Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Size Does Matter, So Just Tell Me

Okay yes this was a shameless blog title to open a discussion about the need to disclose ebook word counts to readers. I wanted to get your attention. This is important. Or at least it is to readers. 

Old standards for word counts in novels versus smaller pieces of writing were based on factors like how expensive it was for a publisher to print 100,000 words in hard copy. It was obviously cheaper to print 75,000 instead, or even 50,000 words, so authors were encouraged to reduce or just write smaller books. While the standards for word count per type of book keep sliding, I have had several readers write to tell me that they were surprised at the size of my books which average 75K to 92K in length. My most recent book I openly called a novella even though it is a book by some standards. Commissioned In White is around 46,000 words and is the smallest piece I've published so far. The previous book released in that series, Captured In Ink, is around 92,000 words long.

As a reader, I just prefer a longer book because if I love the characters, I'm going to want to spend all the time I can with them. When I write, I assume this is the case for my readers. I also definitely get that small books can be great books, and that being longer does not mean the book will be good. Recently though I paid for and downloaded a book and I'm guessing the story came in at around 8-10k words total. I'm being generous. The entire "romance" was a single hookup sex scene. Nothing else. The author was a talented writer. The scene was well written for what it was, but as a 30 year romance reader I felt it was a waste of time for me personally. Why? Because I'm not into anything that short unless I'm reading short stories. I need more than just a sexy scene to be happy.

I looked to see if I had missed some marketing flag that would have warned me it was short, but I found nothing. It had an amazing cover and intriguing blurb that "sounded" like it was a full book. While sulking about the waste of money (I didn't return it because I read it), I decided the problem is that I believed I was getting a whole book. My reader unhappiness was finding the book I purchased to be so short AFTER I bought it.

Maybe I've been spoiled by Indie authors selling more writing for less dollars and sites like Smashwords or All Romance ebooks that offer an estimated word count with every book they sell. What I bought and read was shockingly short enough for me to be wary now both of the author's other work and of the publishing house. I know many publishers (large and small presses) are offering shorter and shorter pieces, especially in the .99 cents range, but those I know about mark the work as a short piece. I paid around $3 for the one I was disappointed with afterwards.

So what did I learn from my experience?

Size does matter to some readers (me for one). If an author wants me to buy his or her book and not feel cheated, they need to find some way to tell me how long the book is or is not BEFORE I spend my money on it.

My disappointed reader experience has my author alter-ego considering adding word counts within the detailed book descriptions for all sales channels that don't offer them. At a minimum, I'm adding the book word counts to my website when it's updated so if a reader researches me and my work before they buy, they will see that information. I am now a believer in word count disclosure because it solves the biggest problem I have with a book not turning out to be the length I was expecting.

Don't just take my word about how important this is though. Here is what other bloggers and writing advice sites have to say about the subject (special thanks to Margo Lerwill of Wicked and Tricksy for letting me excerpt comments from her post):

Wicked and Tricksy
"Readers have an internal sense of story arc, story structure (which has only been around since before Aristotle), and story pace. These work together to determine a rough reader EXPECTATION. Yes, I know, this is supposedly a myth (according to writers who don’t want to buckle down and learn how to do this thing). People who argue that there are no general reader expectations need to put up or shut up. Go ahead. Put out a romance with no HEA, and see what happens. Put out a short story–even go so far as to make it FREE–but don’t tell people it’s only a short story. Or put out a short story (advertised as a short story) that is 1800 words long or 30,000 words long. And wait for the reviews.  Anyone want to guess what happens in real life?"  ~ Margo Lerwill

Nathan Bransford (author)

Novel Doctor

Editorial Ass (as in "editorial assistant" I learned)

Better Storytelling

Here are some sites that offer discussions and advice concerning word counts:

Amazon KDP Support: Suggested word counts forum

How to find word counts of some books on Amazon
(must be enrolled in Search Inside This Book program)

Example word counts of published novels

Blog that published some general word counts
(not sure how general these are, but felt they mostly reflected what I had been taught)

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