The long and short of it

Hi gang, Craig with you again today. I’ve been pondering word counts lately. There are multiple reasons, both personally and from a marketing standpoint.

On a personal basis, I tend to write short. This stems from my professional background where concise is important. I have more room in fiction, and I’m slowly getting there. Part of me worries that my ideas just aren’t big enough to fill a massive Sci-fi or fantasy tale of 120K words. I’ve written them before, so I know I can.

I’ve also written one sheet micro-fiction and really enjoy that. Some of my best selling books were collections of shorts and micros. You can understand how this result might influence my marketing.

Now I’m writing a trilogy and these thoughts have popped up again, swinging the pendulum back the other direction.

Years ago, I did a bit of research into word counts and the results were maddening. No source had the same answers for anything. I did some averaging, put the results through the shrunken-head wash, then made my own chart. (Argue all you want, but it’s a place to start.)

• Micro Fiction = under 1500 words

• Short Story = 1500 – 30,000 words

• Novella = 30,000 – 50,000 words

• Novels = 80,000 and over

You may have noticed something important.

Lisa Burton

There is a huge hole between 50,000 words and 80,000. Big publishing tried to kill off the short forms, but the Internet, and even Amazon, brought them back with a vengeance.

There used to be a category called short novels, and this got me to thinking. As a generation, what direction are we headed?

Our attention spans are shorter. Magazine length articles have lost their appeal to the Internet. We had a discussion at Story Empire about blog posts that are too long. Most of us admitted to skimming lengthy posts. Some of us dislike watching YouTube videos or listening to podcasts, because of the time involved.

I turned this conversation to our own work, and it appears that none of us are against long books, even lengthy series, but we all appreciate short chapters. This is because of the time constraints placed upon our lives. We aren’t above a dozen quick chapters, but we like to have that option, just in case Little Timmy set the curtains on fire again, etc.

Lengthy projects are perfectly acceptable, but you must have short chapters, or even a good section break to respect the readers’ time.

We have shorter attention spans these days. We want the scoop, without a lot of fluff. Even the nightly news struggles with this. Maybe it’s all caused by Twitter, or jobs that expect us to jump whenever they call, children, pets, etc. Doesn’t really matter, but that’s who we’ve become. As authors, we have to adapt to this.

So what about THE BIG VOID? I think we’re headed there. I believe readers will accept novels of 60K or even less now. (They need a name of some kind. I propose Noveloids.) People enjoy a good story, but they dole their time out sparingly.

Let’s take this to the comments section. What do you think? Are shorter chapters preferable today? Is there room out there for noveloids? (™️ Craig Boyack. License available in exchange for beer.) Is this post too long? Did you skim?

56 thoughts on “The long and short of it

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Red Eyes in The Darkness by D L Finn #TuesdayBookShare – Joan Hall (Blog)

  2. You make some good points here, Craig. Shorter seems to be the word of the day except in the romance genre. They still average 90,000 to 100,000 words. I personally love reading short stories. And, I think they are highly popular because of the fast pace that everyone lives at. Yes, there needs to be a new genre created for the void. 🙂 Great post!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I prefer the shorter chapter as I don’t always have much time, and the short chapters are natural ending points for me. I tend to write in the 50,000 word count category. I am extremely lean on description, just ask my sister. She will tell you. She always laughs when she gets something from me. The first comment is to add description. As a technical writer, less is more, and I tend to do that in my personal writing.

    Pricing is another big thing with me. My preferred range is up to $3.99. If it’s an author I know and enjoy reading, then $4.990. After that, you’ve lost me.

    I loved the term noveloid.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. When I choose books, I gravitate to shorter rather than tomes. I love Elizabeth George’s mysteries, but they take me FOREVER to read, a huge time commitment. I’ll bite the bullet and do it for her, but not many others. One of my other favorite authors is getting so expensive, it’s slowed down how often I buy her books. I rarely borrow books from the online library, but I might hers. When I buy ebooks, it’s hard to justify spending more for them than most paperbacks I buy. I’m still struggling with that. But let’s face it, she’s a bestselling author. SOMEBODY’S (actually, lots of somebodies) are buying those books. I’ll pay $7.99 without too much agony, but higher than that makes me wince. And I’ve paid $2.99 for short novellas without a whimper. Depends on the author.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love long novels because I love to lose myself in the story. Many of the authors I love write 300+ page novels. I’m also a lover of a series of books because the story continues. 🙂 I do prefer short chapters, or at least chapters with breaks, so that it’s easier to pause and come back to without forgetting something.

    My novels range from 77K to 144K words. They usually have between 30-40 chapters, and the chapters also have breaks within them. I never wrote more than the story needed. It wasn’t important to me to hit a certain word count. I just wanted the complete story told.

    I usually get e-books that are anywhere from free to $2.99, if I’ve read something by that author before. I do have a few of my favorite authors whose books are usually anywhere from $5.99 to $13.99 for the e-book. I know, crazy, but they are best-selling authors with their series containing 20+ books. I always wait until there is a sale or I have Amazon credit I can use on those books. Lol! Still, I’m so invested in their stories that I eventually equate it with going to watch a 2 hour movie. That movie will easily cost me over $10, and it will only last for 2 hours, whereas the book will last me a lot longer than that. Lol!

