January 22, 2024
Episode 54: The Goldilocks Principle:
Your Guide to Perfect Book Length
What you need to consider when determining your book’s length.
Episode 54: The Goldilocks Principle: Your Guide to Perfect Book Length
As an entrepreneur-author, you know the challenge of balancing detailed content with engaging readability. That’s where “The Goldilocks Principle” comes in – not too short, not too long, but just right! In this episode of The Author Switch Podcast, host Carma Spence shares the secrets to the perfect length for a lead-generating book that amplifies authority, builds influence, and establishes thought leadership.
Recap & Takeaways
- 01:19 The Goldilocks Principle of Book Length
- 02:30 Audience attention & engagement
- 03:20 Perceived value & authority
- 05:18 Genre expectations
- 07:08 Reader commitment & satisfaction
- 08:32 Market trends & digital formats
- 10:01 Rise of audio & digital formats
- 11:17 Niche topics & specialization
- 12:15 Shor form vs. bite-sized
- 13:45 Understand your audience
- 14:08 Consider the purpose
- 14:45 Analyze comparable books
- 15:38 Outline
- 16:36 Depth & brevity
- 17:03 Format & design
- 18:55 Beta readers
- 19:31 Revise & edit strategically
- 20:32 Unique voice & style
- 21:00 Stay flexible & adaptable
Episode 54: The Goldilocks Principle: Your Guide to Perfect Book Length
Have you ever wondered why some books grip you from page one to page whatever, whereas others lose your interest part way through and then you never finish them?
What if I told you that it may not be the writing itself… but the length of the book?
That’s what I’m going to talk about in this episode of The Author Switch Podcast. We’re going to find out how do you determine what is the ideal length of your book? Stay tuned.
Hi, my name is Carma Spence and I help entrepreneurs write a lead-attracting book in 90 days or less.
So let’s dive in and talk about book length. So before I start going into all the things I’m going to be talking about, I’m going to be talking about the psychology, market analysis, and then give you some practical tips. I want to talk about this Goldilocks principle, the Goldilocks principle of book length.
So we all know the story of the three bears. And Goldilocks goes into their house, and we’re gonna pick the porridge. She goes, she eats Papa’s porridge, and oh, it’s too hot. And she eats Mama’s porridge, and oh, it’s too cold. And then she eats Baby’s porridge, and goes, oh, it’s just right, and she eats it all up.
Well, that’s great for Goldilocks, but what if you went into the bear’s house? Would you think Papa Bear’s porridge was too hot, or Mama Bear’s porridge was too cold, or Baby Bear’s porridge was just right? Perhaps. Perhaps not. And that is, I guess, the rub when it comes to book length. I can’t sit here and tell you, well, your ideal book should be X number of pages.
Because it depends. It depends on a number of things and I’m going to be sharing with you many of those things so that you can make an educated decision about how long your book should be.
So first let’s talk about the psychology behind book length. First you need to consider your audience and what is their attention span and their engagement with the topic of your book.
In general books are getting shorter because, in general, attention spans are getting shorter, but that isn’t true of every book. If you were to write an epic fantasy novel that was shorter than a certain number of pages, you would lose your audience because they expect books that are this thick.
Whereas if you were to write a book that thick that was all about, I don’t know, raising hamsters, you’d lose your audience. No one would buy it.
You need to think about the psychology of your particular audience. What is their attention span? What are they expecting for a book on your topic?
Concept number two is perceived value, and authority.
Okay, I don’t know where those balloons are coming from. I have no idea why balloons, I go like two and the balloons go up. I do not know what that’s about.
Anyway. All right. So point number two is perceived value and authority. Longer books often carry a greater weight when it comes to authority and can be perceived as being more important. However, If your book’s too long, no one’s going to read it, so it doesn’t do anything for your authority.
What is your goal with this book? For example, I often talk about writing short books because I’m talking about lead-generating books. Those thicker books are not good lead gen. They’re great at building authority. They’re great at building thought leadership. They are terrible at lead gen. Why?
