Does length matter?

Along with the rise of the ebook has come the rise of the novella. It seems lately, most of the books I’ve been downloading for my Kindle are under 40,000 words. Why is this? I think electronic media simply removes the limitations that come with efficiently and cost effectively binding paper books for mass distribution. However, just because we are now free to publish books of all lengths that doesn’t mean we should do so without putting some thought into it.

Do we get more by getting less?
One benefit to this and one reason I think some authors are eagerly producing shorter works is that it allows them to release new works more often. That can help them build a readership more quickly…if readers are content with shorter length stories. I don’t mind the shorter length. In fact, I like it as long as the story is still developed to a satisfying conclusion. On the other hand, I do sometimes get annoyed when I can’t figure out the length of the work before I buy.

How long is it anyway? Or…why I shout at my kindle app.
Maybe we need some standardization of lengths or just how we deal with those lengths. Do we need a labeling system, a price structure, or some other standardization that will help readers? I buy books from a variety of sources and even if you only look at kindle, there are three interfaces for shopping (kindle device, kindle app, amazon website) and each is a little different. Sometimes the interface or shopping site I’m using doesn’t list the length at all—my android Kindle app being the worst offender. Maybe this is the universe’s way of telling me I shouldn’t be reading on my phone so much. Even if the page count is provided, these are sometimes padded with teasers and extra matter. I understand the need for those materials and even appreciate them, but it can be confusing at the point of purchase. Pricing seems to provide no clue, varying widely and not always relate to length.

It isn’t the length that matters its…the HEA.
Is all this much ado about nothing? Does length even matter? To me, yes. Depending on my schedule I may have a length preference. Sometimes, I’m looking for either a short or long read. There are times when I just want a shot of escape and the lift I get from the happy ending. At those times I don’t want to start a longer book. Even if it is amazing, starting it won’t give me the kick I’d get from reading to the end of something shorter. Do I sound like an HEA addict? All I know is I wants what I want.

Sometimes I can figure out length by looking at the reviews. I think the most common phrase I’m finding in amazon review titles these days is “too short”. That leaves me wondering if that is a sign of a shorter story that doesn’t do its job of providing the satisfying read or if it is just people craving a longer read. Judging by all the door stoppers of wild success (the books of Rowling, King, Clancy, Sanderson, etc) there are many readers out there who want a long read. I’ve always trended toward shorter novels and novellas though I occasionally like a short story and often happily live in a good 450 pager for a few days.

This trend toward shorter books has been fun for me, since I can more often find a one evening read that will meet my needs without keeping up until sunrise. I just want to find a better way of knowing what I’m getting.

What do you think?
Have you noticed this trend toward shorter books? If so, what do you think about it? What price do you think is fair for an ebook novella? Do you believe a novella length story can be satisfying? Will we pay some price for the new prevalence of shorter fiction? (Traditional length readers get so annoyed they back off of the marketplace and deliver a blow to the industry.) Is this a transitional phase? Or a hint of a future full of possibilities?

PS. I do have more book recommendations and discussions coming. I’ve been doing LOTS of reading, just having trouble sitting at the internet-able computer to work on the blog.

25 thoughts on “Does length matter?

  1. You definitely bring up some good points. As an aspiring self-publisher I would like to give you some feedback. One the advent of e-publishing has not only allowed cost effectiveness in publishing shorter book, but also longer books. When Lord of the Rings was published, Tolkien wrote it as one book, but the publisher split it up since it would have cost too much and was feared it would scare readers with the size. But you also have to remember that at the same time since the cost of an e-book has less to do with the word count that you are going to see less difference in the price of a novella and a monstrous novel. I like the classification idea, but why not make a bigger deal about the existing definitions of story length. It should be clearly marked weather you are buying a short story( up to 7500 words), a Novelette (7500 to 17500 words), a Novella (17500 to 40000 words) or a Novel (over 40000 words). Some writers are better with shorter length works and some handle longer pieces better. Just as some writers are better at light stories that do nothing more than let you escape for a few minutes and some write to make you question your place in the world.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts. I hadn’t thought about longer length books being easier to do. I guess I haven’t come across many of them.

    I’d love to see short story, novelette, novella, or novel as part of the description, just like publisher, publication date, etc.

  3. I think readers are coming to prefer shorter works – but always provided the story is a good story and it’s told well. Besides, I like to view ebooks as breathing new life into short stories in general.

      • You also have to realize that writers make money differently in the last 150 year, there was a time that before you published a novel you would serialize the story in a magazine that would pay the writer by the word. Charles Dickens, Henry Melville, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Tolstoy all were paid by the word for works. Now if a longer work is serialized it is done with an established writer and they are paid a flat amount for the entire piece.

      • Serials were once THE way things were done. Podcast authors have been trying to use this model for a while now– but generally get only donations. Some pub houses seem to be trying to figure it out in a more profit driven model. Interesting times!

  4. I think electronic publishers would be doing us a great service if they listed the length immediately after the title and author.

    I get tired of reading reviews that complain they weren’t aware of the length of the book, or grumble that the book was too short.

