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“How long does it take to write a book?” If you’ve asked this question, you’re not alone: I hear some version of this several times a month.
You probably know what I’m going to say next:
How long it takes to write a book depends on the type of book, how often you write and for how long, how quick or slow a writer you are (no judgment here), how many rounds of editing you do, how long the book is, how much research is required vs. how much you already know…and much more.
In a moment, we’ll break it down.
But first, I want to point out a few things.
To figure out the timing to write your book, let’s start with how long a book you’re writing.
Books are getting shorter, no doubt.
Jess O’Brien, an acquisitions editor at New Harbinger, which specializes in self-help and psychology books, says, “Our self-help books have a range of lengths.” Jess suggests a typical 6″ x 9″ self-help book should be somewhere around 55,000 words. “Small gift-sized books will run around 35,000 words. For oversized workbooks with big pages, it might be closer to 60,000 words.”
He adds, “From what I can see, all the different book formats continue to thrive–gift books for a short intro to a topic, trade sized for an authoritative treatment approach, and workbooks with fill-in’s for direct hands-on practice and tracking results.”
The length of a memoir can vary tremendously, but most popular memoirs are somewhere between 60,000 to 100,000 words (and occasionally longer). For a new author, literary agent Rachelle Gardner recommends staying under 75,000 words.
The important thing to remember when writing a memoir is to pick a theme or period of time to write about. You can include flashbacks or even flashforwards, but don’t try to encompass every big event in your life or every funny story. If it doesn’t have to do with the book’s theme, save it for another book (or a blog post).
It’s going to be difficult to decide on exact length until you’ve written the thing. Writing a memoir is an organic process and you’ll likely find yourself changing course, deleting and adding scenes throughout the journey.
Again, my advice about giving yourself time holds true especially with a memoir. You need time for the material to gel. As my colleague book coach, editor and ghostwriter, Stuart Horwitz, says, “If you rush a book, you don’t allow time for nuance to show up.”
Once you have a sense of how many words you’re aiming for, you need to figure out how many words you can write in an hour and multiply that by the number of hours you plan to write each week for a weekly estimate.
Let’s do the math:
1. How Much Time Can You Put into Writing a Book Each Week? Let’s say you put in 2 hours a day, 3 days a week. That’s six hours a week.
The more hours you put in, the sooner you’ll have the book, right? Be realistic, though. If you have too much on your plate, see what you can take off so that you truly can make the hours. Also, scheduling your book writing times in your calendar and keep it sacred. Otherwise, our calculations won’t mean much. Even worse, that book won’t get written! Are you committed? Yes? Good.
2. Divide the average (or a target number you decide upon) number of words for your genre by the number of words you expect to write a week. Voila, you have the number of weeks.
Over time, you may find you write more quickly than you did at first (or more slowly). You’ll want to evaluate your progress throughout the journey.
Okay, all our calculations have been for writing a first draft. Now comes the revision or editing process. Yikes! I mean, Yahoo! You’re going to get feedback and make your book even better.
Depending upon whom you ask, there are generally three types of editing you may need:
Within the developmental feedback and line editing, it’s advisable to work with both some beta readers in your target market and find a professional editor. Find out what your beta readers like, where they get confused or bored, what they want more of, what’s missing and any other feedback they are willing to share. Here’s how to find beta readers and questions to ask. I advise just a handful of beta readers. Do you really want to try and figure out what to do with feedback from 100 readers?
My free ebook, 7 Questions to Ask an Editor Before You Hire Yours can help you find the right editor for you and your book.
So, how long does good editing take? Most editors will get back to you within several weeks of starting on a project. You will likely need more than one round of editing. If your book needs many changes, based on the developmental edit–such as writing new material or expanding upon stories, anecdotes or research–you’ll need to factor in more time to write again. Then it’s back to the editor, or perhaps your beta readers.
On the shorter end, allow for 6 to 8 weeks to fine tune your book if it’s in very solid condition and only needs a round of editing and a round of proofreading. On the longer end, and more common, if you’re revising several times, it could take over a year. In fact, sometimes it takes longer because you need to give your book some time to integrate and you come back to it with fresh ideas. That’s fine.
Don’t beat yourself up about taking time. Many of the award winning authors I’ve worked with have taken a hiatus or a year or more, gotten published by their top choice publisher or won prestigious book awards. Trust in your personal process.
Still, I get it. You may feel an urgency to write a book quickly. Here are a few tips to help you do just that: