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The Complete Guide to Nonfiction Book Word Counts

Table of Contents

As you’re in the process of writing your book, but as you’re compiling ideas, stories, and research, it’s natural to ask…

Does word count really matter?

And if it does, what’s the ideal word count for your book?

The short answer is: yes, word count does matter. 

While there are always exceptions to the rule, the nonfiction categories have a general standard when it comes to word count. Knowing this can make a significant difference in your success.

It ensures that you strike the right balance to deliver enough content to satisfy your readers while staying within the expectations of the category.

I’ll break down the average word count for each category, providing you with a word-count guidebook to navigate your writing.

Ready? Let’s dive in.

Why Your Book Word Count Matters

Regardless of your publishing path, knowing how many words your book needs is a piece of the puzzle you don’t want to overlook.

Think of it this way: readers, agents, and publishers have certain expectations of the length of a nonfiction book. If you meet these expectations, you’re more likely to capture their attention.

Word count acts as a guide to ensure that your book fits comfortably within its category. 

For instance, readers who pick up a self-help book want to learn, take action, and change their lives. They don’t want to get bored with lengthy, unnecessary details.

On the flip side, biographies require ample space to delve into the captivating life of their subject. Readers of biographies expect a comprehensive exploration of the individual’s experiences, achievements, and challenges.

If you understand standard word counts for different genres, it shows that you’ve done your homework for the readers, agents, and publishers.

So, my advice to you is this: don’t underestimate the power of word count.

Embrace it as a tool to provide an engaging experience for your readers.

How Many Words Should Your Nonfiction Book Have?

Average word count in self-help books

Self-help books have become popular as readers seek guidance and inspiration to enhance their personal lives.

In this category, the average word count falls within the range of 40,000 to 60,000 words. 

This range allows authors to delve into the subject matter, provide in-depth advice, and offer practical steps for personal growth.

It’s crucial to strike a balance between thoroughness and conciseness to keep readers engaged throughout the book.

Self-help books should provide actionable insights while respecting the readers’ time and attention.

Average word count in business books

Business books cater to a wide audience, including entrepreneurs, professionals, and those interested in the business world.

In this genre, the average word count typically ranges from 50,000 to 70,000 words. 

This range allows authors to explore various business concepts, share case studies, and provide actionable strategies.

Consider the complexity of the subject matter and the intended audience. Some business books require a higher word count to dive deeper into intricate theories, while others may benefit from a more concise approach.

Average word count in biographies

Biographies offer readers a glimpse into the lives of remarkable individuals who have left their mark on the world.

The average word count tends to be higher, typically ranging from 70,000 to 100,000 words or more. 

This extended word count allows authors to provide a comprehensive account of the subject’s life, including their background, achievements, and personal experiences.

Biographies require extensive research and careful storytelling to capture the story and impact, so it’s important to provide details to engage readers and avoid overwhelming them with excessive information.

Average word count in “big idea” books

“Big Idea” books are known for presenting groundbreaking concepts and thought-provoking theories.

In this category, the average word count can vary widely, but it typically ranges from 50,000 to 80,000 words. The word count requirement depends on the complexity of the ideas and the depth of analysis required to support them.

Authors of “big idea” books need to provide compelling arguments, present supporting evidence, and engage readers with unique perspectives.

It’s important to find the right balance between exploring the idea thoroughly and keeping the book accessible to a broader audience.

Average word count in history books

The average word count for history books falls between 80,000 and 120,000 words. This extended word count allows authors to provide a detailed account of historical events, analyze their significance, and offer contextual insights.

History books often require extensive research, careful documentation, and the ability to present complex information in an engaging way.

While the word count range provides flexibility, authors should consider the specific topic, depth of research, and narrative style to determine the appropriate length for their history book.

Keep in mind that these averages serve as general guidelines, and there can be exceptions within each category.

Subgenres, target audiences, and the subject matter can influence the ideal word count for a nonfiction book. Conducting thorough research and studying successful books in your chosen category can help you gauge reader expectations and industry standards.

While word count for books is important, the quality of your content and its ability to engage and educate readers should always be your top priority.

So, use these word count ranges only as a reference for your nonfiction book.

What if my book is too long or too short for these guidelines?

If it’s just barely above or below, don’t worry about it. But if you need help adding a lot more to your book, you can use the outline below to help you think of more ideas for useful sections to add. Think about what stories you could add that would bring clarity.

If you need to remove words, get serious about keeping only the best parts. Delete things you like to make room for the things you love.

How to Outline Your Book Using My Bestseller Framework

1. Define your goals

Sounds simple, but don’t skip this part.

