What happens if you finish your manuscript and your book is either way too long or way too short?
First of all, what even counts as too long or too short?
If you’re writing “for your heart or your art,” it really doesn’t matter. You do you. But if you’re writing your book with hopes of big sales it is important that your book fit the conventions.
Here is a list of recommended word counts based on genre:
Word Count Cheat Sheet
- How-to/Self-help/Spirituality: 50,000-70,000
- Memoir: 60,000-80,000
- General Fiction: 75,000-100,000
- Genre fiction (Romance/Science Fiction/Crime): 100,000 words-ish
- New Adult (YA Fiction): 50,000-70,000
- Children’s books: 800-2,000 (more about children’s book word count)
It bears mentioning that these word counts are averages. And I often recommend that first-time authors—especially those who are planning to self-publish—aim for the shorter side of the average.
A 150,000-word memoir… too long. A 10,000-word personal growth book… too short. What’s a writer to do?
If your book is too long:
This commonly happens because you weren’t clear on the trajectory or intention of your book.
Maybe you wrote without an outline or included sections that are not 100% relevant.
The best thing to do at this point is to make a retroactive outline, based on the manuscript you wrote. Then evaluate to look for excess.
Are there parts that you could rewrite in a more concise way? We’re reminded of the quote often attributed to Mark Twain: If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter. It’s harder to get your point across in fewer words, but an important exercise for the loquacious author.
It’s also so possible that your book should actually be two books!
If you’re struggling to see what you can cut out or condense, an outside perspective can be invaluable. Get feedback from a writer friend or work with an editor to gain clarity and direction.
If your book is too short:
The first thing to do is to figure out: is this actually a book?
Do you have enough to say on the topic to reach the recommended length?
There’s absolutely no shame if not! You can use what you wrote to create dozens of blog posts, YouTube videos, short stories, or maybe a course. Our founder, Kelly Notaras, recommends that you consider repurposing anything less than 35,000 words.
It’s also possible that you need to elaborate more on your ideas. We’ve seen authors write a short book with only the basics included when a little extra context could have gone a long way.
Look for ways to add stories that illustrate your points instead of only giving step-by-step instructions.
For your book to find fresh readers who don’t know you, it needs to be both:
- Short enough that readers are not scared to make the time commitment to read it.
- Long enough that your book is worth the money.
We hope this helps you write and edit your book!