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Interesting Blog Post on ebook Length

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by BWFoster78, Sep 4, 2013.

  1. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    How many times have we heard the following?

    "You need to make your book shorter. If you go over 70k, 100k, 120k, etc, it won't work."

    Personally, I've heard that advice a lot. When I advertised for an editor on elance, one of the proposals actually stated, "you should shorten it" without even having read it. Needless to say, I didn't even consider that proposal.

    Here's an interesting post:

    eBook success: short and sweet? | Belinda Williams

    The main takeaway is that the author says that, according to the founder of Smashwords, sells decrease with word count.

    Thoughts?
     
  2. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    One thing I didn't notice in the article was the mention of fantasy books. Fantasy is known (for better or worse) for being a longer than most genre. I think some fantasy readers may get disappointed if they're looking for epic fantasy and it falls at around 75,000 words. For other genres this makes sense. For fantasy I'm not so sure shorter=better. However, I have read some shorter fantasy works recently and I find that they are paced better for my current reading speed (slow). For the most part I enjoy longer books, but here recently I may be shifting a bit towards what this article says. This doesn't mean I won't read a long book, but if a book is shorter I may be encouraged to pick it up if it's from an author I don't know.
     
  3. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Phil,

    Unfortunately, the article sends out missed messages. What I seized on was that longer = better sales according to the founder of Smashwords.
     
  4. dhrichards

    dhrichards Dreamer

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    I think the take -away from this good article is that genre matters. No one (well, me) wants to read an 800 page mystery, but 800 page fantasy, I 'd be all over that.
     
  5. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    Yeah, I guess I misread some of it. I admit, I was sort of scanning it my first read through. :)

    But this part I picked up on:

    I do think serious readers generally want more bang for their buck. While more casual readers may want shorter things they can read on commutes or vacations. This is telling:

    I was told one time by someone in the publishing industry that basically it's set up like this:

    1. Romance
    2. Everything else

    I believe mentioned something like a staggering 90 percent of what sells is romance. I'm not sure if that figure is the same today, but it wouldn't really surprise me.

    I do agree with the advice though. Research your genre. I'd say most (not all) casual romance readers don't want to read a 150,000 word book.
     
  6. PaulineMRoss

    PaulineMRoss Inkling

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    I can't imagine any sensible romance writer trying to stretch an already gossamer-thin plot for that length, either.
     
  7. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Diana Gabaldon's Outlander is a very popular romance book that has sold extremely well since its release in 1992, spawned numerous further books in the series, and even a graphic novel.

    The paperback is 850 pages.

    If a book is good, readers will stick with it through great length.
     
  8. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    That's a good point, but I would say that's an exception. Romance isn't known for being extremely long, but I guess if someone has a good story to tell, then it doesn't matter how long it is. Good books are good books. Just because a book is short or long doesn't make it better, regardless of the genre.

    From briefly reading about Outlander it seems it's a sort of historical romance. I can see that being a longer story than most romance.
     
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2013
  9. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Exactly!

    It's nice to know that there is even less justification now to follow arbitrary guidelines as to word count. The story should dictate.
     
  10. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    Yep, I think you are both right that the story dictates. Outlander isn't the only exception. It's sequels are long. Elizabeth Vaughn's romance Warprize comes in at around 350 pages. Twilight, which is both YA and Romance, two genres you hear have to be short, comes in at nearly 550 pages.

    Needless to say, I don't put much stock in arbitrary rules for word count. If you're going through a traditional publisher, you have to follow their guidelines of course, but the idea that you can't sell something in a given genre at a certain word length seems to me to be empirically false.
     
  11. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    First, you have to write for the story you're telling. Maybe you'll sell better to write a shorter story, but you don't do it by gutting a longer one. Insomuch as it matters, for a few reasons the thing to consider would be shelving the longer one and writing a shorter one first - but again, I only say "consider, insomuch as it matters." But don't cut things that belong in the story.

    Second, genre matters, absolutely. Fantasy leans a bit longer. You've got the worldbuilding, among other things, which justify the length. So can style, and the complexity of your story.

    Third, it depends on where your skills are as an author. If you're good, the longer the better - people will want more of you. If you're mediocre, no offense intended, but shorter doses are easier to put up with. Even the most obnoxious readers will get wrapped into a story by the time they've read two hundred pages, and nothing encourages "Let me read a bit more" like finding yourself halfway through. Skill level matters. What kind of length can your writing carry?

    Finally, you've got to consider how fast you write and how quickly you can publish a book. Writing a shorter book gets you started on the next one all the more quickly. Having a group of works under your name is going to help your sales a lot, but you can't do that if your time is wrapped up forever in a huge volume.

    I don't know if that sounds like I'm pushing one way or the other. But there's a bunch to consider, and you have to figure out what's right for you.
     
  12. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

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    Up front disclaimer: I didn't read the article.

