The LAST Word with Louise Harris
Thoughts are powerful. Every book begins with a thought or idea. Every entrepreneur thinks they are the ones to create a better mousetrap or solve a problem. This is true with budding writers. Many people I know tell me they know they have a book inside them, but they don’t know how to begin. The thought of writing a book keeps gnawing at their soul until they finally begin the process. This thought continues to grow until they put their words to paper or computer. I recently wrote about keeping your thoughts organized and making your book flow like a river. I also discussed researching your topic and finding a niche.
This column focuses on a question that I always get. How many words is enough?
While it sounds like a simple question, it really involves a complicated answer. The short answer is that the amount of words in your book depends. It depends on whether it is nonfiction, fiction, electronic, print, genre, etc. Also, you have to keep in mind that people’s attention spans are reduced now. You need to capture the readers immediately and keep them reading. For example, I spoke with a potential author who read me his first few paragraphs. While I could tell he was trying to establish the setting, I told him to skip that and go right to the action. Add the setting in later. People want to get right to the point.
The best way to answer this question of how much do I need is to look at each type specifically. Let’s start with fiction. The general rule of thumb for fiction is 80,000 to 100,000 words. Let’s say you want to write mysteries. Your mystery novel should be closer to 80,000. You might get away with 50,000 for mysteries. If you write science fiction or fantasy, you are safer with 100,000 words because you need to develop worlds that mystery writers don’t have to do. Romance is somewhere in between those extremes.
For nonfiction, it depends on the topic. For example, technical books will be better with fewer words. For investment books or motivating books, you are probably going to need more words. For self-help or healing, go for something in between or closer to the lower number. In general, nonfiction books take 50,000 to 80,000 words.
Those numbers are designed for you to submit your book to traditional publishers. If you choose to use print-on-demand or self-publish, you can get away with half those numbers. Usually, print-on-demand publishers will accept manuscripts that are around 25,000 words. If you choose to self-publish, you can write as many or as few as you like. Just remember that people don’t want to read a long diatribe or War and Peace if you are self-publishing. Another word of caution, avoid vanity presses. These are the companies that charge you to publish your book. Print-on-demand publishers are not vanity presses. Self-publish with companies that charge you only for formatting. For example, IngramSpark charges $50 to put together the book. CreateSpace also only charges for the formatting. Vanity presses will charge you thousands and give you nothing in return. Traditional publishers and print-on-demand usually pay you to accept the manuscript.
Those numbers are designed for printing. If you plan to produce an electronic version only, you don’t have to write that many words.
Often, electronic versions of fiction are the same as print versions. They are just offered in a different format for convenience to readers. Nonfiction is another story. When you want to publish an electronic version to use as a giveaway or marketing tool, you can keep it short. You don’t want more than 10 chapters. If you can say what you want to say in fewer chapters all the better.
It is better to offer a series about your topic than to produce a 30-chapter electronic book. Series sell better too. You can market each book individually with links to the others in the series. You also can give one book with the option to buy the whole set. Create the 30-chapter book for the print edition, but keep the electronic version short.
Most companies that create electronic books to serve as free downloads when they subscribe to a blog or are captured in a customer relation management database, produce e-books that are around 10,000 words. You can use these books as giveaways at trade shows, free downloads as mentioned in the last sentence; enticement to get people to buy the print edition and a way to show your expertise in a field.
Remember your thoughts are powerful. Write the number of words that bring your thoughts to life, but don’t write more than is necessary. Concise writing is always more preferable to ramblings. Good luck.