Last time I spoke about the difference between indie and traditional publishing. This time I want to talk about one of the most complained about subjects, book length. Yes, while most of my reviews are good, a fair amount of them mention length. Wish it was longer, kind of short, etc. So what about that? Why don’t I write longer books besides the fact I have the attention span of a…ooh, something shiny 😉
Most publishing houses publish books that are novel length, generally 40,000 words and up. Why do they do that? Can you not tell a story with fewer words? Of course you can. It has to do with how the book is made and sold. The expense of printing, marketing, shipping, etc. is pretty similar for a short book and a long book. The money isn’t in the paper, it’s in the editing, cover art, marketing, etc., not to mention the authors royalties.
For a publisher to make a decent profit, it makes sense to publish novel length books. They can charge more for a single book without spending too much more to print and ship it. This is the model that came about in the last 100 years or so. Remember, before modern printing, the paper and printing was the big cost and that Charles Dickens and many other writers wrote serials. There may be other reasons but today with ebooks and print on demand, that is changing things again.
So, why do so many indie authors/publishers write 15, 20, 30 thousand word books? Sometimes the story only needs that many and since we aren’t trying to meet some arbitrary page or word count, we stop. Ever read a book and it seemed like it was 100 pages too long? I know there are authors that pad their stories to meet a specific word count set by the publisher. That’s only one reason though.
One main reason is that publishing shorter works makes us more money. More books, especially when you’re new to the game, means more discoverability. It’s more likely you’ll come across a D. H. Cameron book if I have four published instead of one. There is also less risk for the author. Writing an 80,000 word novel takes a lot of time and effort and if it flops, the writer is back to square one. Writing a 25,000 word short with planned sequels take less time so there is less risk. If the first part fails, the author can move on and hopefully the first part had a real ending.
Now, you might be thinking that readers get the short end of the stick. You have to buy three books to get the whole story instead of one. True, but this is where what’s good for authors meshes with what’s good for readers. If I charge $7.99 for the novel and $2.99 for three shorts, you pay a dollar more for the three shorts. But what if you don’t like my novel. You’re out eight bucks. If you didn’t like part one of my planned trilogy, you found that out for only three dollars and often only 99 cents since many authors price their trilogies that way (.99/2.99/2.99).
That’s huge. Imagine buying a hard cover for 15 dollars and hating it. Authors can write shorter stories to test the waters. If it flops we can move on to another book. The reader can do the same. Plus, now I’ve got two-thirds of the story ahead of me. I can react to reader comments and adjust the story to give readers what they want. I can abandon the series if it doesn’t garner much interest and write something that does excite my readers.
It’s a win/win for authors and readers. The ability to vary length allows indie authors a lot of freedom. We can write series instead of novels. We can try serials (like TV shows instead of movies – see Yesterday’s Gone for one of the best examples). We can write collections of short stories. Bottom line is playing with length opens up a whole bunch of possibilities to authors to tell better and different stories. Movies and Television shows are delivered in these ways, so why not books?
Next time, I’ll get into series, collections, box sets and serials. I’ll talk about the various ways we indies deliver content and what the advantages of each are. Until next time…