    I've always thought word count guidelines dealt more with traditional print publishing through agents and publishers. This makes sense from a print standpoint where the monetary investment, for printing, is a concern. This is especially true for a new writer hitting the scene. It's a risk for them to take on new talent, with no established fan base, if they need to shell out funds for printing prior to receiving one cent of revenue. Less words = less cost = less risk.

    For ebooks, and specifically self-publishers where POD is an option, it shouldn't be much of a concern. Just tell the story as it needs told.

    I do think most people will appreciate an involved, detailed, possibly complex story for their money though. I know I would. I'd be more willing to spend $2 on an unknown author with a 160k word count than to spend that same amount on a new writer that puts out 75k word stories. It's all expectation though...and perception. Word count doesn't guarantee quality work.

    Factor in that a lot of the "slush level" self-publications are likely to fall within the lower word counts (total speculation on my behalf), I'd tend to the longer works would earn more.
     
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2013
  13. And yet there there's a huge surge in the publication of - and buying of - novellas and short novels, these days. The "why" of the old 80k give or take a bit length for most genres had nothing to do with it being a good length for a story - and had everything to do with that being the optimal length for print books on bookshelves, given the price publishers wanted to charge and the space the book took up. Publishers have collected a lot of data about this subject. Their length guidelines stem from physical marketing constraints.

    Go back fifty years, and most novels were 40-60k words long. An 80k book was a big. And again, this had to do with the way the books were packaged and marketed.

    Now, short is growing in popularity again. Why? Because readers LIKE ebooks in the $2.99-5.99 range. And writers have learned that they can package an 80k word novel for $5.99, or two 40k word novels for $2.99 each, and make the same income, but have increased visibility and marketing strength by using the shorter works. Pus, they tend to be a little faster to write.

    Much as marketing concerns forced the increase in average length over the 1980-2010 period, marketing concerns are forcing average length down today. Short stories are selling well, and serial novellas are doing very well too.

    Long novels still do great. But don't forget - much of Mark's Smashwords data comes from Apple's bookstore, which is heavily curated by hand. It is VERY hard to browse deep into the "stacks". Readers are presented with short lists of books, and get to choose from those lists. It's not like Amazon or B&N, where readers can browse deep.

    Also, the Smashwords data is hurt because as someone commented above, more unskilled writers tend to write short than write long... So you tend to end up with a higher percentage of the really bad stuff being shorter works. These books don't sell, and then bring down the average of shorter books. I'm not so sure that the data would match his, if you took a look at only books from more skilled writers.
     
    Chilari and Devor like this.
  14. PaulineMRoss

    PaulineMRoss Inkling

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    Being cynical, I would suggest that one reason shorts are growing in popularity is that it's not always obvious that it IS a short. Several times I've bought an interesting-looking, cheap book assuming it's full length only to be discover it's actually a novella. On Amazon, the length is in very small print. Devious authors take advantage of this. Caveat emptor, of course.

    On Smashwords, on the other hand, the length is very clear, and that's where the statistics come from that show that readers prefer more bang for their buck.
     
  15. Telcontar

    Telcontar Staff Moderator

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    I remember the original release of the smashwords data and find it very interesting, but I doubt it's value to any individual reader. Trends like this don't matter much to any single data point - no author should be modifying their books to fit the mean of a bell curve, because that would likely negatively impact the quality of the book itself. Quality of story and how it resonates with readers is still far and away more important than length (and one would hope, always will be).

    As Devor said, you've got to write for the story you're telling.
     
  16. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I think there's truth in that. But I also think that "short" has been kind of suppressed in print form, for the reasons Kevin talked about. Lift those restraints, and of course novellas are going to grow into their own segment.
     
  17. That's odd.

    Book length is in the same size print as the "Kindle Price" line, and is right under the price. It's almost impossible to miss...

    I know some folks might not read that, which is why I usually advocate publishers put "short story" or "novella" someplace in the title or description. Pissing readers off is never a good idea. ;) All an angry reader is going to do is return your book and never buy anything else from you again.
     
  18. Sanctified

    Sanctified Minstrel

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    Why should prices be set by word count? Why are editors and others concerned about book length before reading a manuscript?

    I really don't understand. Length has no bearing on quality, and novelists who work up huge word counts are also prone to getting sidetracked and rambling, to the detriment of the story.

    And if the ebook market is really so obsessed with book length, wouldn't a 40k word novela for $.99 sell regardless of whether it's any good?
     
  19. Sanctified

    Sanctified Minstrel

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    So if a story is excellent, readers will get angry that they overpaid by a buck and didn't get, say, another 10k words out of it? I'm not being sarcastic, I really am amazed by this and I have very little experience with ebooks.

    Would the opposite inspire loyalty?
     
  20. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I think they'll be angry if they feel deceived, even if they liked the product. No one likes to feel as though they bought something due to deception.
     
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