Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Long and The Short of It

As I've stated before, I'm an avid reader, often not getting my writing done because I'm caught up in a book. I'm also cheap. I look at prices and shop at Wal-Mart, etc. I compare prices online when I shop. I also look at the length of ebooks that I would like to purchase and if I don't feel the length warrants the price I pass. I know I've missed some pretty good reads but if I just can't justify the price for a short read I won't.

To me story development should dictate the length of the work, not word count. If the story can be adequately developed and come to a gratifying end in 40,000 words that's fine. As I read reviews of novellas I find frustration on the part of the reader that they would have liked the book to be longer. That the characters could have been fleshed out more. That the ending seemed rushed. I also see comments which indicate the price was too high for the length. Unfortunately, I'm seeing more and more of all of these comments. Writers should take note of this.

Some authors are including word count or length information in the description. I think this is a good idea. It gives the possible purchaser a good reference so they can decide if they think the cost is too high. Amazon puts the page count on the page. This really doesn't mean much since it's based on the print book. There are a couple of problems with this. The size of the page and font size make this pretty meaningless. If I use a small font on a larger print format the number of pages will be smaller than if I use a large font on a smaller page.

This is even more true with digital books. The number of pages is meaningless. If the book has no print edition Amazon estimates the number of pages. Listing the word count is a much more accurate indicator of length.

So what are the standard word counts for classifications of books? I checked several websites and the general amounts I've found for adult works follows. I don't write children's or youth books so I'll add the links to the sites I referenced at the end of the post so you can find them.

Novels: 70,000 - 100,000  Some say over 40,000 is a novel but many traditional publishers won't publish a work that short.
Novellas: 17,500 - 70,000
Novelette: 7,500 - 17,500
Short Story: Anything under 7,500

The general consensus is that a target between 80,000 - 90,000 words is a good length for a novel.

 The decision as to how to price your work will include many things only one of which is the length. For myself, as a reader, I seldom pay more than $5.99 for a book of any length. Those are usually traditionally published, established authors.

I read a good number of self-published authors. (Often their work contains fewer errors than traditionally published ones. But that's a different topic.) Pricing for self-publishing authors is challenging. I know, I'm one. You are proud of your work. It took time and labor to get it written, edited, proofed, beta read, marketed, etc. You know it's worth $7.99 for a digital copy. The question is: Are you established enough that a lot of people will pay that much? I know I'm not. I'd rather sell 50 books at $3.99 than 12 at $7.99.

Like I said before, I'm cheap. If Amazon lists the number of pages as under 150 I probably won't spend $2.99 for the book no matter how many 5 star ratings it has. $1.99, yes. Under 100 pages it better be .99 or I pass it by. Those are just my standards. There are exception. If I've read and liked the author's books before I'll pay more.

I like a good long book. I like to read them. I try to write novels long enough to satisfy the reader. Each author has a different way of approaching word count and pricing. So does each potential purchaser.

The long and the short of it is that length and price are being included in reviews often to the author's detriment.

Links to sites I referenced:


Sophie Dawson is an award winning author of Christian fiction. She's self-published six novels, a compilation of the first three Cottonwood Series books and a collection of flash-fiction and short stories which will grow as she writes more. Her books can be found on most digital online sites and in print at Amazon.com. You can read samples of her books and read her blog at http://www.sophie-dawson.com

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  1. The thing about listing word counts instead of pages is that many readers who are not writers don't know the average number of words per page. I remember back in school, the idea of writing a 300 word essay was traumatizing--so long!

    Of course, listing the number of pages instead of the word count is also a bad representation, because words per page can be manipulated to use more or less pages.

    I'm glad you listed the general word counts. That gives a reference point.

  2. What a coincidence - I'm an avid reader and cheap, too! I think that might be a common thing with writers. It's good that you listed the word counts - very helpful for writers who aren't sure where the generally accepted limits are.

    I tend to agree with Linda in that word counts are more for writers than readers. I'm not sure readers know or care about word or page count. They want a good story, or in the case of nonfiction, a book that answers their questions. With books it's always a little bit of a gamble that you're going to get what you want.

  3. You may be correct that readers don't care about the number of pages or word count. I am reading more and more reviews stating they wanted the book longer. The reviewer often is specific as to what area they would have liked developed more.