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What is a reasonable estimate for the minimum length, in word count, for a non-fiction book? I'd guesstimate that non-fiction books "generally" (yes, this is very rough) run perhaps 150-450 pages, and at about 350 wd/page that works out to something like 50-150k words. (Correct me if I am off here).

However, occasionally very short books are published, such as Harry Frankfurt's On Bullshit, at 67 small pages with very wide margins (about 110 wds/page)...one count I saw was the whole book was only 3,000 words, as it was just a book version of a short essay. (It spent 27 weeks on the NY Times Bestseller list). This is obviously an extreme case.

But what of a book at perhaps 15-20k words? At, e.g., 300 wds/page that could be 50-67 pages. Aside from the Frankfurt book, is there any kind of market for something too long to be an article but too short to be a "normal" 250 pager? Other examples would be helpful. And what else should one know about that market?

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2 Answers 2

The easy answer to this is "it depends". The length of your book should be determined by the content, whether it is a work of fiction or non-fiction. If you have provided all the information that you feel is needed or is relevant, then you are done. The length ultimately doesn't matter.

As far as word count goes, there was another question posted that pertained to that, and the answer I gave for that question should give you a guideline for the different types of books. Even if you don't have enough words to qualify as a "novel", it will ultimately fall into one of the other categorizations.

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Thanks. I am trying to approach this rather pragmatically, with a view to getting published, so I'd prefer to modify the project to fit the needs of publishers--in that regard at least, I feel the length probably does matter. The word counts you gave is helpful, but this is a non-fiction book, and I wonder if there might be a similar list for those? –  Chelonian Sep 16 '11 at 20:59

A non-fiction book attractive to publishers of best-sellers starts at around 75,000 words. Ideal target is probably closer to 100,000. BUT, most non-fiction publishers want to be sold the concept, and therefore be able to discuss the direction of the project, before you write the book.

Know your content, know your mainline pitch (and some possible permutations), create a high-level outline, write a compelling chapter and sell that. Don't worry about word count.

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I think your numbers are on the high side. –  JSBձոգչ Sep 19 '11 at 12:43

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