Friday, May 16, 2014

How Long Should My Book Be? (formatting considerations)

In the previous two posts I talked about reader expectations for genre and story telling. Assuming you've met those criteria, then you need to determine how you are going to present that book in both printed and e-book form to meet those expectations.  Now we get much more into formatting, page count, POD sizing, and all those geeky things.

Remember, though, even if you tweak the "size" of the book using some of the techniques discussed here, some readers will still not have their expectations met because it "feels" too long or too short. That all goes back to the previous blog posts on reader expectations of genre and story--mostly story.

Also, I won't be discussing e-book length because there is no "length" with an e-book. It is all dependent on the e-reader device size and the way the font sizing is configured. It is important, however, when completing the metadata for your e-book to fill out the information about number of pages (this is the number of pages the book would be printed). Because readers still use that as a gauge prior to purchase.

Traditionally, the mass market paperback sizing used the formula of 250 words per page.  With the typical double-spaced manuscript using Courier 12pt font, that means that 85,000 words would yield a finished book of about 340 pages. If you are self-publishing and writing at that length I would definitely suggest using the 6 x 9 inch format.  You want to keep your print costs as low as possible in order to competitively price the book.  At 6 x 9, using a TNR 12 pt. font the formula is about 350-400 words per page depending on the leading (space between lines).  So, that makes an 85,000 word book come out somewhere between 214 and 244 pages.  Significantly different from the 340 pages using the traditional MMP formula and a savings of about $1.00 per book in printing cost.

What Impacts Printed Page Count?

Physical book size. The page count has everything to do with the format size (Trade paperback sizes are typically (in inches) at 5.25 x 8 or 5.5 x 8 or 6 x 9). The difference of 1/2 inch or one inch can be the difference of 50-100 pages in a book.

Line spacing (single, 1.5) also makes a difference. Taking your manuscript from the usual double-spaced lines to single-spaced cut it in half. Most authors select 1.5 spacing, but others might make it slightly less or slightly more depending on their need to limit or expand page count. If you use a great page formatting software, like InDesign, you can effect this line spacing significantly with what is called leading. You can tweak a line to be slightly more space or less space than the line before it in order to control page breaks completely.

Fonts. Any user of a word processor knows that all fonts are not alike. A 12pt font in Times Roman is a very different size from a 12pt font in Garamond or Courier.  The fonts you elect to use for headers, subheaders, chapter numbers, quotes, etc. are all variables you can manipulate and will make a significant difference in the number of pages. I've helped an author with a very long book, cut out 50 pages by simply changing the header font from 18 pt to 14 pt.

Blank Pages. Traditional book publishing designed book interiors so that new chapters always began on the right hand side of the book. (the odd page number). This means if your previous chapter ended on an odd page number, that a blank page would be placed following that chapter end (the backside of the chapter page) in order to have the next chapter open on the right hand side. Depending on the number of chapters you write, these additional blank pages can be significant. For example, someone who writes many short chapters (say 50 chapters) could easily gain 25 or more pages in the book. The elimination of these blank pages, either by not using them or by deleting content to make sure they don't exist, can make a significant difference in overall page count.

Front and Back Matter. Word count of your completed story is not the only thing that impacts overall page count. Beyond your story, a book has front and back matter (e.g., title page, copyright page, dedication, acknowledgements, excerpt for another book, request to join mailing list, list of other books by the author, etc.).  I usually figure 0-15 extra pages for this stuff.

Why Would I Want to Change Any of These Parameters?

The short answer is to meet expectations of the reader. Another reason is to be able to more competitively price your POD book. The book's heft, perceived length, and overall size can meet a reader's expectation and thus get her to pick it up; or turn her away if the perception of value is not sufficient.  By the same token, if your book is so long that the price to print it is closing in on $7 then your price for expanded distribution (beyond the printer's catalog) is over $20 which is a difficult sell for fiction.

