I’ve written about this some years ago, but I ran across a great article detailing the history of novel lengths by Dean Wesley Smith. I’ve also praised the work and website of Dean Wesley Smith so check out his article here.
With the source being acknowledged, I would also like to add my two cents about novel lengths. In this new world of publishing digitally I feel that novels don’t need to be the lengths that you find in the brick and mortar. The reason being is you really have no reference of length from device to device. All you have is the speed of the reader. Sure, there are stories that are extremely short, but I am referring to a written story that has the intent of being a novel not a short story. In a way it is all about perception. “Am I getting my monies worth when I buy this book?” And for the publisher it was all about that…how they are going to justify the novel price. We as consumers also feel that we want more for our money. Am I going to buy this 300 page fantasy, or this 700 page fantasy adventure? More, in most cases, is better when we are holding it in our hands and our eyes are drawn to the magical art work on the cover. This, as Dean Wesley Smith pointed out, caused the story to suffer as the publisher would cause the writer to fill space in order to meet the word quota.
Now I’m not suggesting or saying that long novels are bad, but what I am saying is that a 40K word novel can be just as good as a 100K novel, and we as writers should not allow the old way of thinking guide us to writing a story that isn’t as good because of all the word padding. Dean lists in his article a number of novels that were around 40K words that would not have been published if they were held to the modern publisher demands. I never imagined that some of those stories were indeed so short! It just proves to show that it’s all about substance and not quantity.
Michael A. Stackpole has also written about this in his past posts and he laid out a brilliant pricing structure to help the buyer/reader understand what value they were purchasing. This is not his exact structure, but for the sake of this post: 5-20K word story might be .99cents. 20K-50K might be 1.99$, and it would scale up that way to any story over 100K would be 5.99$. Now this was just an example, the beauty of self publishing is you have the full control of what you price your work. However, the patron has a feel of what value they are buying when they purchase a story. They can expect a lower cost to match the quantity. Value, however can have no price, as no word limit can equate to the quality of a story. There are plenty of good and bad stories out there at all price ranges.
Pricing structure has been blogged about by many authors and there are many ways suggested to work out a price for a novel, but I must add that many authors (Indie Authors), in my opinion, have ruined it for the rest of us. Too many novels for .99 or 1.99$! I’ve also written about this in the past. Sure a good story will rise to the top, but most of us, if we are honest browse Smashwords, or Kindle bookstore and look for ratings and price to determine if a buy is worth our money. Established authors from the old publishing have an established following, if they were successful, and many are willing to pay the 6.99 or higher for their work because we love that writers stories. I do this with Terry Brooks. But if I were to come across my name on Amazon and see Dark Moon Shadow for the same price I might not buy it due to the unknown aspect. I don’t blame anyone who would do the same because I am also hesitant to spend a higher price for an unknown. But what has happened is that many of us unknowns need to get noticed so we low ball our price as a way to get someone to take a chance on our work, and what we really have done is establish a new mark for unknowns. Unknown Indie Authors are now 1-2$ products unless we can justify a higher mark with a ton of 4 to 5 star ratings. Way to go Indie community!
I bring this up to say a good pricing structure helps set a great standard for everyone, and allows us to break away from the low to high word bondage and just focus on good story writing no mater the length.
Star rating is a whole different topic I will tackle soon. So stay tuned.
Check out my short stories for YA, and my short Paranormal stories in my bookstore and maybe take a gamble on my Fantasy novel Dark Moon Shadow.
Happy Reading my friends.