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The Length of Your Book: The Word Count Rules

As a professional ghostwriter and editor, a significant part of my work involves helping professionals write and publish books that will establish them as thought leaders in their fields. Lawyers, doctors, realtors, CPAs, and business consultants have found that publishing a book can help them reach new markets and attract new clients.

Since self-publishing has become both ubiquitous and affordable, the market for professional books has exploded. Nowadays, if you’re a consultant, having a physical book to give to clients and prospects has become almost mandatory.

“Airplane Books”

Many of my clients ask me to recommend a good length for a professional book. Of course the answer depends quite a bit on what you, the author, have to say, and the complexity of your message. The important thing to remember is that your target reader is probably very busy and does not have a lot of time to read a long and complex self-help book. Businesspeople, especially, want concise information that packs a punch in a short amount of time.

We’re talking about a total reading time of two hours, maximum. That’s no more than 50,000 words. Anything longer requires too much of a commitment.

That’s why I call many of the self-help and business books that I ghostwrite “airplane books.” Why? Because you can put the book in your briefcase or purse, get on the plane in New York, read the book in flight, and by the time you land in Chicago or Atlanta, you’ve read it.

Airplane books do not pretend to tell the reader every possible detail of how they can improve themselves or their business. The goal is to encourage the reader to seek out your services and establish you as an expert in your industry.

Word Counts

Ebooks can be as few as 10,000 words.

Physical nonfiction books such as self-help books can be nearly any length above 25,000 words.

For fiction, a novella is generally between 50,000 and 80,000 words. A full-length novel is 80,000 words or more.

Memoirs generally need to be at least 60,000 words. It’s hard to convey the full impact of a human life in a short book.

For purposes of comparison, here are the word counts of a few well known novels that might be on your bookshelf:

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis – 36,363

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald – 47,094

Slaughterhouse-Five – Kurt Vonnegut – 49,459

The Color Purple – Alice Walker – 66,556

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – JK Rowling – 77,325

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank – 82,762

Song of Solomon – Toni Morrison – 92,400

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain – 109,571

The Return of the King – J. R. R. Tolkien – 134,462

Great Expectations – Charles Dickens – 183,349

Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell – 418,053

War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy – 587,287

The purpose of this list is to show that great books come in all lengths. The most important thing is that you say exactly what you want to say, with no filler.

Another thing to consider is that if you hired a ghostwriter to write a novel the same length as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and the rate was fifteen cents per word, it would cost you $5,454.45. If instead you told your ghostwriter that you wanted your novel to be as long as War and Peace, the bill would come to $88,093.05. That’s a big difference!

When hiring a ghostwriter, it’s imperative to agree on a target word count. It’s measurable and there is no ambiguity.

Manuscript Formats

After the manuscript has been written as a Word document, your book can be prepared and released in various formats: as a traditional paperback or hardback, as a digital ebook, or even as a pdf that your reader downloads. It may be self-published or submitted as a Word document to a literary agent or publisher.

Generally, the fee that you pay to an editor or ghostwriter does not include final formatting for publication. When the job is complete, most ghostwriters will deliver to you a standard letter-sized Word document with one-inch margins. All the internal features, such as chapter headlines and subheads, will be in place. The formatting – that is, the invisible “coding” that tells the computer how to display the text – should be as clean and simple as possible, and conform to the requirements of typical self-publishing platforms such as Amazon Kindle and CreateSpace. Tables on the pages are okay, but illustrations and graphic elements should be added only when the book is being formatted for publication.

If and when you need your document formatted for publication in the format you’ve chosen, this is a separate job with a separate fee. If your ghostwriter provides those services, you can negotiate this.

Remember that your book may be read by many thousands of people. It’s your reputation and your name on the cover. It’s worth it to make sure that every word is perfect.

Thomas Hauck  - ghostwriter, book editor, author
Thomas Hauck, author, ghostwriter, and editor
Posted in Advice on Hiring a Ghostwriter, Business Books, Self-Help Books | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

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