How Long Should Your Novel Be?

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.

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Who has your best interest as a writer?

I just finished reading a great article by Michael Stackpole. If you are a writer you should really read this. It starts off by explaining a bit about the Amazon–Heachette feud, but spins off to a very important thought process we writers need to embrace. Writing for fun, or for a living is really in the writers hands, and we need to understand that it is we who hold our best interests. To read the article click…HERE

Elven Magic

Elven Magic

What kind of magic does your Elf use? If you are a writer in fantasy there is a good chance that your world has Elves. If your world does have Elves do they have magic? If they do wield magic, what kind do they use? I may be a little ignorant on the subject because I haven’t studied all the mythological histories of Elves, nor have I set out to mimic any other writer of Elves. What I have done is read some really great fantasy authors and understood that their world of Elves differ from the other. For instance Tolkien, the most famous, and Brooks, my favorite, use Elves in their fantasy worlds, but both are very different. Although there are Elves in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings their magic was not as prevalent as they are in Brook’s Shannara tales. I love this about writing fantasy. It doesn’t matter what any other author has done before or what mythology tells us about any specific species or creature, your fantasy world is your own and you make the rules. In Dark Moon Shadow, the Elves have magic, but their magic is almost all but forgotten and rarely used. In Shannara Elven magic is used often in the quest of the hero, and holding the common rules of magic there is pros and cons to its use. I love the way Brooks creates magic with his Elven characters. The magic is creative and exciting to read. Elven magic is very old and extremely powerful. It doesn’t appear that all Elves have the power to use Elven magic. Elven magic is different in each of the characters that have its ability. Keep in mind I am on the fourth and final tale in the Sword of Shannara series, Wishsong being the one I am reading currently. If I rewind to the beginning, The Sword of Shannara was an object of magic that an Elf used to defeat evil. Later on the Sword gave way to another object of Elven magic called the Elf Stones. These stones appeared twice in the series, each functioning differently than the time before, although they were indeed the same stones passed on from the previous generation. Lastly, we come across the Wishsong. The wishsong here is not an object of magic, but something that is innate and part of the Elf altogether. Even though the sword and stones are objects, one still must be an Elf and have the ability to use its magic, thus the Elf and object work together. I particularly love the way each of these magic’s are different and especially how finally it is born within. Wizards in Dark Moon Shadow are born with innate magic, much the same way. I’m sure magic and Elves will continue to grow and change as I read more from Terry Brooks and I totally look forward to it. So, do your Elves have magic? If they do, be creative with it and don’t worry about what other authors have created in the past, or use currently with their stories. Your magic is unique and your own. Keep it real.

Dark Moon Shadow is available in a format that is right for you. Download, or order your copy today and become a patron of the arts. Thank you!

World Building

How do you world build? I came across a good blog post on  World Building while searching for how authors create universes in fantasy. If you are a writer this is a good read and full of advice and ideas. Check it out.  I agree with the writer of the blog (Berley’s Top 10 World Building Tips for Sci Fi or Fantasy) that one must develop a thick skin as a writer due to all the critics and rejections we suffer at the hands of readers. Here the writer says it wasn’t until ten years of writing and much practice did he finally learn to be a better writer and world builder.  He touches on the ten most important elements in a world and explains why. Size, history, culture, dominant technology, governments, transportation, magic systems/Sci-Fi technology, religion, currency, and food.  So far in my research Berley’s list is the best I’ve seen. For a writer it’s worth a read and a re-read at that.

One thing that I found most helpful in my world building was a map. Even if it’s a crude one drawn with a pencil, a map was really important for me to keep the feel of the world, size, and direction. Without it I think there would be great risk of inconsistency of time and space. A map helped me move my story along and I was never lost. I always knew where the cities were, the forests, mountains, rivers and deserts. I also could keep track of where everyone was and the distance it would take for a character to travel. All this falls int he size category.

Thanks Berley for your contribution to the world of writing and the advice you shared with all of us. Every little bit help Indie authors hone their craft.

So how do you world build?  I would be interested to know.

Kindle Select Program…is it worth it?

It’s been several months since Amazon opened Kindle Select publishing. The pot of shared monies varies each month. In this program you can share part of the money based on how much your book is borrowed and shared. To be eligible for this program you must make your book exclusive to Amazon for one-quarter at a time and the first week or so you make the book free. I’ve seen a lot of authors tweeting and trying to drum up support for their books in the Kindle Select Program.  I won’t pretend to know more about the program than that. When I heard some talk about the program at first I rejected it and still do. But after listening to a podcast earlier today about it my eye’s opened a bit on seeing the other side of the coin about it.

I’m of the crowd that you should not offer your e-books, or any other book for that matter, for free. We authors are in the business of writing to make money for our labor and creativity. We, I hope, would love to support our living with the earnings we make off of our imagination. This is a hard feat in itself and giving your work away for free defeats that purpose and hurts other independent authors as well. Now there are many sides to the story here, and I do understand that some give their material away for free in order to gain momentum and in the end earn a greater profit. I have yet to experience this. Even if that says my writing “sucks” the only thing that happens when I offered any of my books for free was people downloading MANY of my e-books…for free. Never did I gain or experience a spike in sales after this. Case in point…Smashwords has Read an E-Book Month in March every year and I participated in it with free novels. Many were sold…after March no one came back and paid me for those downloads nor did their word of mouth lead to sales spikes. My experience is free does not drum up greater sales.

