal word count for a nonfiction book is different to that of a novel.
In the modern world of self-publishing and e-books, this word count often isn’t suitable or helpful for readers. Especially in self-published non-fiction, modern readers often expect or would benefit from shorter, sharper books.
However, as a result of this misconception, many of the authors I work with as a book editor end up overstating the point, waffling, or padding out the book with irrelevant information to reach this magic word count. So how long should your nonfiction book be? Here, I’ll give you some top tips on word count for nonfiction books.
1. Forget 80,000 words
First, forget that 80k word count you’ve heard about and start focusing on what’s appropriate for your book, topic, and audience instead. When you get this 80k idea out of your head, you’ll be freed up to find the right word count for your book.
2. Traditional publishing or self-publishing?
One of the major influencers on word count is whether you opt for traditional or self-publishing. Traditional publishers often have submission word count requirements, and some people estimate at least 75,000 words for nonfiction. However, this really depends on the publisher and the book. The last time you went into Waterstones, was every book at least 75k? Clearly not.
If you’re self-publishing, the options are much broader. You make the choices, not the publisher, so the word count for self-published nonfiction books massively varies. If you’re not sure which type of publishing to go for, check out my article.
3. Think word count, not page count
Some authors focus on their page count in Word as they write, for example, aiming to write 200 pages. However, this page count will increase when the book goes to print, so it’s not an accurate representation. This is because a Microsoft Word page contains more words than a physical book or e-book page. The final page count of your book will depend on the size of physical book you choose or the e-book format, so it’s difficult to calculate this way. Instead, focus on the word count of the book, which you’ll find in the bottom left corner in Word.
4. Think size
Look at the books on your shelf and consider whether you want a pocket-sized book, a standard-sized nonfiction book, a larger nonfiction book, or a large book. This will begin to determine your word count, as the number of words per page reduces as the size reduces. For example:
- If you want a pocket book, your word count can’t be too long or your book will be too thick.
- If you want a large book, your word count will need to be longer or the book will be too thin.
Some general word counts per size are:
- Pocket: 20,000 – 30,000 words
- Standard: 30,000 – 60,000 words
- Larger: 45,000 – 90,000 words
Alternatively, you might not be producing a physical book and may be writing an e-book instead. If this is the case, check out the average page sizes on Kindle and other e-book platforms.
5. Consider the genre
There are some industry standards for genres, such as:
- Pocket books: Personal, spiritual, self-reflection, life coaching, wisdom/quotes, quick guides.
- Standard size: Business, politics, self-help, history, philosophy, science, psychology, etc.
- Larger books: Art, photography, travel, visual guides.
However, it’s important to remember that not every book in every genre will fit these standards, particularly when they are pitched at different knowledge levels…
6. Consider the knowledge level
A large influencer on word count is the knowledge level of the book. For example, a beginner’s guide to psychology might be 20,000 words while an advanced-level psychology book may be 120,000. Very few beginners will want to read an entry-level book that’s 80,000 words or longer, while you may struggle to explain advanced concepts using less than 25,000 words, for example.
7. Match your audience’s needs
So, despite the industry standards, the most important part of deciding your word count is considering what your audience needs. For example, if you’re writing a self-help book for readers who are struggling to make positive changes in their life, then writing a 70,000-word book really isn’t ideal. Is your reader going to battle through 70k words when they’re struggling with their life? Probably not. They need to feel that overcoming their problems is manageable – and a shorter word count makes this feel more achievable.
8. Don’t waffle!
I can’t emphasise enough that waffling to meet a particular word count is not the way to go. Write as much as the subject and audience requires. How many times have you read a book where you felt it could have been more succinct and got to the point quicker? Don’t be that writer.
Don’t pad out the book with irrelevant information or waffle just to reach a certain word count. Don’t repeat yourself or overstate the point. Don’t tell the reader your life story unless it’s your memoir. While it may be tempting to do these things, your readers will won’t find it helpful, and they’ll either give up on the book or leave you a poor review.
There’s millions of books out there, so don’t waste your readers’ time on information that doesn’t need to be there.
In summary, the most important factor in deciding your word count is delivering what your audience needs and what will best help them.
If you’re writing a book or considering writing a book and you need guidance, feel free to get in touch…