Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Is Your Novel "Long Enough?"

Books of Varying Lengths
As you may know, I've recently released Sullivan's War: The Complete Adventure. It collects three novellas (called Sullivan's War: Books I, II and III) which were released individually but make up one story line. Those novellas, usually priced at $2.99 apiece, have been selling fairly well. But The Complete Adventure's sales have been fantastic, selling in twelve days nearly as many copies as Book I, even though Book I's price was reduced to 99 cents near the beginning of the month.

I had suspected that I would see an increase in sales once I released The Complete Adventure, and here's why: I'd read long ago that many readers prefer to read only novels. They do not particularly care for short stories, and novellas? What the hell is a novella? The unimpressive sales of my collection Short Stories seems to support this idea. Even though Short Stories has a good number of positive reviews and I promoted it as heavily (if not more heavily) than Sullivan's War: The Complete Adventure, I sold nearly 7 times as many copies of Sullivan's War as Short Stories during July. And remember, Sullivan's War: The Complete Adventure was only available for the last twelve days of the month.

Now, I'm one who has always been a champion for short stories. I write them, obviously, and I even wrote a blog post called "Why I Love Short Stories." Another post I wrote as a guest on ME Franco's blog is called "Short Fiction is Dead?" In it, I propose that the eBook revolution will see a reemergence of shorter fiction. One thought is that a short story or novella can be published without the concern of making sure a "book" is of a profitable length. Now that printing costs are not a factor, any length can be a profitable length, assuming the story is sufficiently attractive to readers. Well, the three Sullivan's War novellas have been profitable, as have a few of the short stories I released individually. But my experience these past two weeks with Sullivan's War: The Complete Adventure has convinced me that full-length novels are going to be even more profitable. And while profit should not be a writer's sole consideration, it is unavoidable if one wishes, as I do, to make a living at it.

So is your novel long enough? What is long enough? The dividing line between novels and novellas ranges from 40,000 words to 60,000 words or higher. Will readers be "unsatisfied" with a 40,000-word novel? Does the word novella scare some people away? And what can one reasonably charge for short stories, novellas, short novels, long novels? I've been publishing my fiction for less than a year, and I'm still trying to work all of this out. But the sales of Sullivan's War: The Complete Adventure have convinced me that, for now at least, I should probably not focus on writing short stories quite as much. Novels are what readers want, and I have about a dozen novels waiting to be written. I just hope I can make them long enough.

What do you consider to be a minimum length for a novel? If you prefer novels over novellas or short stories, why? I'd love to hear any thoughts on this topic; just leave a comment below.

Best,
Michael K. Rose

Edit: Please read the followup to this post here.

17 comments:

  1. I consider 50,000 the minimum length for a novel. I have a few novels (priced at $3.99 and $4.99 depending on length), a $1.99 novella, and a .99 short collection of stories available through Amazon, and the novels definitely sell the best.

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Lisa. Good to know that I'm not the only one noticing that novels sell better than novellas and shorts. I think 50,000 is a good minimum length for a novel, but if someone handed me a 40K book and called it a "novel," I wouldn't debate them on it.

      Best,
      Michael

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  2. It's a great pity that short stories and novellas can't be serialised on subscription like the Sherlock Holmes novels and that sort of thing were originally. That was a very popular way to read in the Victorian times (in magazines of course) and I think it would work well now, if it were marketed well. Failing that, I think - as you have found - making a "collection" of shorter stories and selling them as one volume is better than selling them separately. I have personally never released a novel shorter than 70,000 words or so, but I would love to do short stories, I just don't see much of a market for them. People are getting used to great big tomes the size of Bibles these days. Spoiled readers!!

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  3. I think perhaps it depends on audience. The average murder mystery is 'short' fifty-sixty thousand words. I have written a couple of books for an audience I consider 'reluctant readers' (they're teens) and fifty thousand words is the absolute limit they can manage before losing patience. I'm sure different genres have different guidelines and largely those guidelines will be determined by what a publisher can produce most economically as well as what readers will buy. Who knows, maybe shorts will make a comeback!

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  4. is great gatsby a novella? i mean, i liked that. but i usually read novels. children's "novels" are pretty short but they aren't novellas are they? are there a lot of novellas out there? i guess i read too much mainstream fiction.