    Liked by 3 people

    • I like the idea of authors having to earn the higher price points. I loved my first few books, and still do, but looking at them with today’s vision they aren’t as good as I produce today. Shorter chapters are definitely a crowd favorite. Length is all over the board. I don’t know that I’ll ever have a 20 book series, but I’m not closing the door to the idea.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Pingback: The long and short of it | Welcome to Harmony Kent Online

  7. For the most part I’m a fan of longer works. 80-85K is what I think of as ideal, but I like the chapters to be on the short side. It keeps the momentum going and keeps me eager to flip ahead to see what happens next. I’m odd in that I do like dense prose, a lot of description, and flowery passages. Modern authors tend to steer away from that but there are still several out there (Tana French) who pull it off with ease. I also have no problem dropping $12, $14 or even more for an ebook if I know the author. If the author is new to me and the ebook is over $4.99, then I will balk. I’ve been seeing a lot of indie authors pricing $5.99 or above, and to me, that’s getting a little crazy.

    I also think genre plays into length. Romance and cozies tend to be between 50K-70k. I guess when it comes down to it….If I’m a fan of the author’s work, I’m going to bite regardless of length or price.

    Fab post today, Craig!

    Liked by 4 people

  8. I agree with the consensus of less is more. Nothing annoys me worse than repetition in a novel (or needless 5 page sex scenes) just to ramp up the word count. I tend to write on the lean side. My longest novel came out at just over 60,000 and that was tough!
    For pricing, I tend to set it according to pages; 250 or more- 3.99, 250 or less- 2.99, short stories (80-150 pg) .99

    Liked by 4 people

  9. My wheelhouse is in the 90,000 range with chapters no longer than five or six pages. I’ve noticed a lot of writers pumping out stores in the short story category. While I have no objection to it, they ought to be priced accordingly. I have seen short stories priced like full-length novels. No, I didn’t skim. If I use your TM term I will pay the beer price. (So far I haven’t used it…honest)

    Liked by 3 people

  10. I love the term noveloid.

    I prefer longer works (I feel like I get more for my money that way) but short sections. I need frequent natural stopping breaks because I don’t have large pockets of time to read. I like knowing I can stop at a hard break in three minutes, not thirty.

    I wouldn’t stress over the length of your work. Write the best story you can, then it is what it is. I only worry about it when my publisher gives me a target length (and I’m usually trying to cut stuff, not add it).

    As for blog posts? Keep ’em short. I don’t have time to read a dissertation on the Oxford comma. Especially when no one will ever convince me not to use it.

    Liked by 7 people

    • I really believe in length as an afterthought. I have to think about pricing, too. I have more than enough 99¢ titles available. I don’t want people to pass me over for $2.99 if my stories land in Noveloid territory. It seems silly, but even you mentioned getting your money’s worth. It seems odd that as a society, we’ll pay $8 at a coffee shack, then balk over a $2.99 book, but it’s true. (Off to cancel my post about the Oxford comma.)

      Liked by 3 people

      • I’m comfortable with $2.99, choose carefully at $3.99, and start to get nervous at $4.99. Beyond that, it takes a miracle to get my to buy it. There are too many more affordable titles out there; I can get three really good books for the same price as one that’s listed at $12. Even if the expensive one is great, my enjoyment is diminished by the price (and by missing out on the other three I didn’t buy).

        But don’t take me as the normal buyer. I really don’t think I am.

        Liked by 4 people

      • I believe more people think like you. I’d like to see us able to charge more, but competition overload means someone is always free or on sale. I’m to a point where I have a bit more confidence in my work, and am not afraid to charge $2.99. Still cheaper than a movie ticket.

        Liked by 3 people

  11. I don’t mind long novels as long as the story is good. I don’t like words added just for the sake of making a book a certain length. Write clear and concise. I prefer shorter chapters and/or scene breaks. I once heard (and it was probably from one of those authors who write nauseatingly long blog posts) that chapters should be roughly the same length. I don’t do that. Some of mine are 3K words, some closer to 2K. Since I write suspense, I like to end chapters with cliffhangers if possible, so if I’m at a good stopping point, I end it. I also use section breaks. The first two books of my last series were around 85K words. The last was only around 80K. But I said what was needed and I wasn’t about to add unnecessary scenes just to make it the same length as the first two. Great post, Craig!

    Liked by 3 people

  12. I love a long book, but prefer shorter chapters, or at least plenty of section breaks if it’s a lengthy chapter. I’ve written books over a 100K words and books at 55k. My current trilogy is going to look something like 80K book 1, 130k book 2, and 94K book 3 … or that’s the plan, lol, but I’m keep the chapters short (in book one the average is about 11 to 12 pages). In FALLOUT, any that ran long had plenty of section breaks in. I’ve never been one to put in flowery language or detailed descriptions. I hate that as as reader so don’t do it as a writer. I love a good series, but prefer to get all the books in one go rather than spacing them out. If there’s one thing I hate it’s having to stop reading in the middle of a section or chapter. I prefer to get to a natural stopping point if life allows. Thanks for a thought-provoking post, Craig 🙂

    Liked by 5 people

  13. I also believe that attention spans are shorter and people don’t like long flowery descriptions and unnecessary details. I believe that short stories and shorter novels are the way of the future. My new book is just over 72 000 words and I think that is the perfect “void” length. I always look at the length of a book before I purchase it. Lantern Fish was one of the longer books I have read this year. The motto of the new generation is “less is more”.

    Liked by 5 people

  14. I’ve thought about this a lot. I usually hit 80,000 or around there. This time I will be lucky to hit 70,000. I’ve noticed that under novels there are genre difference in length too. Scifi and fantasy allow for a higher word count, romance lower. Yes attention spans are less so it needs more action packed in. If you can tell the story in fewer words I’m all for it. I don’t think any rule applies like it used to. It seems we are starting to make new rules.

    Liked by 4 people

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