    I always check the length of the book before I buy. (force of habit) If for some reason it isn’t listed (that’s been rare in my experience) the reviews usually tell me.

    For me, I enjoy shorter lengths when it’s on my ereader. I guess it’s because when I’m busy, I feel I can read more books in short pockets of time–especially spring and summer when I’m busiest. In the winter, I prefer longer books.

    • Agree, agree, agree. It was those ‘too short’ reviews that prompted this post. I’m glad I’m not the only one who likes short.
      I worry though, about the possibility that some readers are feeling cheated. That impression is not one I’d like to see tar the industry.

  5. Hi–I’ve read a couple of shorter novels as ebooks recently. It’s actually kind of refreshing because the trend for a long time was for hugely long books. That said, I do like a 300/350 page read now and then.

    • The 350 page books is perfect for a long weekend or something you want to read in really tiny treat snips. I’m using one right now to keep me motivated to get on the treadmill. That’s the only time I read it. *laughs*

  6. Great Post Charlee. I noticed this trend a bit ago also. I’m also noticing shorter books in the print media as well. All for the good points you’ve mentioned. I personally have invested some time doing the Novellettes 10,000 to 20,000 words for just those reasons. I am building readership. I can produce in a comprehensive time frame. etc etc. as you’ve said.

    Now, the problem is. Writing short is very hard. To write a book that has the same quality as a full length novel is challenging. Working out plot, character development and progress, tying all the ends together. It is not very easy at all.

    Thanks for your observations.
    Eden Glenn

    • Thanks for weighing in. I don’t mind reading on my kindle, but reading on my phone kills me. That I still do it, must be a sign of addiction. Ha!

  7. Great post. I also wish pages were listed on my Kindle, but I’d really like to have word count listed somewhere before I buy. Page count can change, depending on how the original is formatted, but word count is more reliable, in my opinion. I don’t mind short pieces, but only if a) I’m expecting them and b) if they’re reasonably priced ($4 for 12,000 words seems a little out of line).

    And I’m always looking for an HEA, too, although the shorter the piece, the more difficult to write a convincing HEA, in my opinion, anyway.

  8. Short books of less than 100 pages are great to read on my phone, do need the book to have either an HEA or at least the beginning of a good series for me to ever download it in the first place though. I check for the pages on Kindle, if it is not listed than yes also go to the reviews to see how “short” a book is and if still no idea do not download it even if it is free. As for as price if a book is by an author I know and love and it is under that 100 page mark than would pay about $2 at the most, over that up to $4 as I am a cheap skate when it comes to digital buys.

    I have lots of “short snippets of time to read” so those novellas have come in handy over the months where sitting down with a book over 300 pages is just not going to happen. (Although still prefer full length novels.)

    • I’ll admit to being miffed on price at times. Even though I understand very well that authors need income- ha! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      • Having looked at the idea of publishing novellas and short fiction for phones, I will weigh in and note part of the reason for the pricing is that credit cards take such a huge percentage if the price is under $2, that you just can’t make it a viable economic model.

  9. Just like genre, I choose the length of a book depending on what I’m in the mood for. Sometimes I want a quick HEA, and other times I like to savor the work, travel the ups and downs over a period of days.

    As an author, I write stories anywhere from 5K to 80K. I agree that the shorter ones can be more difficult to write, as you can only include so much, leaving the rest up to the reader’s imagination.

    Thanks, Charlee! 🙂

    • I think romance is especially hard in a short story length. It’s can be hard to make time for the relationship development that is at the core of the genre. It can risk turning into a vignette if the author isn’t careful. Glad I’m not alone in liking different length stories!

  10. I write novella length, but for me that is my longer story. I spent many years writing short stories around 8k and think that I am by nature a short story writer. I enjoy reading shorter works, also. I love books from 20-50k that I can read in one sitting.

    My book length has gotten longer in the past couple of years, and I am contemplating a leap to novel length in the next year or so–but more in the 60k length, not 100k. My Diaspora Worlds books will all be 35-40k novellas, but I am working on another series called the Vangellis Alliance, and am plotting more subplots which will lengthen them.

    I put the length–novella!–in my book summary so readers know what they are getting!

    • I’m enjoying the Diaspora Worlds. The length works well for those stories – very satisfying and plenty of world building. I’ll look forward to seeing the Vangellis Alliance stories!

      And, yes! Putting novella in the description is very helpful!

  11. The other side of the coin is also true regarding length in the e-pub age: longer books are also possible to publish.

    Once upon a time, writing a book over 100K… or sometimes even 80K was death. The costs involved in publishing were huge. Now, however, the cost of production is smaller. As a result, an author can spend more time building a world and characters. Of course, this shouldn’t be taken as a licence to blather on ad infinitum. Too many words can still equal boring. Still, it gives authors a bit more flexibility.

    End result? For my part, I think that the flexibility for a books length could well add to the artistry of writing. After all, it gives authors the ability to make a story as long as the story requires to be told. It also, if you ask me, increases the value of good editors. After all, who else will catch if a story needs more detail or descrition. Who else will be able to say that well written and beautiful scenes need to be cut because they just don’t add to the story and ruin the pace?

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