Bucking the System

Hi gang, Craig with you again. Today, I’m fighting with myself over some things I hold true in writing. I look at writing as a personal journey of improvement, and I can see that improvement from book to book. Here are the two mantras that seem to have found a way to be in conflict with each other. Then I’ll explain the conflict.

1.) A story should be as long as it needs to be.

2.) Never give them a reason to say, no.

Lisa Burton

Here’s the situation as it relates to word counts. I just finished a draft the morning of this writing that comes to 111,500 words. This is a fantasy book, and part of a series (Lanternfish), so the word count isn’t completely unacceptable. It might be a train wreck as a cozy mystery or something.

I have another series that’s dark humor with a target of around 45,000 words per volume (The Hat). I may wind up 10,000 words short this time. I like this series to be afternoon reads to appeal to a certain market.

Just so you can understand how I got here, I was asked to contribute to an anthology this year. the target is between 10K and 15K words. My short story came in at 9600. Not horrible, but it’s below parameters, too.

Under personal rule #1, they are as long as they need to be. That isn’t my problem. Will I run into a conflict under rule #2?

I don’t know if I have an answer, but here is my thought process. Maybe you can offer some theories in the comments. Most of All of the rules regarding length were made up by the big publishing companies. By their standards, The Hat series of short novels would never see the light of day because of word count.

Some of these rules have to do with printing presses and the cost of running them. As a publisher of ebooks, I really don’t have those constraints.

The question of the day is: Am I giving people a reason to say no because of my word counts? Both of my current projects need to go through the editing phase and I usually lose some words there. That’s good for the Lanternfish series, but bad for The Hat series.

Trimming parts of a story to fit into some arbitrary framework is just as bad as adding fluff to fit into a different framework. The stories should be as long as they need to be.

Self publishers have the option of breaking rules and blazing new ground. I even put silly graphics into my Hat stories because they enhance the corniness of the tale. I’m going to keep doing it, too.

Being a self publisher is a double edged sword. I don’t have a someone telling me I can’t, but I don’t have anyone preventing me from doing something stupid either.

There is a certain amount of Darwinism at work in the publishing industry. Even the mega publishers are struggling right now, which kind of marks a new era. Evolution tries a lot of experiments. Most of them fall by the wayside, but species improve and evolve into new creations.

Maybe my books are some of those experiments, but my reviews have been pretty good. I’ll never be one of those premier authors, because I don’t seem to find enough readers, but those who take a chance seem pretty happy with my product.

I didn’t exactly poll the audience, but when I wrote about Lanternfish on my personal blog, commenters said they didn’t care about the length as long as it’s good. I can apply that to both series, and if The Hat has one short volume, or Lanternfish has a longer volume, maybe it doesn’t matter. That’s the way I think it should be, but I’m not in charge.

Maybe the answer is that if you buck Rule #1, you’re opening the door to a violation of Rule #2. I can live with that. What do you think?

