The question I get most often in the publishing world is surprisingly not “How much should I charge for my book?” or “What royalty will I make?” or “What cover will most appeal to my audience?” What authors ask me about most is their books’ length. How long should their chapters be? How many chapters should they have? How many pages should their book be?
The challenge with these questions is they don't have simple answers. There are guidelines and ranges for certain genres, but there is no exact page count or chapter length your book should have or must have to succeed.
Instead of considering page count, however, what is really important is the word count. This is how you will know whether you are on the right track as you are writing. Most standard size books have an average word count of 300 words per page. With that in mind, here are some average lengths of four major genres.
Historical nonfiction books and biographies tend to be longer than other nonfiction books. These books will be somewhere in the range of 200 to 800 pages or more—quite a large range. A lot of that depends on the size of the book and the subject matter. Often, biographies will be in the 300- to a 600-page range, while books on historical periods are smaller, depending on the length of time they cover.
What does that mean for you as a writer? You will want your biography to be somewhere around 90,000 to 180,000 words, and your history of a time period to be around 70,000 to 90,000 words, depending on the time period covered. These types of books also tend to have longer chapters anywhere from 8,000 words up to 15,000 or 20,000 words.
Memoirs tend to be much shorter than biographies because they usually cover a specific time in someone’s life, or a specific theme throughout their life. These books are usually around 200 to 300 pages. Some are even shorter. To stay within this page range, the manuscript should be approximately 60,000 to 90,000 words. The chapter length will vary. Some stories benefit from a smaller vignette style of writing, and others need to have detailed chapters more along the lines of a biography. So, chapters can range from 5,000 words to 8,000.
Personal reflection books tend to be the shortest of these genres. These books are the writer’s view on events, another person’s art, or their own experiences. Business books are a little longer, as they depict how the author has been successful in the business world and the lessons the author has learned. Personal reflection books typically range from 150 to 190 pages, and business books usually sit in the 180 to 250-page range. These books both tend to have shorter chapters than history or biographies but are around the same length as that of memoirs. They should be somewhere around 40,000 to 70,000 words.
Fiction can be the trickiest of all the genres to model word count after. Some novels are massive, like War and Peace, while others are short and simple, like The Alchemist. For fiction books, the best thing to do is to write until you are finished, and then get the advice of an editor on how to structure your chapters, what is missing, and what needs to be removed. You can also work with a developmental editor to help you plan what content is and is not needed.
Most importantly, don't worry about word count while you are writing your rough draft. Get everything you need to say onto the page, then work with an editor in your specific genre to help you get everything right. Just make sure you have enough words to start with.
If you are working on a manuscript and would like to speak to an editor about your content, structure, or style, fill out our Get Started form. We’ll partner you with an editor who specializes in your genre and who can help you tackle difficult areas.