The age-old question: how many chapters should I have in my book?
No author wants to stuff their book full of unnecessary chapters that discourage readers from turning the first page.
On the other side of that coin, no author wants to leave readers unfulfilled, asking: where’s the rest of the book?
So how many chapters are just right for your book?
How many chapters does it take to produce a bestseller?
These actually aren’t even the right questions to be asking.
But we’ll get to that in a minute.
For now, I’ll show you my best rules of thumb for chapter numbers/chapter length for nonfiction books.
Let’s get started.
How Many Chapters Should a Book Have? Your Guide to Nonfiction by Industry
If you’re a practical planner new to the writing scene, you’re probably looking for a definitive set of guidelines to tell you how to write your book.
You want to know how many chapters to write, how long they should be, and anything else that guarantees you get your book just right.
If this rings true for you, here’s the answer you’ve been dreading:
There isn’t a definitive set of guidelines for book chapters.
That doesn’t mean you do whatever you want—there are still ways to write an objectively bad book.
But it also means I can’t give you a copy-and-paste formula, either.
What I can do is give you a general rule of thumb for nonfiction books:
The average nonfiction book is around 50,000 words, which roughly translates to 10-20 book chapters.
But it really varies from book to book and author to author.
Let’s see if we can make book chapters more clear by defining them in categories.
1. Average Amount of Chapters in Self-Help Books
Self-help books can range anywhere from 30,000 to 70,000 words or around 120 pages.
Keep in mind: your chapter number will vary depending on the topic, information, and goal of each chapter. It’s different for every author.
But to keep things simple, and to give you a practical example, let’s say each of your chapters falls under the average length (eight pages).
If your self-help book is 120 pages long, that’s 15 equal chapters for your book.
Again, your chapters should vary in length, which we’ll touch on later.
This is just an exercise to help you visualize the number of pages you’re working with for book chapters.
2. Average Amount of Chapters in Business Books
A traditionally published business book, on average, is around 210 pages.
Using our four-page chapter length example from earlier, this would equal roughly 26 chapters for your business book.
But note that there are 50+ chapters in traditionally published business books—it just depends on how many chapters you need to effectively convey your idea.
3. Average Amount of Chapters in Biographies
Biographies average 450 pages—some of the longest books in nonfiction categories.
This puts our example book at 56 equal-length chapters, give or take the lifespan and accomplishments of the book’s subject.
4. Average Amount of Chapters in “Big Idea” Books
“Big idea” books convey an overarching idea to their audience about a new and/or controversial discovery.
On average, they tend to fall around 320 pages (or 40 eight-page chapters for us).
5. Average Amount of Chapters in History Books
The average history book is around 400 pages or roughly 50 equal eight-page chapters.
This one may especially vary depending on what kind of history book you’re writing (textbooks, chronicles, etc.).
Average Length of a Chapter in a Nonfiction Book
The average chapter length of a nonfiction book is eight pages or around 4,000 words.
Again: this average is not a hard and fast rule. It’s just a benchmark.
How you choose to organize your information will truly determine the length of your chapters.
But we’ll talk more about chapter structure strategy later.
For now, let’s break down chapter length by nonfiction category.
1. Average Chapter Length of Self-Help Books
Self-help books are shorter in nature (30,000-70,000 words), so we might assume that chapter length would follow suit.
This can be true, but it’s not always the case.
A self-help book that falls on the shorter end of the spectrum might average 1,500 per chapter, which would produce 40 chapters in a 120-word book.
But a 120-page self-help book with only 15 chapters would average 4,000 words per chapter.
It just depends on how many pages you need to effectively convey your message.
2. Average Chapter Length of Business Books
The length of your business book chapters really depends on what you’re writing about.
If you’re writing a quick reference book—say 30,000 words on social media advertising—it might make more sense for your chapters to be short and to the point (around 1,500 words). This way readers can simply thumb through to find what they need.
But if your topic is much more broad and complex (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, for instance), you might have to use more pages to explain and convince readers of your argument (around 4,000 words per chapter).
3. Average Chapter Length of Biographies
The average chapter length in a biography is around 6,000-8,000 words.