51 thoughts on “Bucking the System

  1. I loved your last sentence, Craig – “I am not in charge.” To me, that says it all. When you are a character-driven writer, it’s the characters that dictate when the story ends. 🙂 Yes, I know that’s a little on the “crazy” sounding side, but it’s true. I’ve read books of all lengths and as long as they keep moving, I am happy to keep reading. Self-published authors are ground-breakers. We create new literary terms, like Noveloid and Micro-Read. 🙂 So, I say about the “rules,” bend them to fit what you need as a writer and the readers will follow if it’s a good enough story. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I never really look at word count when it comes to books. I don’t like paying 2.99 for a 35 page short story but that’s probably my only gripe. I have no problem with longer works provided they’re not padded and they don’t drag. There has to be a reason for those extra words and pages. If the book holds my interest, I’m happy to invest the time. By the same token, I do enjoy short reads too. I just finished several of them and they were a nice diversion (like a light snack) after several longer works. Most of the books I read fall into the 75K to 85K range which is my overall preference, but I regularly make exceptions on both sides of that range.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I LOVE reading long books, and it’s even better if it’s part of an unending series. I also enjoy smaller books, and I’m even starting to enjoy short stories. As the author, you decide when the story is done. Then, decide what price to attach to it. I honestly won’t spend more than a buck or two on a short story, but I’ve spent $5.99 on an ebook in one of the series that I love. So, I guess I’d say write it how you want to write it. Because they are both part of a series, those who love the series will buy it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t think I even look at word count when choosing a book – if I’m drawn in by the blurb and the Look Inside sample, I’ll buy it. Saying that, in the children’s series I’m working on, the first three books are roughly the same length but the fourth is noticeably shorter, and that’s worrying me a bit. I do feel the story is as long as it needs to be and I don’t want to resort to padding, but I worry that readers may feel cheated.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I am not adverse to reading longer books, Craig. My new book is just about the same length as your sequel to Voyage of the Lanternfish and I don’t believe their are any unnecessary words. I don’t make much money out of my books so I write them for myself. I do love other people to enjoy them but I won’t compromise on my own personal writing beliefs. I am a non-conformist [apparently, according to my family, my view is that the establishment is always wrong and that’s not my fault [smile]]. I say, if its working for you, do it your way. I am also used to reading long books because I read Stephen King and a lot of classic books.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I don’t mind paying $2.99 for a short novel, but it rankles to pay that for a short story. If it’s by one of my favorite authors, though, I bite the bullet and do it. I must be the exception here, but I tend to put off reading really long novels anymore. I love Elizabeth George’s mysteries, but I don’t start one until I know I have a chunk of time to read it. Long novels are a time commitment, especially when, like hers, the writing is heavy and I read them more slowly anyway. Your novels, on the other hand, have such fast pacing, the words fly by. How long was the first Lanternfish? Because it felt like a fast read to me…and I really enjoyed it. So maybe the word count doesn’t matter.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I agree with everyone else – a well-written book can be any length as long as it captivates the reader. Mills & Boon used to specify 50,000 words. I’ve just checked, and they still seem to do so. When I started out, I considered writing for M&B but was put off by the fact that they all had the same number of pages. It seemed too formulaic. I’ve read The Hat and loved it. I wrote a review for Amazon and pointed out that ‘Sometimes the thought of fitting a full-sized book into a hectic, cramped lifestyle can be daunting’. I bought it because it fitted the time I had available and was the right price for a shorter read. I also have Sarum in paperback by Edward Rutherfurd which comes in at 1376 pages. When the time is right I’ll savour this one, too.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for your kind words about The Hat. If the weekend treats me right, I need to get back to book 3 of the series. I think word count matters less at this length. People live busy lifestyles and might appreciate something shorter. The fact that you haven’t read Sarum might be saying something, too. (I haven’t either.)

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I don’t think people choose a story on a word count criteria. Yes, higher word counts equal more pages but again who chooses a book because of pages? (Well, maybe one might pause at a 600 pager) Page counts become important when you try to pass off a novella or short story as a novel. Then people get a little ornery. So I would just follow your rule on how long it needs to be. (as long as it needs to be.)

    Liked by 2 people

  9. “All of the rules regarding length were made up by the big publishing companies.” That’s your problem right there. The big boys made the rules for various reasons, but then other people grabbed them to use as gatekeeping tools. In the end, most, if not all, readers don’t check out word counts and make a decision based on that factor. Page amounts might be something to consider, but word counts are really only a tool for authors to track progress and occasionally brag about their massive counts. Yes, that was innuendo. So, rule #1 is good, but rule #2 isn’t necessary. A person is more likely to say ‘no’ due to cover art and blurb quality.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Reblogged this on The Write Stuff and commented:

    Ever worry whether your books are too long or too short? Afraid your word count might scare off some buyers? Join C. S. Boyack today on Story Empire and see how he and others answer that question. It’s a great post, and you might be surprised at some of the comments so far. As always, please consider sharing this so others can weigh in on the discussion, too. Thanks and thanks to Craig for making me think before I’ve even finished my first cuppa Earl Grey! Great post, Craig! 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I agree wholeheartedly with everyone here, Craig. I have never, ever turned down a book I wanted to read because of length, in either direction. I’ve read many a 500+ page novel, especially in fantasy, and many a shorter one, as well. I firmly believe that only the author knows what it takes to tell his or her story, though that doesn’t mean there aren’t things that might need to be cut in editing. If the extra length involves poor, pointless, or boring passages, cutting them is likely to improve the book, as well as shorten it a bit. But otherwise, tell the tale in your heart, and don’t worry about word count.

