Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Adventures in Self-Publishing: How Long is a Book?

One of the interesting things about self-publishing is the redefinition of what a "book" is.  Many people are self-publishing short stories, either alone or in collections; people are selling novellas (20,000-40,000 words); they're selling huge 200K-plus works.  Length doesn't really matter in an electronic format.  The pricing is whatever the buyers think is fair. The length is whatever the story needs, no more and no less.  No longer do we need to cut work to fit the page count, or pad with extra scenes because the book is "too short" to be marketable.  It's up to the writer--and the reader--to decide if the story works.

One of the things I am doing now is deciding how to market my "Deeds of the Ariane" stories. These are a series of fantasy stories about a band of magical women swordfighters whose mission is to protect the royal family of the Silver Isle.  I had been trying to write them as a trilogy of novels (about 250,000 words total), but now I'm thinking I might try selling each section as a novella, and releasing them on a monthly or bi-monthly basis (thanks, Genene, for that idea!).

Do you have any pet peeves about story length?  Do you prefer a quick read, or one you can get wrapped up in for a long time?  As an author, how would you feel about doing something like Charles Dickens did, releasing a chapter a week of a book, without fail?  Would you find the idea of writing a serialized novel fun, or scary? (I'd find it both!)


A quick note:  There's a brand-new magazine about indie romance novels, called InD'tale.  They reviewed my book, "The Honeymoon Cottage," for their first issue.  (Yay!)  You can get a free subscription for a limited time at their website.

Happy writing!

Barbara Cool Lee


Genene Valleau, writing as Genie Gabriel said...

Hi, Barb! Congratulations on the nice review! And thanks for the heads-up about InD'tale. Looks well put together and another good resource.

A couple pet peeves about story length--if I don't want them to end, they are too short. And if I really, really need to sleep or get my own projects done and I don't want to put the book down, they are too long. LOL!

Glad you could use the bi-monthly release idea, Barb. It's obviously not original to me, as Dickens and TV has been doing this for years. :)

It would be tough for me to release a chapter a week as I write by layering through the entire book--going through several times and adding depth and detail, as well as fixing things I didn't do well the first time or two through. It's really nice to be writing several books ahead with my LEGACY series because I can tweak earlier books if I find something doesn't quite fit as I'm writing the next book in the series. Once it's published, it's a bit tougher to do "overs."

However, as a reader, I like the idea. A shorter read that can be done quickly, and something to look forward to. Nice!

Varying lengths is something else I like about e-books! Thanks for the interesting thoughts!

chanceofbooks said...

I dislike super shorts. And I dislike serials--a chapter at a time. But that's just me. Others are different.

For me the sweet spot for shorter reads is around 40K--short enough to read in a single evening w/o to much stress, long enough to not feel gypped. So you could do five 50k stories which would give readers a really nice chunk at a time. Or 10 25k ones. But I wouldn't drop below 25K per chunk IMHO.

Meggan McQuaid said...

I love the idea of serials. I especially love it in relation to the same characters or world again and again, but in different situations. I also think its a good idea to make sure they are long enough to be satisfying, and 50K seems good that way.

If you are writing one long story, though, just write it with the intention of serializing it, leaving hooks in all the right places, but finishing the whole thing before pubbing any of it. The idea I had here is to sell each small piece for a small price. That way, you could tell how your readership was feeling about the book as it went along by taking note of how many people bought the next installment.

Another idea is a subscriptions service. A reader could sign up and get each installment, or a link to it, right into their in-box.

I do wish, though, that somehow I could tell ahead of time, when buying an e-book, how long it is. I'd like to be able to decide for myself, based on the length, if I think its worth it. I would hate to pay for what I thought was going to be 100K words and only get 50K words, but at a 100K price.

Great subject!

Deborah Wright said...

Congratulations on the review, Barb!

Personally, I prefer longer books, so I wouldn't be the audience for the shorter, serial/novellas you're talking about. But there are a lot of reasons why Harlequin is popular -- and shorter story length is one of them.

The one thing I find annoying when trying to decide on buying an e-pub only book, is trying to figure out the length of the book. Some descriptions state X number of pages (but is that paperback or manuscript?). Others state the size of the file (not at all useful). Very few state the number of words--which would be *my preference*.

I just saw a new self-pubbed ebook on Amazon by an author I'm familiar with. The book is set at a price which to me would indicate it's a full length novel (which I would consider to be 75K or longer - others may disagree with this length). That isn't the point, though. Nowhere in the details on Amazon's sale page for the book does it indicate the length of this book. But if you look very, very carefully at the tiny book cover you can barely make out the word "novella" on it. This? Pisses me off. It may be a lovely story, but I won't be buying it.

I don't know if I'm in the minority on this.