Expanding Your Book

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“I have a great idea for a business book, but when I wrote it, I had only 17,000 words. How do I expand to a full-length book?”

Jay was frustrated when he asked me that question. We talked about his idea. It was solid, helpful, and grew out of his experience with clients. Jay thought he’d expressed the idea effectively. But he wanted to write a book to enhance his reputation and he didn’t think the 17,000-word book would cut it.

Jay wanted “a full-length book.” the length that’s been standard for decades. Most business books by legacy publishers run from 250 to 300 pages or 62,500 to 105,000 words. That’s a long way from 17,000.

The good news for Jay is that there are many more options now than there were thirty years ago when full-length books ruled the roost. Not only that, expanding his book might be a bad idea. To understand why we should look at common practices and the desires of readers.

Books were full-length for a reason (maybe two)

Legacy publishers have produced 250-to-300-page business books for decades. They got really good at it. and it made sense in the days when all books were paper, there was a limited number of publishers, and self-publishing was frightfully expensive and difficult.

Since not many books were published. authors tried to get as much into a book as possible since they might not get another opportunity. The problem is that the standard 250-page-plus business book isn’t necessarily what readers want.

Readers want to solve a problem or answer a question

Readers don’t necessarily even want books. They want solutions.

In 1983, Theodore Levitt shared the insight of one Leo McGinneva (1947) that people don’t buy ¼-inch drill bits because they want ¼-inch drill bits, they buy them because they want quarter-inch holes. That insight and that analogy weren’t new to McGinneva. Both were around since at least 1923.

Readers want solutions. They can get them from lots of places including those full-length books. But many times, they don’t need all that content. According to Jobs To Be Done theory, readers “hire” a book to do a job. They may want to know how to revamp a culture. They might be seeking new ideas from other companies. They might want insight into how they can get promoted faster.

Readers don’t need or want fluff or froth

Readers don’t buy books for content that doesn’t help them. Alas, that’s exactly what many “full-length” books are full of.

Here’s an exercise you can try. Fire up your Kindle reader and examine the “popular highlights” in several full-length business books. I’ll wager that almost all of them are in the first chapter or three. That’s because so many books only have content that would support a few chapters but not a full-length book.

What you get is a limited number of pages where many authors lay out their ideas in full. Even though they promise more if you just keep reading, readers aren’t fooled. They quit reading when the content gets redundant or frothy.

How to expand without diluting the value

If you’re an author working with a legacy publisher, you’ll probably have a contract that specifies how long your book should be. That’s a good reason to expand your book. It’s not a good reason to dilute your content.

One way to expand your book is to add more stories and examples. They can add to the length and add to value at the same time. Another way is to add reviews and exercises at the end of the chapters.

You can also add appendices. The appendices can add value to the book by including content that only matters to some readers.

Write a lean book

Even if you’re self-publishing, you can use those same techniques to add valuable content as well as length. Just be sure to keep the core of your book lean.

A lean book gives a reader everything he or she needs to solve a problem or answer a question, but nothing more.

Takeaways

For decades a “full-length” business book has had 250 + pages.

Books were full-length for a reason (maybe two)

People read a business book to solve a problem or answer a question.

Business book readers don’t need or want fluff or froth.

You can expand your book without diluting its value.

Expand by adding stories and examples.

Expand by adding chapter reviews.

Expand your book by adding exercises.

Expand by adding appendices.

A lean book gives a reader everything he or she needs to solve a problem or answer a question, but nothing more.

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