by Nomsa Chirisa

How long should a book be?

Every writer experiences some excitement when they conceive an idea to write a book. Many go through mixed emotions, which may include anxiety, joy, fear, and worry. Like a farmer waiting on the seeds to germinate, so is the writing journey. Your readers and the world at large would be eager to read your book and you wouldn’t want to disappoint them.

Arguably, I believe as we write, we have all asked ourselves, “When do I stop?” That’s ok. You have to know when to put your pens down and call it a day before you bore anyone, and you also don’t want to leave people feeling short-changed.

So, how long should a book then be? Back in college when we were given an assignment to work on, the first question we would ask was, “What’s the minimum word count for the write-up?” We were always concerned about the length rather than the depth of the content.

We can never run away from this question; can we? The length of a book is an important factor as you write. In publishing, it is referred to as the extent. Despite the genre, market, nature, or subject, a book has a certain length that it is expected to be. It is what sets it apart from all other forms of publications.

Standard book length

A book’s extent is determined by word count, and not the book size (dimensions and number of pages). There are general rules on writing books, that we cannot get too hung up on, but the standard length of a book is what we will focus on.

Why is it important to know the expected length of a book?

Determining the length of a book helps you to accomplish your writing goals by:

  1. knowing what to and what not to write
  2. estimating the selling price
  3. determining the editor’s or publisher’s costs
  4. creating a realistic publishing schedule, and,
  5. it guides the publisher together with her design team in casting off – estimating the total number of sheets required to print the book, enabling them to edit to length such that no pages are left blank on the final copy.

What determines the length of a book?

1. The market

Children’s books have less content in large font, and more illustrations or pictures. Hence the word count will relatively be small, approximating to less than 150 words.

2. Genre/subject

The genre and subject of the content say a lot about the length of a book. For instance, nonfiction books are likely to have pictures or illustrations, and this affects the word count.

3. Type of book

A picture is worth a thousand words and you will realise that picture books have their large proportion covered in pictures and little text. However, it is best to choose your pictures wisely because their detail and size will either supplement or complement the text, affecting the length of your book.

4. Other publications

There are many other forms of publications that should be clearly identified and distinguished from a book. This helps you know if the length you have reached is that of a book or not.

5. Brochure, pamphlet, flyer

These are marketing tools or promotional materials. Their purpose is to advertise and promote products and services, a place, or an activity. Unlike books, a brochure, pamphlet, or a flyer does not contain much information. The maximum length of the content can be up to a thousand words, and that is in extreme cases. So, when you have reached a 1000-word threshold, you may want to ask yourself this; what is the purpose of this piece of writing? Does it educate, inspire, entertain; or it is more of promotional and marketing content? If it is the former, is the length of the content adequate to achieve the effect? This will help you improve on the length required to achieve the objectives of your copy.

6. Booklet

As its name suggests, a booklet is a thin book. It has few pages, and the word count is also small. A booklet is small in size, and unlike a book, it can be as small as the size of a pocket. Booklets are usually of an interesting subject, such as religion. Most religious organisations publish their own booklets which contain stories about their religion and beliefs. Their purpose is to impart knowledge and to draw more people to the religion. The length of booklets varies by subject, but they are more or less the same, approximately a hundred but less than 150 words a page. The total word count does not amount to that of a book, hence it is referred to as a booklet.

7. Handbook

A handbook is a manual of instructions on operating a machine, or a guide of instructions to employees and operators of special equipment and machinery. They are of a specialised field and are written by manufacturers of machines or companies which specialise in complex work. Its length is up to thousands of words, varying with the number of instructions, the complexities of the machine or work, and the extent of the procedures to follow.

Book length by genre

Non-fiction bookBetween 25 000 and 110 000 words
NovelBetween 40 000 and 100 000 words
ThrillerBetween 70 000 and 90 000 words
Science fiction & fantasyBetween 90 000 and 120 000 words
RomanceBetween 50 000 and 100 000 words
Historical fictionNot more than 100 000 words
MemoirsBetween 80 000 and 90 000 words


Your first draft may be as long as you need it to be. You will notice that as you edit, or as your editor goes through the manuscript, the length of your copy will be refined to its expected extent. However, going too much above board for your genre will incur you more editorial costs, but at times, it is safer to add only a few hundred words. It gives room for the editor’s chop off, leaving you with just the right length. Either way, make every word in your book count. The length of your book must create a balance between saying a lot and being lazy to write. You need to invest in your manuscript such that it has the vital mass it needs to make a full book in its genre. Gradually, you will master the art of staying in the right frames of your genre’s length. After all, writers are creative – they know how to write and edit to length, and at reaching that length, you are done! Your book is ready to be published. Best wishes.





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