How Long Should My Book Be? We Analyzed 272 #1 Bestsellers to Find Out – Tucker Max | Guest Post

A lot has been written in recent years about the average readers’ shrinking attention span.

We all know that the non-stop news cycle and round-the-clock social media have sped up our consumption habits. But do these same habits translate to books?

We decided to find out.

We gathered a list of every New York Times #1 Non-Fiction Bestseller for the past 7 years and analyzed how the average length has evolved.

The answer was clear: our collective cultural ADD is impacting our reading habits.


The Average Length Is Falling Fast

Since 2011, the average length of a bestseller has dropped steadily from year to year.

As recently as 2011, the average #1 non-fiction bestseller was 467 pages. By 2017, however, that number has dropped to 273 pages.

The average #1 bestselling book length has fallen by 42% in just 7 years.

And this doesn’t seem to be an anomaly. The drop comes as part of a larger downward trend:

  • In 2011, the list’s average length peaked at 467 pages.
  • In 2012, that average fell to 410.
  • In 2013, it fell further to 367.
  • In 2014, it recovered slightly to 382 on the back of three 600+ page books.
  • In 2015, the drop resumed as the average fell to 345.
  • In 2016, the drop lessened, falling only to 342.
  • In 2017, the downward trend has continued, with an average book length of 273 pages.

This isn’t to say that long books are no longer succeeding. In 2016’s list, Ron Chernow’s 816-page Alexander Hamilton managed to crack the top spot.

However, the drop in the overall average length of bestsellers over the last 7 years points to a marked trend in the overall preferences of the average reader.


#1 Bestsellers Have A Wide Range, But A Narrow Average

Since the New York Times Non-Fiction Bestseller List began in 2000, books of all sizes have claimed the top spot.

The shortest book to hit the #1 spot was Harry Frankfurt’s 80-page On Bullshit.

The longest? Robert Caro’s 1232-page tome, Master of the Senate.

Looking at this, a hopeful author might believe that length plays no role in the likelihood of a book becoming a bestseller. But while books of all sizes have cracked the list at one point or another, the vast majority of #1 bestsellers fall into a much smaller range.

Over 64% of the #1 bestsellers since the list began have fallen in the 200 to 400 page range.

In recent years (2015-2017), the trend has become even more pronounced, with over 50% of #1 bestsellers falling into the narrower 250-350 page range:

Shockingly, the 450+ page length that held the average book length just 7 short years ago, now makes up just 13% of the books in the top spot.

How to explain this dramatic shift, and whether the trend will continue, remains to be seen.


Tucker MaxBIO

Tucker Max is chairman and co-founder at Scribe Writing.

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