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Ebook Novel Length

Comment bien partir la journée!Creative Commons License Benoît Meunier via Compfight

I’m currently writing my fifth novel, Starveyors. It will primarily be an ebook only novel. There will eventually be a paperback version, but most readers will read it and purchase it as an ebook. So it doesn’t have to be a certain length to look hefty enough on a book shelf. One of the reasons that most novels are around 100 thousand words long, is because that length makes for a hefty enough book for the reader to feel like he’s getting a decent story.

But if you can’t really heft a book, does it matter how long it is? I think price and length will be less associated in ebook sales. All of my ebooks are now priced at $2.99. That’s less than a good coffee at Starbucks. You can get two of my ebooks for the price of a paperback and three for the price of a hardback book. Most of my novels are over 60K words long. One is even over 100K words and they’re all priced the same – $2.99. Personally, I think that’s a great value. For my money, ebooks should always cost less than a paperback version of whatever book you are buying.

So now back to the length of a book. As I write this post, Starveyors is around 51K words in length. The goal I’m shooting for is 80K for the first draft. I usually write pretty sparse first drafts, so I expect that number to increase with the second draft. But what happens if I only make it to 50K? Do I panic? Nope. I just proceed with the second draft and know that I will probably add more words before it’s finished. I don’t think the reader really notices that a novel is only 65K words and not 100K words. As long as the story is complete and fulfilling, they really don’t care. I know that as a reader myself, I never worry about how long a book is. Unless I’m reading a huge Epic Fantasy. Then I pretty much know going in that it will take me longer to read.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that when you are writing your novel you should have a goal for end length. But unless you fall shorter than 60K, you shouldn’t worry about the length too much. Unless your SF novel is sitting at 200K words. Then you’d have to consider breaking it into two or more books, if only to keep your reader happy.

As a reminder, you can follow along with my word count in the sidebar on this blog. Now that I’m in the final stretch, that number should change daily.

4 thoughts on “Ebook Novel Length”

  1. From a business model, I agree whole-heartedly. A problem I should perhaps have at least mentioned in my comment is the balancing act between providing the complete story to the reader and the business side of things.

    We all know of readers that won’t read a multi-book story until the whole thing is out. They might buy the individual books as they are put out or they might wait until they’re all out then buy them. The point is, they wait until they have them all then sit down and read the whole story through. I grant they may be a minority, but they definitely exist.

    Add that to the easy portability of the ebook and I still think the word count is a minor point with ebooks for anything other than saying it’s a short story or a novel. Acknowledging what Val says about the character-world-plot triangle, I am talking here about writing that doesn’t have large or many sections that could be removed without hurting the story. The boring spots, as Val says.

    From a business perspective, the book’s word count matters. From a reader’s perspective or a writer interested in just providing ebooks, I doubt it does, provided it’s well written.

  2. A novel-length SF story generally requires a minimum of 70,000 words to adequately tell the story (60,000 words is considered a sweet spot for category romance, which has at most two points of view and one story question, with one subplot at most). If, after layering and polishing in subsequent drafts, it’s shorter than that, you most likely didn’t have enough of one side of the characters-plot-world triangle.

    If that same story goes on for more than 120,000 words, in my experience, there’s either too much going on (confusing), or you have large sections that could disappear without hurting the story — you know, the spots you skim through because they’re boring.

    The Valmont Contingency final manuscript clocked in at just over 70,000 words, but it has only the hero and heroine’s points of view, something you can probably only get away with in SF romance. If I had added a few scenes from the villain’s POV, the story would have been at least 10,000 words longer. It also would have screwed up the plot, but that’s another comment for another blog post.

  3. When I said that about the SF novel I was referring to the industry standard size for that genre. Get past 400 pages and you’re less likely to sell it as SF. Again, going the Self-Publishing route makes this less important. Especially if you are not doing a paper version.

    I expect to have paper versions of the Star Trilogy books eventually, so keeping them under 100K is a goal for that reason.

    Market dynamics are favoring more books sooner rather than bigger books later. So release more books and sooner than make your audience wait a year or more for just one book. This would seem to indicate smaller books given the time it takes to write one long book.

    Also, you can make more money with more products on the market. So that means even if you write Epic Fantasy, you might want to break them up into smaller volumes and put out two or three per year.

  4. One problem with huge epic fantasies is waiting for the next book if you’re coming to the series while the author is writing it. Then it can take a really long time to read. ;-)

    Seriously, though, I don’t know if I agree with that last paragraph before the italics. The part about breaking into two if it’s hitting 200k words makes sense, traditionally, but if we’re talking about ebooks does it really matter? You raise that question yourself earlier in the post: if you can’t really heft a book….

    In traditional books, the heft of a 200K book is either so unwieldy that the reader is more comfortable, physically, with it being split into two or it requires small print and thin pages, such as with Hanta Yo. So, at rare times, even that 200k limitation doesn’t apply to a traditional book. But I digress a little. In an ebook, a 200k book weighs the same as a 5k book so where’s the rationale for splitting it, other than tradition?

    There is the business side of it, too: splitting a 200k book into two results in two books the reader buys, rather than one, following your pricing model. However, it’s also feasible to set up a business model that prices according to the number of words, such as $2.99 up to 100K, $3.99 for 101K to 200K, and so on. I acknowledge this aspect of the situation.

    Also part of the business side, splitting it allows you to get one book out in front of the reader while you finish tweaking the second half. But in theory it should take less time to deal with various drafts of a 200K ebook vs. various drafts of two 100K ebooks. So, you get the whole story out in front of your reader faster and they don’t have to wait for the second half.

    The thing is, though, business model aside, there really is no reason to limit an ebook to a particular size. The only value I see to worrying about ebook sizes is knowing whether to classify an ebook as a short story, a novelette, a novel, or an encyclopaedia.

    All that leads me to suggest a modification to your first sentence in that paragraph. I would suggest that having a minimum goal for end length to a particular story is something every writer should have, but the end count should be open-ended. Then once you hit D2, D3,…,Dn you can focus on the story rather than the story and the word count. So what if it comes in 150K, 200K, 500K? If it’s a good story, the reader isn’t going to care how long an ebook is. They’re going to be just as disappointed when they get to the end and there’s no more to read, if you’ve done your work right.

    It’s different if you’re going to provide a printed version, of course. Then we’re back to reading comfort, book portability, and the smell of a new book.

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