Does Size Matter?

Is bigger really better?  Or is it all in how that short length is used?

Five years ago, the most popular sized book being bought at Ellora’s Cave was the quickie – short stories under 10K words that sold for less than $4.

They sold by the bushel.

Ellora’s Cave is a lot of things, including being very good at listening to reader wants.  This want was a bonus all round.  Authors could write and finish more Quickies than full length novels, and EC could produce and release, say, four quickies in the same time a single novel would take to hit the shelves.

That meant more money in the bank, too.  4 Quickies at $4 is more than one novel at $6 or even $8.

Quickies and novellas (10-30K) were abruptly the new sexy.  In every way.

As an author, I was influenced by this trend.  Authors were limited to one Quickie per pen name per year, in order to try and limit the rabbit-breeding phenomenon, but novellas had no limitations other than word length and so everyone leaned toward them.  Shorter seemed to be better, because it brought the cover price down, and catered to readers’ demands for quick reads.

In eighteen months I produced and published eight novellas and eight full length books, while writing full time for Ellora`s Cave.

Novellas

Beth’s Acceptance, Ningaloo Nights, Kiss Across Time, Solstice Surrender Mia’s Return, Sera’s Gift, Eva’s Last DanceCarson’s Night,

Full Length Books

Betting With Lucifer, Dead DoubleDiana by the Moon, Dead AgainBeauty’s Beasts, Heart of Vengeance, Blue Knight. Kiss Across Swords,

But is shorter really better?

I get consistent four and five star reviews for my books, but suddenly and quite shockingly for me, I began to get my first three star reviews.  Here’s a collection of extracted comments from some of those reviews:

Book developed fast and made a lot of leaps in the logic. Skipped over a lot of detail and then ended without fully developing characters or relationships.

Only problem is that the end came in the middle of the start of a good arc, and we don’t really see what the newly formed triad will be like ‘after’.

I knew when I bought this book that it was a novella and the entire story would be condensed, but I felt this was too condensed.

If there are any complaints about xxxxxx, it’s that it’s too short. 

If it was a paperback, it would be about 100 pages. If I had known that, I wouldn’t have bought it for the price,

Great story, but too short.

The characters were not only hot, they were smart, strong and the sex was smokin. I would, however, liked to have seen it explore them a bit further,

The resolution of this goes real quick, perhaps a bit too quick for me.

The story is fast paced, a bit rushed at some points but it totally suits the book.

…his part felt rushed and I think more background on him is definitely needed.

There’s more comments like that, but I think this is enough of a sample.  I find it depressing enough just to round this handful up — most authors don’t go looking for negative comments for good reason.

The ironic thing is that readers were telling publishers and authors via sales figures that short was good.  They wanted short.  They liked short.

But here’s what I think (in my infinite wisdom).  I think the pendulum has swung over the other way.  Readers (and that includes me, but I don’t get to vote because of conflict of interest) liked the fast, quick reads at first because they were like take-out food: Quick to buy and consume, plus the story didn’t waste any time getting right into the good stuff.  (Especially the EC stories, as house policy insisted — when I was there — on a sex scene occurring by the 15% mark of the story, and in a Quickie, that’s pretty much page 3 or so).

Plus, Quickies were cheap.  Even as much as five years ago, paperbacks and ebooks were priced around $9 or more, and the indie publishing market hadn’t kicked into high gear, so $2.99, $0.99 and free novels were virtually unheard of.   If readers can buy three quickies or two novellas for the price of one novel, it’s barely worth arguing about.  They’re going to buy the two-for-one deal.

I started writing and releasing quickies and novellas at the tail-end of this demand, so I think I got caught by the backlash.  We all had read way too many short stories.  Like trying to live on take-out, we all started to realize we need more:  more nutrition.  More substance.  More story.

We needed Novels.

Coincidentally, at that time, the indie scene was starting to de-clutch and gear up, so cheap, good quality romances were popping up like daisies all over the place.

I also hopped over to Indie publishing in early 2011 (better late than never).  And one of the things that I’m doing now is taking many of the shorts and novellas I produced in that eighteen month period, and extending them to their more natural length, ignoring artificial word count restrictions, then republishing them myself, in between original title releases.

Which is my long winded way of asking you:

  • Do you believe that shorter books are better?
  • Or do you like full length novels?
  • Is there such a thing as a story being too long?  (Look at the length of the later Twilight books, Harry Potter — and now we don’t have to worry about dead trees, either).

3 Comments

  1. Naomi Bellina May 28, 2012 at 10:36 am

    I’ve also received several somewhat negative reviews for a novella or quickie being too short. I would like to think people buying these just want a quick read, but maybe you’re right, Tracy. Perhaps readers want a story they can get involved in. As a reader, yes, some stories start to really drag out, and I’ve been known to speed read to get to the end. These days, since I’m super busy, shorter is often better for me.

    Smart move, re-doing your quickies!

    • Tracy May 28, 2012 at 12:49 pm

      Hi Naomi:

      It just maybe that some writers are more naturally inclined toward one length or another, too. I know I tend to write long. The BELOVED BLOODY TIME series was supposed to be short books, and the first one came in as a short novel (just), but the second one wouldn’t get to short no matter how I pruned it. But no one, not one single review, or reader comments, has made a single murmur about it being too long. (It’s 400 pages).

      I gotta admit, I prefer to read novels rather than quickies, myself. I like the investment in character, getting to know them, their backgrounds. The romance and the commitment feels more…heavyweight. Or I take more delight in it, having been along for the ride for at least two hundred pages, rather than just 20.

      Do you have a favourite writing length, Naomi? Even though you prefer to read short?

      t.

  2. Manhardeep June 10, 2012 at 8:53 pm

    I’m amazed to see that you use so appropriate pictures in your articles.

    Love your blog.

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