For example, in the genre expectations section you learned that reader's expect a longer book for Historical Fiction or Historical Romance. What if your book came in at 70,000 words and the expectation is 85,0000 to 100,000? You can still make the book "feel" longer by choosing a smaller physical book size, or making the font larger (go from 12 pt to 14 pt), or adding more interest to your headers, or making sure you use the right hand chapter openings and add those blank pages. You can also add more back matter, such as a longer excerpt of the next book.

It is important to understand that though you can manipulate page count, that in the end it will be how the reader "feels" about value versus time and money. No matter how hefty or spare the book feels, the reader must believe that the time and money cost was worth it. If your reader is not satisfied with the story in the end, any manipulation of the size will only be seen as a huge negative. If the reader is very satisfied with the story, it won't matter the length.

As with all perceptions of value, you want to present a product that meets expectations of look, feel, and size to get the reader to try the book. However, the choices you make also build an expectation (a promise) of the reading experience. Because reader trends are to look for shorter books, having a longer book carries a burden that is more difficult to meet. Presenting a longer book tells the reader that the experience is going to be worth the additional time and money. If you don't deliver, the reader will be likely be more upset than if the book didn't cost as much or take as long to read.

Of course, these are generalities. Every book, every genre, and every reader combines to create a unique experience. No book can meet every reader's expectations. Obsessing over making sure your book is perfect in every detail leads to madness. You can only write the best book you can, get it edited by the best editor you can afford, and then package it in a way that meets genre and reader expectations as best you can. Then let it loose in the world and write the next book.


  1. HI, Maggie. I'm glad you're going with Ingram. Will you keep me posted on how this works for you? I would like to see them get more of the Indie publishing business, but alas, the one or two of my clients who have published through them on my recommendation have struggled. They seemed, at the time, to be less user friendly than Create Space. I hope this changes with experience. But as you say, the 55% discount that bookstore owners I've talked to say they must have in order to stock books makes them more attractive. And, to be honest, I would like to see less of a monopoly on publishing in the Indie world.

  2. Your clients are right, they are not very user friendly. Lightning Source is less firendly than Ingram Spark, and Ingram Spark is significantly less friendly than Createspace. Also, you pay for every mistake and change ranging from $10 for help to $49 to do it all again.

    The front end for Ingram Spark "appears" user friendly but the primary difficulty comes in the creation of the book package. They have VERY specific requirements for how the book needs to be set up in terms of margins, images, tables, and the types of PDF files they will accept. They do not support Word at all. They prefer you use Adobe InDesign to create your print book package. I know very few indie authors who use InDesign. Doing a save-as-PDF from Word (which most Indie authors do for Createspace) does not work at all for Ingram because the PDF format that Word uses is not compatible with their print-on-demand system.

    Even though Amazon/Createspace uses Ingram for it's POD distribution, Amazon must do some automated things on the back end to make it work for them. That is what the user gets as the "print" PDF electronic proof. Createspace allows for a lot of flexibility in the way the PDF is submitted and then does manipulations after the submittal. For most people that works great. However, I have personally been the recipient of problems on that automated backend process for non-fiction books where there are a lot of images. An image will get dropped at random, and won't be the same ones from one proof to the next.

    When I have the Ingram Spark process down sufficiently, I will put out an instruction sheet to help others. I know that Ingram Spark was designed to attract more Indies but so far they are not doing a great job in that. The fact that Createspace has no fees for the setup is a big factor $0 vs $49. Also they constant charging of a fee for additional help, a fee for a mistake, a fee for an update turns off most people. Add to that they do not have a process for working with Word files (the ubiquitous choice for authors), and it spells frustration and disaster for a lot of writers who are not tech savvy.

    For me, it is all about distribution though. If I get better/easier distribution, higher numbers because of better discounts to bookstores then it will be worth the investment of time and money. If I don't I'm not sure what I will do. I do not want a single vendor system either. The question is what amount of pain and money am I personally willing to put out for that ideal?

    I will keep everyone posted. I'll do a review of the books I'm putting out with Ingram Spark after six months.