One of the things I love about Twitter is how often I get asked questions by people who are beavering away on their business book. It’s brilliant when I can help them, even if it’s only in 140 characters.
Something I get asked a lot is, ‘how long should my book be?’ At first I was surprised this was so much on authors’ minds, but I shouldn’t have been. We all need to have a sense of the size of the finished project when we start something, don’t we?
Now I’m no expert when it comes to novels, poems or short stories: business is my game. But I can give you a steer when it comes to the length of business books.
The easy (and most correct) answer is, of course, that your book should be as long as it needs to be. There’s no point padding out what could be a concise and punchy guide just for the sake of making it more wordy. Equally, if you’ve got a huge amount to pack in, then your book could expand to fit.
The beauty of business book writing – especially since the growth of e-readers and self-publishing – is that it’s a relatively new field. The rules are continually evolving, so there’s no need for you to feel constrained by some unwritten law that says your book needs to be of a certain length. If there’s a business book you admire, why not count the pages, tot up the words on an average page, and see how long it is in total? That will give you a good guide if you want to emulate it.
Having said all that, there are a number of conventions regarding word count. It’s wise to be aware of these, as your book’s length will be one of the many things potential readers will take into account when they decide whether or not to buy. Of course, when books are bought online or downloaded onto Kindle this is less of an issue, but in some ways that makes it even more important to be aware of your readers’ expectations so they’re not taken by surprise when they actually start to read your book.
So what are these conventions?
The standard business book length
This is around 50-60,000 words – although there are some who would say it should be more (and a few that it should be less).
There is a trend, however, for business books to be shorter. Time-pressed business owners would often rather choose a book they can read on a long flight, than spend hours reading in their own time. This means a 30-40,000 word business book is becoming more acceptable.
Books written for Kindle
If you’re not planning on printing your book, but only making it available for e-readers, then your book can be shorter still. On a device, books are a bit easier to read when they’re less lengthy as you can’t ‘see’ the whole book in the same way you do when you’re reading a printed book.
If this is your plan, then it needs to be part of your wider strategy for your book. You’ll want to be thinking about who your book is for and how it’s going to be bought and read, as well as the business results you want to get from it.
My own e-book, The Business Book Outline Builder, is a great example of this kind of book.
Some e-books are published and ‘sold’ for free on Amazon, in order to encourage readers to visit the author’s website. Once they’ve done this, they’ll be encouraged to sign up to the author’s email database and/or buy one of their full priced books (or online services). This can be a great marketing strategy.
These books are usually around 7-10,000 words. They’re not intended to be competing at the same level as full length books, and they usually focus on one relatively narrow topic. You can see that one of these books would have a very different aim, and be written in a different way, than a ‘normal’ business book.
The size of the topic
This has a big impact on the length of your book. If you want to write about a relatively narrow topic, such as social media advertising for example, your book can be relatively short. It may be an e-book only (not printed) and designed as a reference tool for busy business people.
An example of a book which started small and went way bigger, is Write. Publish. Repeat.: The No-Luck Guide to Self-Publishing Success. The authors originally planned it to be 50,000 words, then went to 60,000 and eventually ended up at 80,000 words. This is long for a ‘how to’ business book, but in this particular case the length was justified – the authors covered their topic from every possible angle. Many topics wouldn’t warrant this kind of detail (or you may feel the scope should be narrower for your specific readership), and that’s fine.
Much of what you put in, you’ll take out
While you’re writing your book it can be easy to get fixated by how many words you’re bashing out, and that’s great if it motivates you to keep going. But it’s also worth bearing in mind that – sad to say – a good editing process will take out many of the words you worked so hard to put in. Most of us write down our thoughts in a fairly roundabout way in our first drafts, and even repeat ourselves without realising it. Our words are always clearer and more persuasive for being pruned in the final edit.
So whatever length you start with, be prepared for your book to be shorter by the end. It’ll be much the better for it.
Finally, I’ve talked in word counts here rather than pages, as the number of pages is influenced by diagrams, layout, font size and so on. And obviously for an e-reader it doesn’t make much sense to talk about page numbers in any case. But if it helps, you can assume that a printed book has around 250-300 words on a page.
I hope you’re feeling clearer on your book length now. There are no iron-clad rules, just some simple guidelines, of which you can make what you will. The most important thing is to write about the right topic, to the right audience, in the right amount of detail for them to take the action you want.