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How long does your book need to be? Is there a specific word count or number of pages required for it to be considered a book or to be able to sell it? I cover that very question in this week’s episode.
According to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, the definition of a novel is anything over 40,000 words. They further break down a short story (less than 7,500 words), novelette (7,500-17,500 words) and novella (17,500-40,000 words) to describe their Nebula Award categories.
If you were to participate in National Novel Writing Month, then you are expected to write at least 50,000 words in order to have a book.
For Kindle, you would technically have a book with 1 word, but you should assume that your book should have at least 2,500 words in order to stay listed. If a customer complains about your book or gives it a bad review and it is less than 2,500 words than Amazon is more likely to just take it down. Obviously, if you are writing an illustrated children’s book, the minimum word count is less important.
My suggestion would be to aim for at least 10,000 to 20,000 words, and then to extend past that point as you need to in order to convey the information and value that you have to offer. Without a good reason, for a non-fiction book I would try to keep your book less than 75,000 words because people just don’t have time to sit and read for long stretches of time and your readers are less likely to finish your book the longer it gets.
So how many pages is that if you were to print your book? A 20,000 word book is probably going to be about 40 pages (by default) in Microsoft Word with an 8.5×11 page, which would be about 75 pages when it was formatted for print.
If you are printing with CreateSpace, then you will need to print a minimum of 24 pages in order for your book to be bound. For color books, you can print up to 40 pages before you have to pay an additional 14 cents per 2 pages (1 page front and back), which can get expensive fast for anything longer than 40 pages. For black and white books, you can print up to 108 pages before the cost is an additional 2 cents per 2 pages.
If your book is over 110 pages, it is probably worth trying to add a little bit to get to 130 pages, because then your book will be thick enough to include printing on the spine. If it is shorter than that, then it isn’t worth padding the book to get that small benefit.
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Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Modern Publishing Podcast. I’m your host, Blaine Moore. Today I would like to talk about a question that I get asked relatively frequently, which is, how long should my book be?
There are a few different answers to that, but the best answer is it should be as long as it needs to be and then no longer. I mean, it doesn’t really matter these days exactly how long your book is, depending on how you want to sell it and what your purpose is, it’s going to vastly change what the actual number of words or the number of pages that your book is going to be.
If you are going the traditional publishing route, then your book is probably going to be a little bit longer than it might be if you are going to self publish, and a lot of that is because in traditional publishing, especially with the big 6, what they’re selling is paper, and they’re not selling the actual words in what you’re writing. What they care about is how much paper there and how much they can charge for any specific book.
But if you are writing a book that you are going to be selling as a Kindle e-book or on Kobo as an EPUB file or self publishing it using print-on-demand services such as CreateSpace. You can make the book pretty much any length that you want within certain limits.
Now, to start with, what is the definition of a book? It depends on who you’re going to, for how long a book is before it’s actually considered a book.
For example, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America has specific word lengths that they use for the different categories for their Nebula Awards, which would be under 7,500 words would be a short story, 7,500 to 17,500 words would be a novelette, and then 17,500 up to 40,000 words is a novella. Anything longer than that counts as a novel.
If you look at the National Novel Writing Month, the specification for a book is that it’s at least 50,000 words, and the idea there is that you’re going to write enough during the month of November to have a 50,000-plus word manuscript at the end of the month.
Now, if you talk to some people, they might not consider something a novel until you’re in the 80,000 or 100,000 or 150,000 range. Although most people probably won’t argue once you’re around that 40,000 to 50,000 range that you’ve definitely got a book on your hands.
Now, what does that actually translate into? Well, if you have an 800- to a 1,000-page book, that could be somewhere in the 175,000- or 200,000-word range, but there are some books out there that are a small, digest-sized and they’ll only be in that 40,000 or 50,000 or 60,000 or 80,000 words, and they’ll have everything that they need. If it’s fiction, it will have a complete story arc. If it’s nonfiction, it will solve the specific problem that it sets out to, and that will be what you need in order to have your book available.
Now, if you’re looking on the different e-book marketplaces, it’s actually not uncommon to find books that are a lot shorter. It’s becoming pretty common to find some books that are only somewhere in the 10,000- to 20,000- to 30,000-word range, and this isn’t actually a problem because what’s happening is that people are writing just what they need to and now that there is a cost-effective of getting those words out to people, it’s much easier for them to write a shorter story and still sell it as a book and have people happy with their purchase. They’re not having to worry about the actual space that they’re taking up on the shelf or having the name on the spine of the book so that it has a chance of actually being noticed because there is no spine of the book. If you’re selling it electronically, then you can sell a shorter work much easier.
Now, a 10,000- to 30,000-word book, if you were to write that out in Microsoft Word, you’re probably looking at somewhere around 30 to 40 pages if you do it with just the default settings, an 8.5 x 11 sheets of paper, and then once that’s typeset down to 5 x 8 or 5.5 x 8.5 or 6 x 9, then you’re looking somewhere in the 70 to a 120 pages, which is a decent sized book and is probably good enough, especially if you’re a small business owner and you’re writing something to use for prospecting and for your clients and to brand yourself as an expert, that’s all you really need in order to have something that’s actually worthwhile for people.