Before you begin outlining, take a moment to define your goals for the book.

Ask yourself: What do you want your readers to leave with? How do you want this book to impact your readers and your career?

Understanding your objectives will help you shape your content. 

Defining your goals also helps you assess the success of your book once it’s published. You can measure the impact it has on your readers and track the progress it brings to your career.

Remember: your goals are not set in stone. They can evolve and refine as you progress in your writing journey. 

But by establishing them early on, you set a clear intention for your book and ensure that every paragraph aligns with your objectives.

Take the time to reflect on what you truly want to accomplish with your book.

2. Gather your ideas (brainstorming and research)

Now it’s time to let your creativity flow.

Engage in brainstorming sessions and conduct thorough research to gather all your ideas. Don’t worry about filtering or organizing them just yet.

The goal at this stage is to get everything out on paper.

Jot down every concept, story, argument, or example that comes to mind.

This isn’t a time for deleting. You can tell yourself something should be deleted later.

Immerse yourself in research, scour books, articles, and online resources relevant to your topic. Take notes, highlight important points, and bookmark valuable sources.

Brainstorming and research go hand in hand. As you gather information, new ideas will spark and connections will begin to form. One concept leads to another, and before you know it, you have a rich pool of ideas to draw from.

Embrace the freedom to explore different angles and possibilities.

3. Develop your table of contents

With your ideas gathered, you can create a preliminary Table of Contents.

What’s so important about a Table of Contents? It’s the place where you create the “flow” of your book. It’s where you start laying out which introductory ideas need to be understood before you introduce your more complex ones.

Imagine if you had to construct a Table of Contents right now. Take your most significant ideas and assign them as placeholder “chapters” or sections.

This initial organization will provide you with a solid structure to work with. 

As you arrange your ideas, consider adding brief descriptions or notes. These reminders will help you during the writing process and ensure that you cover all the essential points.

4. Create chapter takeaways

Delve deeper into each chapter’s purpose.

Think about key points from each chapter and how it contributes to the overall narrative. Consider the impact on your readers’ lives and how you want to transform them through your words.

Use these takeaways to add to your overall thesis, solidify each chapter, and keep your readers engaged.

This might be telling a story—or even part of a story that you’ll finish in a later chapter.

5. Expand your chapters

As you outline your book, think about what content you need to include for readers to understand your message from each chapter.

Consider the stories you want to tell and the supporting points that reinforce your main ideas. At this stage, you can explore different outlining methods.

One effective technique is breaking down scenes and reorganizing them if necessary.

Don’t be discouraged if you need to adjust the order of your ideas—it’s all part of the process.

Focus on creating a seamless plot progression to provide readers with the necessary information and insights.

Look for ways to create curiosity or excitement in your story and layer those into your outline. Think about how you can keep readers hooked in each chapter.

You can incorporate what I call an “open loop.” An open loop introduces a story, opinion, or concept that piques readers’ curiosity and then defers its resolution until the end of the chapter.

For instance, you can create an open loop in nonfiction by telling a captivating story and leaving it on a cliffhanger. Then, use that cliffhanger as a metaphor or teaching point to close the chapter.

6. Review and refine your outline until it feels complete

Once you have your outline, take your time to review and refine it.

During the review process, look for redundant or unnecessary information. Trim away any excess that detracts from the main points of each chapter, and determine which lines are the most impactful and evoke the desired emotions from your readers.

Readers appreciate clarity and brevity, so eliminate any content that doesn’t contribute to the message. Make every word fight for its place.

You want a book without “fluff.” Otherwise, your reader will get bored — and boredom is the cardinal sin of any book.

So, review your outline meticulously. Craft each section to flow seamlessly and leave a mark on your readers’ hearts and minds.

7. Get feedback

The final step in creating a solid book outline is to seek feedback from trusted peers or writing partners.

Or even better, get a set of beta readers that mirrors your target audience.

Share your outline with them and carefully consider their opinions.

They represent your potential readers and can provide valuable insights for your book. Take their suggestions into account and make necessary adjustments to strengthen your outline.

Start your Book-Writing Journey Right!

Understanding the appropriate word count for your book’s category is crucial.

While there are exceptions to every rule, adhering to industry standards helps you meet readers’ (and publishers’) expectations.

Your goal as an author is to provide readers with valuable insights, knowledge, and experiences. A well-crafted book with an appropriate word count demonstrates professionalism and dedication to your craft.

It shows that you have taken the time to research your genre, understand your readers’ needs, and deliver a book that fulfills their expectations.

And if you’re ready to dive deeper into the world of publishing, you can check out my book “Publish. Promote. Profit.” 

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