This is equivalent to 12-16 pages, which would produce roughly 28-37 chapters in a 450-page biography.
4. Average Chapter Length of Big Idea Books
Big idea books tend to run longer than your average business book because they explore more emotionally taxing ideas.
Remember what I said about complex business books? It’s common to utilize longer chapters in order to build a strong case for your argument. The same concept applies to big idea books.
If you know your idea is going to generate cognitive dissonance within your reader, it might benefit you to write longer-than-average chapters that fall into the 4,000-5,000 word range.
5. Average Chapter Length of Academic Books
On average, most academic books contain longer chapter lengths because, similar to many of the other categories on this list, they explore a wide range of complex ideas that must be presented to the reader in a logical, digestible format.
3,500-7,000 word chapters are common in 50,000-70,000 word academic books.
Here’s What You Should Focus On Instead of the Number of Chapters in Your Book…
I can’t tell you that chapter numbers and chapter length aren’t important to a well-written book.
They might be subjective to the author—even ambiguous at times—but they do affect the overall readability and outcome of your book.
They can help the reader:
- Keep turning the pages
- Understand the content
- Get the solutions they need
- Break down your information
But here’s the catch: the number and length of your chapters aren’t the most important factor of a well-written book.
Like I’ve been hammering into your head since the start…
…chapter-based numbers are a suggestion, not a rule.
What you say to your readers matters a lot more than how you say it.
How to Outline Your Nonfiction Book Chapters
The answer to how many chapters you should include in your book lies in your content.
First, ask yourself: what is my key message?
Create a list of everything you want to talk about.
Then begin to break down your content into smaller fragments. Consider what might be important to someone hearing this idea for the first time.
What context will they need? Are there any prerequisites to the main idea? What should they learn about first to build toward the finale?
Once you have your list of small ideas, arrange them in the most logical order to thoroughly explore your content. (You may find you need to add or subtract things to improve clarity).
Now you have a rough idea of how many chapters you’d like to include in your book.
So how long should my chapters be?
The answer is however long you need to:
- Create an opening line that hooks the reader
- State your thesis for the chapter (what you’re going to discuss/your main argument)
- Illustrate the key points of your chapter
- Explore anecdotes, data, witness accounts, etc.
- Include a chapter-round-up (a summary of the main ideas from the chapter)
- Conclude the chapter (with a reference to your hook, key points, etc.)
(You may also find it helpful to create individual chapter goals that state how you’ll achieve your thesis for each chapter.)
How to Use Your Book Chapters to Position Yourself as a Thought Leader
Each chapter of your book should serve one overarching purpose: to grow your business.
I know what you’re thinking.
Shouldn’t my book put the reader first?
Yes! Writing a reader-centric book is how you’ll grow your business.
Remember: your book is the perfect opportunity to increase your credibility in your industry.
Once you can convince readers you know what you’re talking about (and that you can use that information to solve their problems), your sales will skyrocket.
Here’s how you’ll do it:
First, you need to understand your motivation for writing your book.
Do you want to get more speaking engagements? Become an authority figure in your field? Raise funds?
And then, more importantly: what will you do to help others?
I like to use the Who + What + Desired Outcome formula.
AKA—what problems will you help your target audience solve?
Next, let’s define that target audience.
Consider the primary audience you want to reach—it should be precise and narrow. You’ll only attract less attention by aiming too broad.
Once you have a good understanding of your target market, it’s time to create your ideal reader persona.
This shouldn’t be a description of surface-level information like where your reader lives, what kind of personality they have, etc.
It should be a clear and precise description of your readers’ pain points: what problem are you solving for them, and why should they care?
So, to recap: the chapters in your book should serve to position you as a thought leader in your industry. You can accomplish this by determining your motivation and desired target audience, then keeping these ideas top of mind while you write each chapter.
Optimize Your Book Chapters to Become a Thought Leader Today
How many chapters should your book have?
However many you need to convey your central message.
And how long should your book chapters be?
However long they need to be to support your claim.
Remember: you’re the expert. Only you can determine the ideal length for your book.
If you need more advice from industry experts, check out my New York Times bestseller: Publish., Promote., Profit.