What if size does matter?

A Picture of a eBook

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Most literary agents, publishers and veteran authors hand out the following advice to newbie writers:

– Don’t get hung up on word count just write a complete story.

But at the moment is this really the best advice?

There is a major choice an author must make when they decide to publish a book and that is whether or not to go the traditional route or to self publish. Most of those who go the traditional route end up toiling over word count issues because the current trend in books has proven more is better as long as it is not ridiculously more. Even young adults are shopping for thicker books these days. In case your curious most publishers are turning out YA’s at 60-80K words. Adult genre books are between 80-100K words. Historical fiction, sci-fi and fantasy are still running higher at between 110-130+K words. These figures are much higher than in earlier years. First time authors are usually advised to start with word counts on the lower end of the ranges.

The creation of e-books has allowed more authors to go the self publishing route. Add a publishing company like Lulu to the mix and you can have your e-book and paper copy too. Recently, I have come across several blog posts and articles about e-books and what their readers want. In addition to visual and audio files being integrated into the books it seems there is a high demand for authors to change the length of their books as well. It appears the most enthusiastic e-book readers want shorter reads but more of them. If they like a story and an authors work they want to see them write more often, push out more stories in a series and are willing to pay a smaller price but more often for these smaller books. This drive for shorter e-books has spawned new publishing format options such as 40K books. The Savvy Book Marketer says there is Profit from Short Ebooks, perhaps even more than from publishing a single e-book novel and Kindle Singles has launched to make it easier for people to shop for these shorter works.

Does all this change how writers write their stories? I am not so sure. In my case I am still writing my novels for the traditional publishing route. I am however considering dusting off some of the stories that I have written that only amounted to 30,000 or 40,000 words and seeing if they are worthy of e-book status.

How about you? What do you make of all these changes brought on by e-books? Are you going with the trend or sticking with the traditional? Do you worry about your word counts?


About Billie Jo Schinnerer

Born and raised on the edge of the Helderberg Escarpment in eastern New York. Formerly a teacher. Moved to the North West area of England in 2003. Now a mother of three who doesn’t really know what she wants to be when she grows up.
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17 Responses to What if size does matter?

  1. Pretty good analysis. I’ve recently been considering writing a series of short stories and novellas. It seems like that method is ready made for the epublishing route and has the added advantage of allowing multiple formats for your readers tastes, as you can combine stories into series anthologies to please the ‘longer book’ crowd.

    • I agree Patrick. I had been a bit anti e-book up until recently. I also had been against self publishing but the more I research, and the more I read, the more convincing these options become. Good luck with the series. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  2. mindslam says:

    Great post…very informative.

  3. Hi Billie Jo, I’m Letizia Sechi, 40k’s Editor, thanks for mentioning us!
    I found quite interesting what you wrote about what readers want from an ebook. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Thanks for the post, has made me reassess my novel and how long I want it to be. I hadn’t really considered that first-time authors should perhaps aim for lower word counts.

    • Thank you for stopping by. Most publishers and lit agents recommend first time and unknown authors write novels at the lower word count levels because it keeps the print costs down. They want to get the most out of you before they invest more in you. First time authors often are told to cut words from their book before it is published.

  5. Shadlyn says:

    Other than NaNoWriMo, I’m writing novels at whatever length they end up. For me, that usually seems to be between 40K and 80K, so far.

    Then again, right now I’m not aiming at traditional publishing. My current experiment is to see if I can build an audience (even a small one) with self-publishing and then move on from there.

    I can say confidently that when I go book shopping in general, I look for series. I like to stay with characters longer than the time it takes to finish one tale, so characters like Miles and Cordelia Vorkosigan, Honor Harrington, Richard (Sword of Truth) and the like work well for me.

    • Thank you for that input. It confirms some of what I have been reading about. I think there is something to be said about the nature length of a story. I have quite a few stories that are between 30k and 40k words. That is there natural length. Try as I have, I could not get them longer without adding unnecessary fluffy words to them. I am glad there is actually more of a market for them now. Good luck with your writing plans. They sound well planned.

  6. I think I agree with the old wisdom: write the story and don’t worry about word count. You can always cut if required, later. My historical runs upwards of 150K words. But in a market where folks are purchasing historicals like Game of Thrones, which tops out at 1000 pages, I don’t feel it’s a problem. (We’ll see, though.)
    It is interesting to contemplate selling some of my early novellas as e-books. I’m with you on that thought, Billie Jo.

    • I found quite a few well known authors on the Kindle Singles list and they were selling there novellas. I figure it might just be a market worth exploring. My last novel was over 120k but I split it in two and have been working on it as two novels. It seemed more natural. I think they are both now under the traditional word count for YA novels but they certainly seem to flow better than when they were one.

  7. I have to admit that I love longer books. If I like a story, I just want to keep reading (as long as the extra pages aren’t just fluff). I like short books too though. It’s great that there are options for shorter books with self-pubbing.

  8. Kaitee says:

    I must admit I haven’t given any consideration to the size of ebooks. I’ve bought masses of books for my Kindle, but my purchasing choices have always been based on the fact that I live in a small town in Australia and lot of books I hear about and think would be interesting aren’t available here or in other cases it’s prohibitively expensive to ship them here.

    The actual word count of what I’m reading has never been a concern. I actually prefer bigger books and series because I have a nasty habit of finishing them quickly when I’m traveling and then I get stuck on the plane, bored senseless 🙂

    • I have to admit, I love books in series but I do prefer them to be average length and nothing too long. I find it hard to get through thick books at the moment and still find the time to write, blog and live life. Smaller books are good quick weekend reads for when I have a bit of time to myself. Longer books are great for when I go away. All I do when I am away is read. I very rarely write.

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