    The last Dresden Files book published was over 450 pages. It was fantastic! The last Brandon Sanderson I read was over 1,000. Yeah, that one took longer to read, but I enjoyed every word. But longer books abound in other genres, too, and I think that’s fine. And personally, I think one of the very best things about being an independent author is that you have creative freedom. Choices about book length and cover design are yours to make. I do believe you should consider your target audience, but I think that’s true for all aspects of your story.

    I also absolutely agree with others that short stories and novellas should probably be priced less than a 400-page book, BUT, I have to add that I have never once even looked at the actual page count when book shopping. I do like to know whether it’s a novel, novella, or short story, but that’s all I bother with. If the story sounds good, I’m drawn to it, especially if it’s a writer I already enjoy.

    Yep. Tell the Tale in Your Heart. (Let’s get t-shirts made!) 😀

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Absolutely stick with rule #1. I’ve read books that were “padded” with unnecessary scenes and words. I figure the author was probably trying to satisfy word count. Funny, after sending things to my critique partners and applying the edits, my stories seem to get longer. That’s because I’m guilty of telling instead of showing. Showing most always adds words without taking from the story or making appear padded.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Good stories are as long as they need to be. They don’t cut out useful parts to make word count, nor do they add fluff for the same reason. That said, if you feel a story is too short, you may not have developed a character or setting (or something else) enough. And if you feel something is too long, you may have over-described a throw-away character or tertiary plot thread (or something else). If it feels right, it probably is. And if it feels wrong, well…

    I agree with Harmony, though. Price and length should have a correlation to some degree. I hate it when I pay what I consider a “regular and fair” price for a book only to find it’s a novella or a short story.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I like your thoughts about side characters and sub-plots. Thanks. I have an issue with the idea of something we worked on for months, sometimes years, being priced less than a cup of coffee. I know I have to fall in with the crowd, but it’s kind of sad.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Well, I’m pretty sure I never took years to write a novella. But I understand the sentiment.

        Regardless, you’re looking at it wrong. It’s not one sale is less than one cup of coffee. It’s finding the intersection, or sweet spot, where the price is low enough to generate the highest number of sales. Then you’re not looking at cups of coffee but maybe trips to Hawaii to try a Kona Cappuccino on their black sand beaches.

        Liked by 3 people

  14. I would agree that ‘a story is as long as it needs to be’ is a great way to go. I would add one caution, though: if it turns out to be a short story (more of a novella), watch your pricing. Personally, I hate it when I pay over the odds for a short read. The last thing I want is for my readers to feel cheated … that’s one reason I’ve priced my novella Oh Baubles at just 0.99. I would feel bad pricing it the same as my full-length novels. Hope this helps!

    I love your books and wild tales, Craig. Thanks for a thought-provoking post today 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • I took a somewhat different approach, but not completely out there. I have a selection of 99¢ titles, and am in some free anthologies. These are test drives if someone wants to take a chance on me. My regular books are $2.99. This includes The Hat titles, which are in that no-mans-land I call noveloids. Too long for a short story, but not quite a novel. It baffles me that a cup of coffee costs more than something we worked months on and invested cash into for cover art, editing, and all the rest.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. It is quite a responsibility, being in sole charge of what we do, but I would say you’re more than doing all right, Craig.
    I often wish I could be as productive!
    As for story length, I’m sure those rules have been well and truly smashed by now!

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Stick with rule # 1. As you said, being an indie publisher, you have the luxury of being able to break or bend those rules, so take full advantage and break, bend, hulk smash away! You have your loyal fans who will read you no matter what. Then there are those with open minds who’ll try your books regardless of something like length. Then there’s the purists who won’t read a genre story if the word length is ‘incorrect’, but hey, those purists probably wouldn’t read an indie published book anyway, so meh. Their loss!

    Liked by 3 people

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