The perfect length of a book

October 8, 2020 Length: 5 min Back to Posts

Writing is a form of art as much as utility. Whether telling a story or providing education to people, a “book” is something that comes with expectations. One of those expectations is how much content should be in the book. This is an important aspect to writing and something worth thinking about at a deeper level. How many pages, or words, that are in a book seem to be driven by a number of factors:

  1. Cost of the book
  2. Topic being covered
  3. Previous experiences
  4. Never-ending desire to add more content

The cost of the book

Would you pay $20 for a book that is only 40 pages? Trying to balance the amount of content to price is something authors struggle with. For traditional publishers accepting a book, there seems to be a spot hovering over 200 pages for many educational books.

If you write less, it is easy to think that somehow this book must be incomplete and you must keep writing – even if you add more fluff.

I see this added fluff and over explanation frequently in books that deal with studies and ideas. Why does it need to take over 200 pages to communicate an idea. By the 5th example, I think people will have gotten the point. In my opinion, these “single idea” type books should probably be around 100 pages. In the age of the internet, there are plenty of ways to write to direct people to blogs and youtube videos for more information.

What people need is not more examples of the same thing, but variations of the examples if they are not understanding. If people are not understanding something by reading a concept in fluid dynamics, it would probably be good to direct people to a good video explanation with the concepts in motion.

Topic being covered

Many successful books have multiple editions. With each new edition, content is updated and revised. There always seems to be a push to just add more content and revise existing content though – never removing content. An introduction that started as a paragraph is now over a page by the 5th edition. That forward now needs a commentary about the forward by some distinguished leader. I recently started reading “The Intelligent Investor” by Benjamin Graham and it is almost comical the amount of additional text that has been added. I had to read in 40 pages before I found the real author’s writings. It reminds me of those versions of the Bible that take a verse, then have a paragraph long footnote explaining what it means for the lay person.

I am sure when the book was originally written it was meant to be approachable and easily consumed. If I were to ever read a new version of a book, I would almost want it unrecognizable to the first edition in terms of content. This is different than a “first print” which has to do with the limited runs that happen during the printing process. A new edition is usually written when existing content is becoming outdated with new technology or changing times. Or in the Bible’s case needing updated language that people can understand.

Previous experiences

After you read enough books, you start to think the formula is set in stone. You read through a successful book on building a house. It is 600 pages and very comprehensive. It is easy to think books on house building needs to be gigantic. That is just market research right?

While a haiku might have specific rules about writing, creating a story isn’t quite so strict.

If we compare the purchasing decisions of a story of fiction and non-fiction there are lot of similarities.

  1. Some people want long stories (40+ hours) where their mind can be very involved. Some people have a lot of time to be engrossed and fully immersed into the experience.
  2. Some people want short stories (2-8 hours) that gets to the point. Some people have busy lives.
  3. There will only be a subset of people that are interested in your topic or genre
  4. No matter what, some people will either like or dislike what you have done.

Regardless of the amount of content, a more important aspect is how much your content relates to and impacts people. If a book is $30 and is highly praised, people are much less likely to care if it is “only” 150 pages.

Never-ending desire to add more content

Writing is much like art in that is impossible to know when something is “done”. You could always make your examples better. There are always areas that could be communicated more clearly. There is always more content to be written. Putting a stopper on a book can be a very tricky thing.

Even while writing stories it can be easy to want to keep expanding. While you might have a beginning, middle, and end, that doesn’t mean you are done. You might not like how your character developed. The tension might not be dramatic enough to create the emotion you want. There could be a bit more backstory to add to explain why a character acts the way they do.

Deadlines seem to be the best way to curb this desire. The desire you are trying to keep in check is perfection. This perfection attitude is the reason why many projects are never finished, or shelved.


There are a lot of things to think about when writing a book. Shorter writing such as this blog post can be around 500-1000 words. With books requiring tens of thousands of words, thinking about the length is a good step in the planning process. Like most things, the answer for the length is a grey area that has many guidelines, but no hard and fast rules.

The beautiful thing about writing is that you have another chance at the end. Whether a project fails or succeeds, you always have the option to start again.

Hi, I'm Scott

I mostly keep this blog to help me remember things. Writing is also a great way to understand things at a deeper level. I would highly recommend it if you don't write at all.