Back to Kindle Select. Why would any of us chose to give Amazon exclusive control? Does not Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, Diesel, Apple, and others have readers willing to buy your story? I heard the case that since Amazon holds over 80% of the e-book market the other 20% is really not that significant. I look at it this way. Why not utilize every part of the market? Amazon Kindle is great and I applaud them for being what they are…a great business. I totally see and agree that they would try to crush their competitors and gain as much if not all the market they can. I don’t hate them, actually I love them. I enjoy having my e-books for sale on Kindle and will continue to do so, but why give them full control?

Why did the e-book revolution start? Was it just because of portable reading devices? No, not at all (although we need those to read e-books). Traditional publishing fueled the fire for the revolution. Poor royalty rates, short shelf lives, bad contracts, and the general disrespect for the author is what they did to start the revolution. E-book technology has empowered the Indie author to gain access into publishing where we would never have a chance with the traditional publishing houses. No more for the elite, we are now able to swim with the big fish and carve out a path of our own choosing.

Hypothetically, if we give Amazon exclusive control (let’s say all of us go to Kindle Select) and the other distributors go under Amazon will ultimately become what traditional publishing was. Why? Because there would be no competition and if they dropped their royalty rates from 70% back down to 35% or below we would have nowhere to go unless we start another publishing company to rival. I personally don’t think this would happen, but I am a little stunned by the amount of Indie authors running to give their work away for free and become exclusive to one company. It is truly your choice as a writer/author, but think about the other avenues to get your work out there for purchase.

One way to play with Kindle Select is cycle one book in and out of it at a time exclusively if you think that would give you more exposure.

Word Smithing and Story Weaving

I read a blog the other day where author Kacey Mark said, “I’m not a Word Smith. I’m a Story Weaver,” and I had to say “Right on!” That is one of the pet peeves I have against traditional writing and publishing. When submitting to publishers I get the impression they are looking for experience and prior validation as a writer as a screening method before they even look at your work.  It often seems to me that the emphasis on writing is the mastery over words and structure as opposed to story. Let me clarify and say word smithing and story weaving are both important. As an Indie author/writer I still have an inadequacy about being a writer because of my poor grammar and spelling skills. (That is why having a good editor is so important for me.) The big problem I keep hearing about Indie publishing is the mistakes and lack of editing. Although there is a valid point there, I tend to take it personally and feel that is an unfair knock on Indie publishers. A mistake here or there does not diminish the story. To back my point I would like to acknowledge that the great Robert Jordan and Michael Stackpole have errors in their works, and somehow it’s not held against them. I kept on reading, and loved their work. True, we Indie publishers need to get better at mistake free work in order to improve our standing with the consuming public, but that by no means says our stories are junk. I’ve purchased and read a number of Indie works via smashwords and found much of the stories fun, interesting, and mostly mistake free. So my experience is not the same as the Indie critics I read all over the net.

All this means is that I have to work that much harder to make sure my work is the best it can be before publish. I also need to work that much harder to make my words interesting as I drive the story onward. Being a story weaver is the fun part, but being a word smith is necessity. It doesn’t mean you have to be a walking dictionary, it just means that you have to use your words creatively so you can story weave without being a bore.

So, in short, while I applaud the phrase out of my inadequacy, I begrudgingly say that phrase is in error. Both word smith and story weaver are forever entwined.

 

Traditional or Indie?

Following on the heels of my previous blog post about self publishing and traditional publishing I want to take a different angle; the angle of the first time Indie author/writer who is now chosen to be publisher. Sure the great royalty rate from Amazon is superb, and I get to keep more of my money than if I went the traditional route, but maybe the traditional route is what I need?

For several years at the least, I have been listening and reading thoughts from established authors and writers about this ebook revolution we are witnessing. I have taken careful notes, followed sound advice, and watched as they pounded the drums of Indie Power. So true, there is a ton of power doing it yourself, and much reward as the traditional houses fall one by one. These writers often report on the faults of trad publishing and keep us all informed of the new world of Indie publishing. I for one, happen to agree with almost everything these successful authors have said. I have learned a great deal from them.

Now from the view of an un-established Indie author and writer: As I listen to the financial talk from some of these writers I ask “How did they get such great sales numbers by self publishing their ebooks?” The obvious answer is they are great writers and have years of experience developing a fan base. Another answer to go along with the previous is they built their fan base through the help of traditional publishers. Sure their great writing skills speaks for the fan base, but I’m sure they didn’t have to work double time on the twitterverse, facebook, and whatever trying to direct readers to their product. Of course social media was probably not around in the beginning for these writers, but my point is they had help. Sure, once readers became hooked and spread the word based on their great stories they gained their edge. For us, however, getting that edge does not have the advantage of a group; marketing, editing, cover work, etc. that a publishing house is supposed to provide. I only say “supposed to” because what I hear is they don’t even do much of that anymore. But, let’s say for the sake of argument, that they did provide all that. Sure beats doing it all yourself. The one thing you are giving up is the financial aspect which is huge. Because of that, aside from how hard it is to get discovered, I chose to go solo and drive my ebook train all by my lonesome.

It’s because of all the hard work in marketing that many of us choose to still believe that traditional publishing is the way to go. I completely understand those who think this way, even until the traditional dying end. No matter what, if your writing is good enough it will draw attention if it can get into the hands of the readers. That is the tricky part that I don’t hear the established authors blog, talk, or give advice about (much). Some try, but because they already have an established audience I think it is much easier for them. I didn’t say they don’t have to work at it on a daily basis, I just said easier.

In the social media world every Indie writer/author is trying to direct people to their work, and that’s o.k… Really. However, because everyone is doing so, the consumer is bogged down with everyone friending each other just for promotion and the desired use of social media is tainted, thus causing sales to suffer. I don’t see any other way though, and this promotion problem remains to be the biggest hurdle for the Indie author. I don’t blame those who choose to stick with traditional means.