Should You Be Writing Shorter Nonfiction Books?

how to write books fastFor years I’ve thought writing short books was better than long books. The time we have to read has decreased, we are all in a hurry, and we are distracted. Most of us need to read in short bursts. And if we read nonfiction, we want answers, solutions, transformation right now—not 200 pages from now.

Publishers don’t tend to agree. They want longer books. They need books that are thick enough to print on the spine and that take up enough real estate on a bookstore shelf to be noticed amongst the competition in a category.

When ebooks came into the publishing picture that changed to some extent. The number of pages doesn’t matter because they format differently from device to device. And no one knows how thick an ebook is; readers only care that the book provide value.

Readers Want Longer Books

You’ll find mixed information out there about whether short or long books sell better. However, Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, did some research in 2012 and discovered that longer ebooks actually sell better. After looking at a nine-month chunk of sales data, aggregated across multiple Smashwords retailers, he claimed, “The top 1–50 titles average 106,000 words, whereas the books ranked #20,000 through #21,000—a veritable no-man’s land of poor sales and obscurity—averaged under 50,000 words.”

He ran the numbers again in 2013 and found the top 100 bestselling Smashwords books averaged 115,000 words. “When we examined the word counts of books in other sales rank bands, we found the lower the word count, the lower the sales,” reported Coker.

Indie Authors are Publishing Shorter Books

In a post published a year ago on the blog, Howard Polskin, editor-in-chief at Thin Reads reported an increase in short books being published. He wrote, “The number of e-book singles (any e-book between 5,000 and 30,000 words in length) published in the third quarter increased a whopping 27 percent compared to the second quarter of 2013.  (There is no reliable data from 2012 to make a viable year-to-year comparison.) In hard numbers, 122 titles were released compared to 96 published from April 1 to June 30, 2013.  In other words, the increased output means more opportunity for writers. These figure come from the Thin Reads database, which is updated several times a week and features nearly 1,000 titles.”

While 122 ebooks may not sound like much, Polskin added, “When you consider that three years ago, exactly zero e-book singles were published, it’s obvious that something important is taking place for authors.”

The fact that publishers are getting into the e-book single market, too, according to Polskin, indicates a growing trend toward short books despite Coker’s findings.  And publishers are looking for more nonfiction authors to write e-book singles, which run anywhere from 20 to 100 pages in length.

That’s reason for nonfiction writers to pause…but not for too long.

You Can Choose Your Book Length

If you choose to self-publish, you have a choice to go long or short. Many writers are publishing Kindle books as singles, shorts, and guides. Typically these run from 4,000–30,000 words. Short ebooks can prove an attractive way for you to release material quickly. In the process, you can build platform, develop expert status and create some nice passive income.

Look at Book Ninja Kristen Eckstein, who writes short Kindle books, and lots of them, successfully. Kristen wrote and published 18 Kindle books in 18 weeks. This resulted in an increase of 878 percent in 12 weeks in her passive Kindle income. Kristen can cover small bills and even her car payment with her royalties from Amazon, something many authors can’t claim. Plus, her business has grown, as has her expert status, and the books pretty much sell themselves.

I’ve produced a number of self-published books that were under 100 pages in length. While a few are available as Kindle books, many of them are printed as booklets (saddle stitched). A few also were printed either as print-on-demand books or on digital presses, which allowed me to print on the spine despite the small size. (Amazon’s CreateSpace typically cannot do this.) These books allowed me to call myself an author early in my career and to make money on back-of-the-room sales as a speaker. Plus, I continue to sell these books from my websites.

These days, I’m producing short ebooks to support my traditionally published books, build platform in new areas and increase my income. I also produce them as part of the products I release. I wouldn’t mind writing them for a publisher as well, mind you.

And all of these opportunities exist for you as well, which is why you shouldn’t pause to think about writing short books for too long. Instead, take action! Try your hand at writing short books. Get on the rising trend, and, among other benefits, see if you don’t find readers for your work.

Start Writing Your Short Book

I’ve written many posts about how to write a short nonfiction book, and to do so fast. If you opt to write short nonfiction books, the point truly is to do this quickly. Don’t decide to write a short book and then take a year to complete and publish it. That defeats the point.

The upcoming Write Nonfiction in November challenge, also known as National Nonfiction Writing Month, offers a great opportunity to write a short book fast—in a month. Or you can write a short book in a week, and start today! But how will you do that?

Here are some tips on how to prepare to write a short book fast:

  1. Choose a topic about which you are knowledgeable. If you choose a topic that requires you to conduct a ton of research, it will take you much longer to write your book. It’s best to stick with topics you can write “off the top of your head.” Or choose a subject that requires a minimal amount of research, or only research you know you can access or accumulate quickly.
  2. Decide if you will compose a book from repurposed material. One of the fastest way to write a book involves taking previously written material and reusing it in a new form. You could take articles, blog posts, reports, speeches, transcripts of teleseminars or webinars, or just about anything else on your computer, and compile these into a book (if the material relates to one topic). Then edit, revise, and generally polish it up into a book manuscript.
  3. Decide on a format, or structure for your book. Some book structures, like tip books and process books, naturally lend themselves to short forms. Others, like memoir, do not. Pick a structure that works with your material and allows you to complete it quickly.
  4. Determine the approximate length of your finished book. It’s good to have a word count in mind when you start. You don’t want to overwrite and end up with a 100,000-word book when all you wanted was a 20,000-word book. First, this will take you longer to write. Second, it will take you longer to produce.
  5. Decide how much time it will take you to write the book. Once you know the length of your book, you can decide how long it will take to complete it. How many words can you write in an hour? Divide this into the number of words you estimate your finished manuscript will have. You now know how many hours you need to write your book.
  6. Make time to write the book. If you know you need 15 to 20 hours to write your book, you need to schedule this time into your life. Block out time on your calendar to write your book. Leave some extra time in case it takes longer than you think.
  7. Eliminate distractions. During your writing time, turn off the phone, the internet and anything else that might interrupt your writing. This will keep you focused on writing and make you more productive.
  8. Set a deadline. Know when you will start your book project and when you will finish it. A deadline ensures you don’t continue working on your short-book for months…or years.
  9. Don’t edit as you write. There is a time and a place for editing. It isn’t during the creation of your first draft. You will write faster if you just write.
  10. Have a plan for publication. Know what you plan to do after the manuscript is complete. Have an editor and proofreader lined up. (Yes, short books need editing and proofing, too.) Vet out a cover designer and someone to convert your book into an ebook or a printed book, and tell them when you will give them the Word file. Be ready to take your project to completion.
Register for How to Write a Short Book FAST!

I’ve written a number of other posts on how to write a short book fast. You can find them on this blog. I’ve also spoken on this topic at conferences and on webinars for other organizations. I’m often asked to teach this topic.

For the first time, I’m doing just that. I’m offering How to Write a Short Book FAST! as an online course. If you would like to learn more about the variety of short-book structures you might try, how to write them quickly, how to use them to increase your income, and, in the process, get inspired with numerous ideas for short nonfiction books you could write (and use to become an authorpreneur), join me on October 15 from 12–1:30 p.m. Pacific Time for a webinar, How to Write a Short Book FAST! Click here to learn more and to register. Space is limited. Reserve your spot!

photo credit: Abdulla Al Muhairi via photopin cc


  1. […] Amir presents Should You Be Writing Shorter Nonfiction posted at Write Nonfiction NOW!, saying, “Many aspiring authors get stuck because they feel […]

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