And this is a story that Dan Henry shared, and it illustrates my point. So, he gave away a book that was a traditional length, and then he waited for the leads to come in. Leads didn’t start coming in for like one to two months. So, the next time he gave away a book for lead gen, it was a short book.
Leads came in within hours. So, the shorter the book, not only will you get more leads, but you’ll also get them faster. Because they’ll read the book, go oh! This person’s cool, and they’ll contact you. Whereas if they have to read through a thick book, there’s no guarantee they’ll finish it. And therefore, if they don’t finish it, there’s no guarantee they will join your list or contact you at all.
Point number three for the psychology of book-length is genre expectations. Like I was saying before, in fiction, often thicker is better. In nonfiction, not so much. In fact, if you look at the top-selling books in nonfiction, they are gradually getting shorter and shorter and shorter. In fact, they had from, I think it was between 2017 and 2022, the length of bestselling nonfiction books dropped by 52 pages.
So, What I found is your sweet spot is anywhere from 75 pages, because that’s the smallest number that you can have in order to print the book, anything less than that, it remains an ebook, it doesn’t print well, or you get a really angry person who buys the book, they’re like, what’s this? But if it’s at least 75 to 100 pages, it prints a decent size, it’s cost-effective, and people will read it.
200 seems to be. For nonfiction, in general, if you want to do a combination of lead, gen, and authority, that’s probably about the max you want to do. You can go a little bit higher, but your lead gen is going to drop. The shorter the book, the better the lead gen. And also you need to consider what are readers expecting when they pick up your book.
If they’re expecting something that’s going to help them solve one problem, they’re going to expect a shorter book. If they’re expecting something that’s going to teach them a new idea, a new concept, or a new way of perceiving the world, they might expect something a little bit longer. You need to figure out what are the expectations of books like yours.
Point number four is reader commitment and satisfaction. So again, depending on what the expectations are, the longer the book, usually the lower the engagement.
So for example, I picked up a book, it was about nutrition. It was heavily science-based. And when I first started reading it, I was like, Oh man, this book is awesome. I can’t, Oh, this is great. It was this, this thick, this thick, tiny, tiny print. I got about five chapters in and I’m like, Oh my God, I can’t, I, I can’t bring myself to read it. And so I put it back on the shelf and I’ve never picked it up again.
It wasn’t that it wasn’t a good book. It was just, it was too, it was too much information. I. I couldn’t do it.
And you don’t want to do that to your readers.
So how committed are your readers to the topic you’re writing about? That will help you determine how long or short it needs to be. If you’re writing about a topic they’re not terribly committed to, then you want a shorter book, but if it’s something that it’s a deep abiding interest, then you can have a longer book.
Again. Where is your reader commitment and engagement in the topic that helps you determine length.
Point number five, market trends and digital formats. eBooks and audio books have changed the market. And they’ve changed readers expectations. If you’re going to do an eBook or an audiobook, shorter is probably better.
Shorter is probably better in those formats because people just don’t have, they don’t have the bandwidth for anything longer. That said, there are longer e books. But the shorter ones sell better, just saying, it depends on if you want to sell the book or not. And in general for business books, I recommend that you have it available in ebook, in audiobook, in paperback, in hardcover, because you’ll get more readers.
Because there are people who will only read ebooks, there are people who will only listen to audiobooks, there are people who will only read physical books. And when I was like looking at the stats for all those different formats, Physical books still has the larger share of market, but I think ebooks were like around 25 percent of people will only read an e book.
And right now, because audio books are fairly new, I think that was around 10%. But that’s 10 percent of people that you wouldn’t get if you did not have an audio book, just saying. Just saying.
So now let’s move on to market trends for book length. So the first trend to think about is the rise of audio and digital formats.
They are grabbing more and more of the book market share. Yes, right now, physical books have about 65 percent of last I checked that might be about a year or two old, but about 65 percent of the market share of books sold. But there is a growing number of people, like I said, who will only read ebooks, who will only listen to audiobooks, and you are losing out on that market if you don’t offer your book in those formats.
