Okay, the title might be an exaggeration. It’s not that size doesn’t matter. It’s that size sort of matters but only on the extremes.
What? Why on Earth are you looking at me like that?
Oh. No. I’m not actually having a Sexy Vinyl Vixens moment. I’m talking about the relative size of stories, you know: short shorts, short stories, novellas, novelettes, novels.
Now that we’ve made that clear, throw all those words out the window. You’ll feel much better. And you’ll make a lot more sense to the man on the street. The man on the street, you see, insists on calling anything a “book.” “I read your book” could be a 15k word story or a 450k word goat-gagger. They don’t care. They care that they read this book and either liked it or didn’t (and if they can get at the author, in person or by email, by gum, the author is going to be made to care, too.)
But…. but…. but… SARAH! I must know what to call my book.
Sure you do. You call it a book. That’s what the average reader calls it. Sure you’ll find a ton of people talking about “novels” but if you probe, they’re really unclear on what a novel is. They think it’s a synonym for “book.”
To a great extent all that assemblage of words above was never very well known among the non-writing public. Nothing but maybe “short story” and “novel.”
I had a moment of startling revelation about five years ago, when I was insisting to Dan that the minimum amount of words a novel (or “book” in layman’s terms) could have was around 65k.
My husband being a mathematician wasn’t about to sit under my dogmatic pronouncements. So he headed for the bookcase, and started grabbing books at random. Well, not exactly at random. I no longer remember the exact titles, but they were all books I liked and had talked about being favorites. I know there was a Simak, several Rex Stouts, and a couple other mysteries.
They were all average sized paperbacks. I’d read them all and perceived them as novels. They were all printed in widely different font sizes though.
Count the number of pages in the book. Sub-divide the count into full, 1/2 and 1/3 pages. If necessary, round the count to the nearest of the three size specifications.
Generate the overall page count by multiplying the number of each category by the category size and adding up those three numbers. For example, a book may have 155 full-pages (totaling 155) , 18 1/2-pages (totaling nine) and nine 1/3-pages (totaling three). Your total count in this case would be 167.
Discover the average number of words on a page by counting the number of words on three randomly picked full pages distributed throughout the book. Average the count by taking the total number of words counted and divide by three. This should capture the authors writing style and provide a reliable estimate of the number of words used by the author on each full page.
Multiply the average words per page by the overall page count. This should provide a close estimate of the number of words in the book.
Those books ranged from 25k words to 50k words.
You could have knocked me down with a feather. I’d experienced them as “books” and enjoyed them. I had no idea a couple of them were short enough that Analog might have published them.
Now, here’s the thing, after I found that out, I came to realize that many of the ebooks I was reading in indie couldn’t possibly be that long.
But here’s the important thing: I didn’t care. And I still don’t.
Usually if a book feels really short, it’s because there’s something wrong with the plotting or some rush in the closing. It’s because it failed on some level. It’s not because it’s actually short.
Sure, okay, there are extremes. You probably can’t sell 2k words as a novel. In fact, when I’m making covers, I advise that everyone who has less than 10k words put SHORT STORY on the cover. Yes, on the description too, but you’d be amazed how oblivious readers can be. And there’s a contingent of reviewarati who stomp around giving one star reviews and calling everything under 10k words “not worth the money” (even if it’s 99c) or “a rip off” or, my favorite (on a story of my older son’s, which bizarrely made him almost $2k, and no, we have no idea why. To make the weirdness complete, it sold MOSTLY in England.) “a movie script.” (That one was weirder as the guy seemed to think the movie had been made. Perhaps dealing with parallel universes?)
But that’s a matter of managing expectations, and you know, not upsetting your reader. However, if you are over 10k words? don’t use words like novelette or novella. Readers never fully got that. Those were categories for magazines and awards, not for people who actually read stories. Kris Rusch told me years ago not to put that on any description.
In fact, don’t put any words on the description that relate to the size of the novel: Not “short novel” not “long novel” not “bakers dozen half baked novel.”
Let it be. the readers don’t care. If it makes you feel better, price it cheaper if it’s short. But be prepared to get emails going “Why is your latest book only $2.99.”
READERS DON’T CARE. They care that it’s a fun read. That’s it.
I know, I know, as a writer, we want to know “But how long does it have to be?” But the readers don’t. And if you’re indie, you’re writing for the readers.
Honestly, the only thing I’ll say is that if you’re printing your books, don’t make anything under 35k words a 6×9 trade paper back. Make it the smaller Mass Market Paperback size. Why? So it has a bigger spine. Putting titles on that tinny tiny spine is a right bugger.
Well, that or make your type REALLY big. 😀
Other than that, yeah, I’d put “Short Story” on the cover of anything under 10k words, but anything over that I’d keep my mouth shut on size.
As the actress said to the bishop, ultimately what counts is not the size. It’s the experience.