If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to write a book in the year ahead, you’re going to have to do several things. One of those things you’ll have to do is…some math.
But don’t worry—I’ve got a calculator!
We’ll do the math together to determine the number of words you need to write each day to complete your book in the year ahead. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find out that this number is within reach. You can pull this off.
You can watch the video, listen with the podcast player above, or read the article.
Average Word Count for Trade Nonfiction Books
The length of a typical trade nonfiction book can really vary: a memoir or biography can be quite long; a gift book, quite short. If you’re writing a typical trade nonfiction book, it might on average range between 45,000 and 55,000 words.
This is arguable. You’ll find plenty of exceptions on either side of that range, and trends shift so that the average changes, but for the sake of this discussion, let’s split the difference and say we’re talking about a 50,000-word book. Yours might be longer or shorter.
Publishers like to think in terms of word counts. After all, there’s a lot of variability in the number of chapters that you might break your content into compared with another author writing on a similar subject: a 20-chapter book and a 12-chapter book could have the exact same word count divided up differently.
So let’s just talk about word count.
Map Out the Number of Chapters
And yet when we think through the number of words we’ll be writing each day, we do need to think about the number of chapters you’re planning. Eventually—obviously—you do have to write the full 50,000 words.
But did you know that if you’re seeking traditional publishing of your non-fiction book—that is, you’re going to seek an agent who then will take it to a publisher, or a friend offered to introduce you to her editor…either way— you’re going to have to provide what’s called a book proposal.
In this book proposal you’ll map out your entire book. You have to explain the book’s concept and content, describing what’s going into it. You’ll provide a table of contents that you’ll have to annotate, providing chapter summaries.
When you submit the proposal to the agent or provide it by request to an acquisitions editor at a publishing house, you’ll include a few sample chapters as part of the complete proposal.
For new writers, I recommend you supply three sample chapters, though an agent may only request one or two. If you write three, you can show these decision-makers and gatekeepers that you can build on your ideas and move this project forward. That’s all you need to write until you get a contract.
So at a bare minimum, you’ll write at least three chapters of your book to be able to submit it with the proposal.
Pull Out the Calculator
Now let’s do the math.
Option 1: Write the 50,000-word Draft in 90 Days
Let’s say you’re going to self publish this 50,000-word book, and you’d like to have a draft done in 90 days.
50,000 words divided by the 90 days, you’ll end up with 555.555556, so we’re just going to round that up to 556.
That means if you write every single day with no breaks at all, you need to write 556 words a day to produce 50,000 words at the end of the 90 days.
Option 2: Write the Proposal and Sample Chapters
But as I mentioned, if you’re going to go to the traditional publishing route and submit this nonfiction book to agents and acquisitions editors, you’ll need that proposal and the three chapters.
To calculate your daily word count, you need to know how many chapters are going to be in your book.
Use some of the techniques I explained in “How to Structure Your Nonfiction Book” to develop your project and arrive at the number of chapters that you think will be necessary to convey your book’s idea.
Use those methods to define your table of contents.
- 3 Weeks: Book Proposal Elements
- 5 Weeks: Sample Chapters
Let’s say you decide you want to complete your full book proposal in a couple of months, so that’s eight weeks.
You decide to devote the first three weeks to the main book proposal content, which has several elements to it.
You plan to write the three sample chapters during the remaining five weeks. This may be rushed for some writers who need time to process and validate their idea; for people who churn out words quickly, this will feel tedious.
Regardless of how fast you write, you want to give it your best. You want to compose your best chapters and craft the proposal in a way that entices the decision maker to linger with your content and consider the possibilities of this book becoming part of their lineup and you, one of their authors
For two months, you’re going to give it everything you’ve got. Creatively, you’ll pour yourself out.
But it can come down to math.
50,000 words | 10 Chapters
Let’s say this is going to be a 10-chapter book.
You plan to include three chapters with your proposal.
This means each chapter of your 50K book is going to be about 5000 words each.
To turn in three 5000-word chapters with your proposal, you need to finish 15,000 words in those remaining five weeks to reach your eight-week (two-month) goal.
If you write every single day, you’ll commit to 428 words a day; or, to make it easier to remember, let’s say you’ll be writing 430 words every single day.
The daily word count is not overwhelming. If you plan to write a full 50,000-word draft in 90 days or three chapters to accompany a book proposal in two months, the daily word count landed around 450 to 550 words.
That feels reasonable.
You Can Write This Book in the Coming Year!
Build in time to go back in and edit your draft of those three chapters and the full manuscript, but I hope you can see that this becomes a very doable project.
If you can’t write 550 words a day, stretch out the timeline so you give yourself more time to complete the project, and your daily word count goal will go down.
Like every resolution you’re going to have to commit, but you can do it!
In this case, the habit of writing every day will be the routine that supports your goal. Even if you binge-write a few weekends to make up for sick days or vacations, you can pull it off.
You can write a book in the year ahead.
Perhaps an even better question is: will you?
- How to Structure Your Nonfiction Book
- You want your nonfiction book traditionally published? Learn what agents and publishers are looking for—and why you need a book proposal—in this free, on-demand webinar
- If you’re ready to clarify and validate your book idea, check out my course 7 Steps to a Clear Book Idea
Ready to write a book, but you can’t quite articulate your idea?
Join the FREE 3-day challenge: Craft Your Book’s Big Idea, and you’ll finally put words to the idea you long to write.
In just three days, you’ll nail your book’s big idea (and generate a working title)! Sign up and finally move forward with the message that’s in you…just waiting to come out!
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