Author’s Journey #6 – What’s the best size for your book?

by Roger Parker on January 29, 2010

Mention “book” to most people, and they immediately recall their endless lists of “required reading” in high school and college. Textbooks and required reading tend to be long, especially the classics.

Little wonder that most people don’t think they’re capable of writing a book, and even fewer think that they have time to write a book!

I’d like to counter the Moby Dick and Crime & Punishment mentality by recommending that you take a fresh look at the advantages of shorter and smaller books, i.e., books ranging in length from 140 to 160 pages.

The age of shorter & smaller books

As you’ve probably noticed if you’ve recently visited the Business books section at your local Barnes & Noble or Borders, books are getting both shorter and smaller. This is the age of the smaller, shorter book. Shorter, smaller books are “in” for several reasons:

  • ŸLower cost – In a time of economic ambiguity, smaller, shorter books are more affordable for everyone involved. A smaller, shorter book represents less of a financial risk for publishers. At the same time, smaller, shorter formats can be sold for less, meaning the books will be affordable to a more cost-conscious buying public.
  • ŸLess time – We are living in a time-starved environment. Time has never been as much at a premium as it is now. Your readers, especially your business readers, are interested in books that can be comfortably read in an airport waiting room or while flying. Readers don’t have time for theory; they are looking for short books with short chapters and practical, immediately actionable ideas. “Background information” isn’t as valuable as usable advice.

Evidence of the trend towards shorter, smaller books are on every business book shelf. Notice the shrinking size of Jim Collin’s books; [1] compare his latest How the Mighty Fall with his original Good to Great. Compare Bob Burg’s early Endless Referrrals[2] (288 pages, 6 by 9 inches) with his latest The Go-Giver[3] (144 pages, approximately 5 by 8), co-authored with John David Mann.


The implications of this societal need for economy of cost and economy of expression is a renewed emphasis upon the delivery of focused, actionable information. With few exceptions, the “textbook” era is over. Readers have problems they want to solve, and they want to get the necessary information- -and just the necessary information– – as quickly as possible.

Today’s books, as a glance at the many titles available in the Laura Lowell’s 42 Rules[4] series, for example, emphasize practicality and utility. The trend is not to “tell all,” but to tell just what’s needed.

By viewing complex problems and tasks from the point of view of a series of simple, step-by-step tasks, makes it considerably easier to write a brand building book. Authors with brands to build and information to share can easily take advantage of this emphasis on economy of expression by spending more time planning than writing.

Once an author identifies the steps their readers need to take to solve their problem or achieve their goal, fewer words are needed to complete the book.

Twitter’s role

Twitter has played an important role in the encouraging economy of expression. Twitter has taught us all how to condense and express big thoughts in 140-characters, or less. There’s more respect for brevity now, than ever before.

Entire books, and series of books, are being written in the Twitter format, such as Rajesh Setty’s pioneering Upbeat: Cultivating the Right Attitudes to Succeed in Tough Times[5].

In fact, I’m so impressed by the Twitter format that I choose it for my upcoming book on book titles, #BOOK TITLE Tweet!

The idea of a book

In many ways, the idea of a book is more important than its manifestation as a finished book. The goal of a brand-building book is to attract the attention of others who want to learn more about the problem or goal addressed in the book title.

The title is the idea, not the length of the book, or the size of the book.

Awhile back, I saw a Twitter reference to a book called 18 Rules of Community Engagement[6]. It’s subtitle was A Guide for Building Relationships and Connecting with Customers Online. Without knowing anything else, I not only ordered a copy, but contacted the author and requested an interview.

I was like your prospects! Before ordering it and contacting the author, I didn’t count the number of pages in the book, nor did I pay attention to its size. All I knew was that the title promised a practical look at a topic I wanted to know more about.

In other words, the title and promised efficiency of the “18 Rule” approach promised me a good reading experience and an opportunity to connect with someone knowledgeable in the field.

So, think smaller and think shorter!







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