How Long Should Your Ebook Be?
If you’re thinking about publishing your first ebook you’re almost certainly asking yourself how long it should be.
It’s actually a really good question. Without a history of publishing ebooks you don’t really know what your particular audience prefers. The right length for an ebook can feel like a bit of a guess if you don’t yet have ebook sales and audience feedback to guide you.
You can research how long other ebooks tend to be. But even within the same genre you’ll find they vary enormously. What makes one length more suitable than another?
And if you read articles on this topic the consensus seems to be ‘it depends.’ As unhelpful answers go, this is right up there with the average length of a piece of string.
We’ll try to be a bit more helpful.
So, how long should an ebook be? It depends on the goal
The first thing to consider is your objective. Are you aiming to build an audience? If so, it might be that a short ebook of 5000 words or less with a modest price could fit the bill.
Maybe go shorter still and offer it for free as a lead magnet to encourage people to sample your work and sign up to your email list?
If you want the ebook to ‘pay its way’ by giving you a financial return there are three main factors to consider:
- How many words do you need to say what you want to say?
- How many words will your audience be happy to read?
- What do they expect to pay based on the length of your ebook?
Hopefully there’s a sweet spot where all of these converge.
Average ebook length
There are a few rules of thumb that might be helpful.
Books for young children might only be a few hundred words long. The chances are that you’ll be relying on pictures to tell the story.
The right (or typical) length for an ebook in the self-help or ‘how to’ guide category is about 40,000 to 50,000 words. That’s the equivalent of 150-200 pages of a standard printed book.
A novel aimed at adults is typically about 100,000 words. But there are some great novels that are much shorter or longer than average (The Great Gatsby is around 47,000 words long).
The upper end of the ebook length table tends to be filled by academic textbooks, particularly in areas like law.
In general, longer ebooks have a higher asking price. But quality and value to the reader also matter. If you have a lot to say, breaking it down into a series of shorter ebooks might be better for your audience. You might even earn more revenue overall and get to market sooner.
You might not immediately think of serialization if you’re a fiction writer, but remember that nearly all of Dickens’s novels were originally published in serial form through magazines and periodicals.
Have a plan
The length of your ebook will start to make more sense when you have a plan. Devise a structure with logical chapter headings that put the story or information into a sensible sequence.
Next, summarize the content of each chapter. You’ll start to get a picture of the ‘weight’ of your finished book and perhaps your target price.
Finally ask yourself this: how often have you read an ebook and felt it was a little padded out? That’s the biggest danger with looking at average or expected word counts – writing more words to create something substantial rather than adding value to your readers.
Maybe that’s the best advice of all. The ideal ebook length is however many words it needs to tell your story, keep your readers gripped, and earn you a fair return for your efforts.