I’m going to make a general assumption: eBooks are a viable and legitimate content distribution channel for individuals and organizations alike.
Since the market has decided this eBook “thing” is going to last, those of us who are content creators and professional communicators would benefit from making sense of the available word count options. Word count often drives production schedules, costs, and—ultimately—the final retail price point. This is not an insignificant aspect of eBooks should you choose to take this path. Instead, it is vital to maximize this content channel.
Currently, there is this big, ominous category called eBooks which have yet to be fully defined. In short, no one is really sure their definition of an eBook is consistent with someone else’s. That means word count expectations are all over the place—often with little rhyme or reason. Some important questions being asked are:
Is an eBook an electronic version of what sits on the bookshelf?
Is an eBook something I download from a website?
Is an eBook a short book that I purchase from sites like Amazon.com?
In short, it’s all of the above.
I’ve done dozens of different eBooks over the last few years. Three different word count ranges have emerged. Each speaks to a different function. What I’ve learned is that before you can settle on word count, you have to understand how this content will be used. Much like an architect, a content creator must now carefully define function before form.
The 3,000–5,000 Word eBook
This can be read in one sitting.
This can be offered as a free download or as a low-cost resource.
The goal is to start a conversation. (One of the best lead generation tools available.)
This can be created using latent blog post content or previously published material.
The focus should be on the how—connecting the why with the what.
This size can be linked together in a series to create momentum around a specific idea, campaign, or content plan.
The 15,000–20,000 Word eBook
This can be read in 1–3 sittings.
This can be offered as a free download or low-cost resource.
The size is long enough to be printed—if you want to incur the expense. (Print publishing is now an add-on feature.)
This is a great vehicle to share vision or dive deep into a key idea.
This is a great alternative to a traditional book size, and the length makes it possible to produce new eBooks on a more regular basis and at a lower cost. (Consistency and frequency drive the digital publishing landscape.)
This is a great option for annual publications, vision campaigns, or thought leaders looking to establish their authority around a key issue or idea.
The 30,000–50,000 Word eBook
This is the length of many traditional books and the least imaginative when it comes to the options digital publishing affords.
This can be printed and/or made available electronically.
This length is necessary for significant pieces to be released less frequently than smaller eBook editions allow. (Release schedule: Approx. every 2–3 years.)
This is the most expensive option and will take the longest time to produce.
This is a great way for authors with previously published material who have regained rights from the publisher to package and offer through their website or other popular online channels such as Amazon.com.
Not every eBook needs to be the size of a traditional book. The “dirty little secret” of traditional publishing is that word count drives page count. In turn, page count drives the retail price. Publishers know they need to achieve a certain retail price so they can wholesale it at a 50 percent discount and still break even or profit from a book project. (Yep. Publishing is a business.)
I’m convinced: there are a lot of books published that would be better if they were 15,000 or even 5,000 words. When you take the traditional publishing pricing model out of the equation, every size eBook is on the table. This allows the author to focus on the target audience and reaching them in a way that moves them to some type of measurable action without being restricted in size by superfluous pricing models.
What is the optimal word count for your next eBook? Why?