Now, how does that affect length? Well, a really long audiobook, number one, it’s going to be a slog to read. And number two, you are more likely to lose your audience. The best audiobooks are probably around, I haven’t done the deep research on this, but from what I’ve been able to gauge, they’re around 150 to 200 pages, which ends up being anywhere from one to three hours.
That’s your average audio book-length that you’re going to hold your audience. And when it comes to a drier topic, the shorter, the better.
Point number two in market trends, is niche topics and specialization. Again, consider What are the expectations of your particular topic and specialization?
Someone who’s writing about, I don’t know, raising rabbits. I don’t know why I’m like on this thing for raising rodents, but I don’t know, maybe I think they’re cute. So you got a book about raising rabbits. The attention span for someone who’s going to read that book is much shorter than say someone who is writing about, I don’t know, the history of Star Trek. ‘cuz those are rabid fans. They’ll read thicker books. They will. They just will. So think about what is the topic you’re writing about? What is the reader engagement? What is the reader expectation? What is the reader interest? That tells you a little bit about how long your book can be.
The last part is short-form content versus bite-sized learning. So this year, I’m writing a book a month, and the first five books are eventually going to become an anthology, but each of these five books is going to be a short read. They will be able to be read in two hours or less.
In fact, the book that dropped this month in January. It’s 44 pages long and can be read in about an hour because it didn’t need to be any longer. It really didn’t. It’s all about coming up with your best book idea for a lead generating book. And this kind of talks about the Goldilocks principle, honestly. How long should your book be? However long it needs to be. Don’t fill it with fluff just to make it longer. What you do is, if your book is short, because you’ve said everything you need to say about a topic in about 50 pages, and therefore can’t do a physical book, that’s okay. Your readers will appreciate you writing a shorter book.
And then what you can do is write a book that’s related to it, slap them together as an anthology, and bam, now you’ve got a physical book. Each book doesn’t need to be a physical book on its own. Just saying.
All right, so now I’m going to talk about some practical tips for determining your book length.
And, and a lot of this is stuff I’ve already said, but I’m going to reiterate it as practical tips.
One, understand your audience. What length are they willing to read? What are they expecting to read? What will actually guarantee, as close as you can, that they will read from word one to the last word? First word to last word. What length are they willing to read from end to end?
Practical tip number two, consider the purpose of your book. For example, when I said lead gen, if your book is lead gen, you want a shorter book. If your book is, say, thought leadership, then you probably want a longer book.
If your book is educational, and you want to give them a how to do a process, you may need something that’s longer. For example, Public Speaking Super Powers. That’s basically a public speaking class in a book, and it’s around 200, 250 pages, and it really couldn’t be much shorter, because then I would have had to leave out important information that my audience needed.
Practical tip number three, analyze comparable books. So what you do, because Amazon lists how long a book is, take the top five to 10 books in your topic and look on Amazon and find out how many pages there are. How many pages are they? And then what is the average? Now if there are clear outliers, like you picked out 10 and. One has 75 pages, and one has 5, 000 pages and all the rest are around the 200 to 300.
Get rid of the outliers. Because you want a more accurate average, but that’s what you do. You take 10 of those books, you add up all their word counts, you divide it by 10, that’s your average, your book should probably be around that length.
Point number four, outline your content thoroughly. And this is one of the many reasons why you want to outline your content. And I’m not talking about, you know, Roman numeral I, then capital A, no, I’m just saying, here are all the topics I want to cover in my book, this topic is going to take a long time, this one isn’t, maybe I’ll break this one up, that kind of gives you an idea of how long it’s going to take you to give all this information, and another thing that happens is you might look at your outline and go, you know what, not all these topics belong in the same book, what I really have here Two books or three books, that’s better.
’cause then you have a series, and a series is always better because it gets you more books. More books get you more royalties, more leads, more people noticing that you are an author and a business owner.