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  5. For the most part, I find short stories and novellas aren't long enough to immerse me for long enough. It's over too soon. I'm afast reader as it is - I can devour a 300,000 word novel in three days. A short story isn't even an appetiser. That said, while I write short fiction, I don't much like doing that either.

    How long is long enough? It varies for genre expectations. An editor at Harper Collins told me she'd never published anything shorter than 115,000 (in high fantasy) when I said mine was 95,000 words. but, that said, she did say a story is finished it's finished. 95,000 words is still a long way from the novella mark though. In high fantasy, books can run from 100,000 to 300,000 words! And with multiple volumes.

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    1. Great to know. I am working on a YA novel. I am close to my final draft (editing and revising what I can, without help), and so far I've reached 140,000 words. I think it will change to 150,000 or more, because of the details I've forgotten, which I believe are necessary.

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  6. I think it's a good story that people want, regardless of long or short. Even if you are a fast reader, if someone puts out a series of shorts or novellas that grip you, you are more likely to read the next, or at least something else by the author. If you have a good story idea, but it lends itself to be told in a serialized fashion, then do that.

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  7. Speaking as a reader and not a writer, I can tell you that I always prefer longer fiction, be it from Amazon or a brick and mortar. This is partially due to me wanting to feel like I'm "getting my money's worth" but also due to me not wanting to become attached to a plot, a setting, or characters only to have the experience or relationship end too soon.

    I'm a big fan of fantasy, especially epic fantasy, which almost dictates longer fiction. Give me two fantasy novels of comparable promise and appeal by authors I don't know and I will invariably purchase the bigger book. End of decision.

    However, I don't want meaningless, meandering filler and fluff. I want story in those pages. I don't want to wade through chapters of doldrums just to catch an occasional wave.

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  8. Jeff, I've written a 170,000 word novel now in final editing. I am glad to hear you say that. I am the same about a book. There is a lot invested in a book when I pick it up. I don't care if I remember the plot, it's the experience that matters. All the rules and regulations I read on how long, how this and that can really cramp a writer's story.

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  9. Therea Dawn SinclairAugust 4, 2012 at 9:02 PM

    I am a marathon writer rather than a sprinter so have more trouble stopping at around 140,000 than I do about not being abloe to write enough. My stories are too complex for a novella and as I lug about novels weighing pounds rather than ounces when I want a good read, I guess I am catering to the same type of reader I am.

    Have to say though, I do admire people who can tell a tale completely in 50k words. I wouldn't say they are good value for money if they are priced the same as novels but I think putting them in trilogy form is a fab idea.

    By the way Michael, I have got Sullivan's War and will get around to it...then I promise I'll leave a review...it's just when I offred to do reviews, I got a flood of requests so am working through them as quickly as poss.

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  10. Congrats on sales of the complete adventure. I'm glad I stumbled across your post because I've been considering separate publishing of 3 novellas that follow 2 knights to and from the Third Crusade with Richard the Lionheart. Your experience makes me think I should plan to publish them as a complete volume. But first, I need to finish writing!

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  11. It's such a shame that people prefer novels. I can't write a novel and to hear this is BAD. however, my short stories "Love of an Italian Dragon" and "Dragon Prince and the Dancer" are doing well. So is my collection of stories at 247,000 words. That says something!

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  12. I love novellas, short stories, and novels, but I wrote a novella as my debut in self-publishing. It hasn't done well at all, and I'm making its sequel a novel because the feedback has been that most readers crave a longer work. I don't know, I think the longer novels do really well as ebooks -- 80-120k+ from what I've heard.

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  13. I'm very new to all of this. I was lucky enough to get my debut novel published by an eBook publisher and that was complete at 110k words. The feedback so far was that it ended too soon? My new project which I finished today is 150k but it is completely different story. Not sure this helped at all an I am still def learning.

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  14. Some longer novels do feel padded, and I do wonder if this is down to authors being paid by the word count rather than just a complete well told story. Another example of commercial concerns ruining creativity.

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  15. I cannot imagine writing something shorter than 80K words. I tried, I just can't get the characters to evolve how I want. I wrote my first ms to 90K words and I loved it. But when editions came, the story jumped to 120K. Maybe it's because of the nature of the story I'm telling. Something I wonder if my novel is too big.
    I've read that some e-book publishers, and publishing houses won't publish some novels if they are too big. That makes me think too.

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