I get this question a lot, and it’s a valid one—especially since the answer can be divided between traditionally published books and self-published books.
Generally speaking, traditional publishers expect completed nonfiction book manuscripts to be between 50,000 to 75,000 words. Most traditional publishers will place restrictions on an author and require that the manuscript not exceed a specified word count, unless special concessions are made. If your manuscript is on the short side, make this clear when pitching to a publisher and give solid reasons why the book is under 50,000 words. Just know that the publisher might reject your proposal or tell you to call them back when you have a more “substantial” manuscript.
The good news is that self-published authors have a lot more flexibility because you don’t have to worry about hitting quotas for word count. I advise authors to ignore word counts when writing. Just write a really great manuscript! If it ends up being too long, you can scale it back or offer readers bonus downloadable chapters. If it’s short, you can choose to publish it anyway or find ways to beef it up by adding case studies, photos, or interviews.
One of the big advantages of self-publishing is that you can create your own rules. At Authority Publishing, we’ve published manuscripts that were just 20,000 words. And you know what? Some readers actually prefer a shorter book. It’s less intimidating than a book that rivals an encyclopedia. If you pick up a title that is 400 pages or more, you might think twice before reading it.
Bottom line: There is no hard and fast rule for how long your manuscript should be when you self-publish. If you’re concerned about the final page count for your book, you should know that the average 6×9 trade paperback features between 250 to 275 words per page. So if you write a 35,000 word manuscript, your formatted book will likely be around 140 pages.
If you like this blog post, you’ll love our Author Toolkit with templates, worksheets and checklists for writing nonfiction. Check it out!
Hi Stephanie, I’ve written a 107k word non-fiction book about my time in a Japanese jail. After several rounds of query letters, I still haven’t gotten any replies or requests for a sample. Right now, I’m debating sending off another round of queries, but I’m afraid the problem is that it’s just too LONG and they’re rejecting it out of hand. Any suggestions?