So tip number five, balance depth and brevity. So like I said, you don’t wanna fill up your book with fluff just because you’re trying to reach a certain page count. But you want to dive deep enough into your topic that the book is valuable to the reader. And that will help you determine how long your book should be. Again, that kind of is like, your book needs to be however long it needs to be.
Point number six is consider format and design. Now, you may have a manuscript that at font size 14 is a hundred pages, but if you make it 16, it’s 200. If you make it 10, it’s less. So you can play with font size in your design to also wiggle room your page length. That said, don’t make the font size so tiny that people are like, I can’t read this.
Make it a decent readable size. Some people swear by 16-point Arial, other people swear by Times New Roman 12 point. There’s another one you can look at. In general, in general, just for formatting, in general, books usually have a serif font for their regular font and a sans serif font. for their title.
In general, most books are like that. And when I say serif font, that’s like Times. It’s got the little squigglies on it. A sans serif font is like Arial. It has no squigglies on it. However, there are books that do the reverse. But in design in general, you want one to be one and the other to be the other thing.
You don’t want both of them to be sans serif. You don’t want both of them to be serif. It’s just a visual thing that probably went off the topic, but that’s okay. It’s good information. Since we’re off the topic, just a little bit. Nonfiction books tend to be on white paper. Fiction books tend to be on the, the creamy beige paper. Yes, you will find books that don’t follow that. But in general, if you’ve got a nonfiction book, you want it on the white stock.
Point number seven, get feedback from beta readers. If you are not sure of how your book’s going to play in the market, get a team of beta readers to read it and give you their feedback. They will tell you, Oh my gosh, this was way too long. Or I was like wanting more, give me more.
Or they’re going to say, this was just right. Or they’re going to say this topic, I didn’t understand it. Or this topic just felt like it was out of place. Your beta readers are gold, especially if this is your first book and you’re really not sure what you’re doing.
Tip number eight, revise and edit strategically. That means once you’ve got your book out there, in your manuscript, it’s done, you want to edit it. You want someone else to edit it. You want a professional person to edit it. And you want to basically take out all the words that don’t need to be there. If it’s got too many notes. Just take out a few notes, to quote the King in Amadeus.
Too many notes? Just take out a few. But you want to be strategic about that. You want to take out the fluff, take out the words that don’t need to be there, and keep the words that make everything clear. This is especially important for nonfiction books that you want to help build your authority, your thought leadership, your expertise, your visibility, and get you leads.
You really want to be succinct and clear and get to the point, which I’m probably not doing in this podcast, but you understand.
Tip number nine, reflect on your unique voice and style. Everyone has a style and sometimes that means that you will leave in a little bit of fluff because that’s your geek factor.
That’s how you phrase things, how you express your unique you-ness, but don’t go so far that. It makes the book too long or the book too short.
And my final tip is stay flexible and adaptable. That means when a beta reader tells you something’s too long, don’t go, you’re wrong. Work with what the information they give you.
Listen to what they’re actually saying. This is something I found when I’m editing a book. Sometimes an editor will say, no, no, no. The sentence needs to be this way. When I read what they’ve edited, they, they changed the meaning of what I intended. What does that tell me? That tells me I didn’t communicate what I intended properly.
So then I changed their edit to make it clearer using the way they edited it to inform me of what I did wrong. When beta readers tell you something, listen to what the underlying message of what they’re saying so that you can correct your book in a way that will be more meaningful while still being in alignment with your vision.
So that is the Goldilocks principle of book length. Your book needs to be however long it needs to be. And what’s most important in determining how long it needs to be is reader expectation, reader commitment to your content, and how much length of a book is required to get your message out clearly, succinctly, and compellingly.
This is the end of this week’s episode of The Author Switch Podcast. I hope you found this information useful and of value, and I would love to hear from you about If you’ve got any tips on book length, or if you have any questions that you’d like me to answer in a future episode, please put it in a comment, or send me an audio or video, and I’ll include you in the podcast.
You can find information on how to submit questions to the podcast on the podcast page at AuthorSwitch.com/podcastpage. This is Carma Spence saying ciao for now.