When you first start working with books, you realise that everyone talks in word count – editors, publishers, layout people. At first that feels bizarre, like measuring tree-size in leaves. Surely pages is a better measurement? When you discover how much page count changes with minor tweaks to font, line spacing, and margins, though, you realise why. Book lengths vary, but they’re all measured in word count – so that’s where we start.
Get a feel for word count
Look at the novels on your book shelf. Most of them will range from 80,000 words (a slimmer novel) to 120,000 (a thicker one). Really big novels will be 200,000+ but they’re the exception – and usually sci-fi or fantasy. A very slim book, like The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, is about 45,000 words.
A few smaller examples will help you make sense of that. A standard A4 page on your computer (Times New Roman or Cambria, single-line spacing) is about 600 words. Blog posts are typically 250-600 words. If you want to check your own blog post lengths and your blog’s total word count, you can download your blog as a PDF book and do a word count. (If your version of Adobe doesn’t give you that option, cut and paste the whole PDF into Word and then go to Tools > Word count for the old Word or Review > Word count for the new Word. You can check the whole document or select a section to word-count just that chunk.) This blog post is 610 words.
How long should your book be?
For a self-help or coaching book, I’d recommend anything between 30,000 and 80,000 words. I’d advise aiming for at least 40,000 though: less than that doesn’t give you much room for a substantial amount of content. Two helpful rules of thumb: if the book will have lots of space for workbook activities and images, aim for 40,000 – 60,000 (67-100 computer pages); if it’s text-only, case studies and descriptions, go for 60,000 or above (100 computer pages +).
That said, never pad out your book to get more word count. More content, good; more words for their own sake, bad. If your book is short but you want it to feel substantial in your reader’s hand, that’s easily done. Chat to your layout person. Switching font makes a huge difference: changing from Eras Light to Lucida Sans can add a third more pages to the finished book. Extra line-spacing and more generous margins will also whack up your page count – plus they’ll give the book a more luxury feel.
How long should your chapters be?
Aim for between 2000 and 5000 words for each chapter. Less than 2000 is getting very short; much more than 5000 will strain the reader’s concentration. If you’re typing in Word (A4, Times New Roman / Cambria, single-line spacing), that’s about 3.5 to 8 pages per chapter. Your chapters will vary in length: that’s fine and normal. Never think you should cut down more substantial chapters or pad out shorter ones to get them all the same length.
Start word-counting! It will make sense…
I’ve translated word counts into computer pages in this article – provided the computer pages are A4, Times New Roman / Cambria, single-line spacing, with standard margins! That’s why we use word count: change any of those, and the number of words on a page varies wildly. Everyone you deal with as you move through the book will think and talk in word count, so start word-counting your writing now and it’ll feel increasingly normal. You’re in Rome: it’s time to do as the Romans do!