It gives them some value without having to spend a ton of time in order to read it because these days our attention spans are just getting so short that people don’t have time to sit down for a 100,000- or 150,000- or 200,000-word book. That’s going to span 500 or 600 or 700 pages. Who really cares about that?
What you’re finding now is people just want to learn what they want to learn. They want to sit down and be amused for a specified period of time and they don’t want to have long-term commitments. So it’s a lot easier to actually sell a shorter work now than it is a longer work.
So if you’re going to be actually printing your books, there are a few more requirements. In Kindle, one of the requirements is that basically if it’s less than 2,500 words, then Kindle is going to take a closer look at your book and it may not be accepted into the marketplace.
There were some people that have actually had their books removed because it was less than 2,500 words and it didn’t really provide much in the way of value to the people buying them or getting complaints.
For a while some people thought that was going to be a new policy. Amazon hasn’t actually come out and said that, and you can sell anything that has however many words you want. You could have one word and technically you could sell it, but chances are a lot better that it’s going to actually stay in the marketplace if it’s at least 2,500 words, which is really very short. That’s only five to ten pages.
For print with CreateSpace, which is the most common place for print on demand, you’re looking at needing at least 24 pages printed in order for it to be bound, so that will be your minimum, and 24 pages isn’t very much.
Now, if you’re going with a colored book such as for a children’s book, then up to about 40 pages you’re going to have the same base price which right now in 2014 is $3.65, and then after 40 pages, they’ll add on a little bit more money for every page that they add, and each page would have a front and back so that would be two extra pages, and from there, they actually will cost 14 cents for each additional piece of paper that they add. So 42 pages would be 14 cents more, and 44 pages would cost an extra 28 cents, and so on. So colored books can actually get very expensive very quickly if you’re using print on demand at least at this point in time where there’s no real cost-effective way of doing it.
Now, for a black and white book, you can go up to a 108 pages at the base price which is $2.15, and then every two pages after that, each additional piece of paper is going to cost you an extra 2 cents, so a 110 pages would be $2.17, and then a 112 pages would be $2.19, et cetera.
So for any book that’s 108 pages or less, you’re going to be paying the same base price to have it printed, and then once you get up to about 130 pages is when you can actually start to print on the spine, so I would say if you’re somewhere in the 75- to 80-page range, then just print it as it.
If you are over a 100 pages, it’s probably worth seeing about laying it out in such a way that you can get at least that 130 pages, especially if you are over 110 pages and you’re already paying a little extra per page anyway. Because that way you can put the name of your book and the author name on the spine of the book, and then when it’s on somebody’s shelf, it will be a lot easier for them to spot your book at a later time if they ever want to reference it again.
But other than that, there isn’t really any limits. There are upper limits for how big you can make the books, but for the purposes of the people listening to this, I’m guessing that chances are good that you’re not going to have a work that’s so long that you won’t be able to print it.
I don’t know if this is still the case. I haven’t printed a large book through CreateSpace in quite a while. I have had some experiences in the past where the book’s binding does start to come undone once the books get really long.
Now, all of these have been 500-plus page books that I’ve had problems with, but it’s something that you do want to bear in mind. If you do have a really long book, it may be worth considering breaking that into a couple of smaller, shorter books so that you don’t have this problem, but what will happen is the individual pieces or bits of paper that are bound together about 20 to 30 pages at time, as you’re reading it and the spine is cracking, then some of those can come loose and actually come out of the book, which isn’t a very good experience for whoever is reading your book.
Some of the other print options such as Lightning Source, you don’t have quite the same issues. I haven’t had a lot of experience with longer books printed anywhere else so I can’t speak to that right now, but that is something to bear in mind.
So in general, how long your book is, is going to depend on what you have to say and how long it takes you to say it, and unless you’re in one of those little areas where you just need an extra ten pages or so in order to get the spine, generally speaking, you don’t really need to pad a lot of extra space into your book these days in order to make it marketable, in order to make it useful, or in order to sell it, which was definitely the case before all of these print-on-demand solutions came because it just wouldn’t have been worth anybody’s while to print a book if it wasn’t a minimum length.
If you’re going to be publishing electronically, then you definitely don’t have to worry about how large it is, the larger the book, the more expensive it is, but nobody is going to really pay attention to it other than how much space it takes on their e-readers or on their tablets or phones.
I had a little listing in the product description on the sales page, people don’t really care how big the file is or how many words it is, they just will download it and start reading it, and if it’s interesting to them, they’ll continue reading. If it isn’t, then they’ll just stop and they’ll delete it off of their device.
So I hope that answers anybody who has the question for how long they need to make their book. If you have any other questions that you would like to ask me, the website is now set up, you can submit them right through the contact page. Just go to ModernPublishingPodcast.com.
If you would like the show notes for this particular episode, you can use the shortcut link, mppcast.com/10, or you can go to ModernPublishingPodcast.com/10, and this is Episode 10, that will bring you directly to the show notes where I will have links to anything that I spoke about today and it will include some of the specifications so that if you want to reference them later, it’s easy to find exactly how many pages are available for any specific format.
So until next time, it’s been a pleasure talking to you.
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