Monday, November 5, 2012

Shorter Novels in the Digital Age?

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig
rulerThe key to discoverability, at this point, seems to be either writing a blockbuster of a book (which we’d all clearly be doing, if it were such an easy endeavor), or owning a lot of real estate on Amazon.  In other words, having a lot of books available for sale at Amazon.

Readers seem to like series. And readers are impatient for the next book…evidenced by semi-joking notes I’ll get on Facebook from readers: “Can’t you write faster?”

And I’m thinking, “Okay….but I’m writing four books a year. Isn’t that fast enough?”  No, I’d never respond to a reader that way.  I’ll usually answer back on Facebook by thanking them and encouraging them to read one of my other series.  And I take their question as a compliment—although it stings a little, too.

I read a post last week by D.D. Scott on “The Writer’s Guide to e-Publishing” blog, entitled: Indie Epublished Authors: Build Your Backlist Quicker with Shorter-Length Novels.
In it, D.D. (who’s had a very successful e-publishing career) took an informal reader poll and found that:
1. Ideally, they would love to wait no longer than two months between new releases from their fave authors. (That keeps an author fresh in their minds.)
2. Because of their tight schedules as working moms and dads and/or grandmas and grandpas, and in today’s multi-media world, they love quick reads that they can (a) read or listen to during their commute or at lunch, (b) read while waiting on the kids at soccer practice, cheerleading practice, music lessons, dance lessons, etc., (c) read while in a doctor’s waiting room, and (d) read knowing that the characters they’ve come to love will be back very soon with a new adventure.
3. Their attention spans are getting shorter and shorter so they like something they can invest a relatively short time in. Get great laughs and move on.
4. They have no clue how long a book “should” be. As long as the story is great, they don’t care either. Except that, again, they do have short attention spans that are getting even shorter. 
I’m not going to put a book out every two months, no matter how much readers might like it. :)  But at a shorter length…sure, I could write more books in a year.

My thoughts on this:

Readers don’t seem to mind short books.  My shorter self-pubbed books have enjoyed a good reception from readers…several of whom even commented (in reviews and directly to me on Facebook, Twitter, and email) that they enjoyed the “quick reads.” One of mine is about 160 pages (according to Amazon), one is equivalent to 170 pages…and one is just listed as 366 kb.  :)  I know that book is roughly 59,000 words.

Shorter books mean that you can write more books in a shorter period of time. (Sometimes. If you’re a writer who naturally writes long, then it might be tough/time consuming for you to edit down to short length.)

For my genre (cozy/traditional mystery) my publisher expects a 75,000+ word book.  No problem.  I deliver those books, with that length, to them on a regular basis.  But my first draft for those books was probably 55,000 words.  That’s the basic story.  That’s with no chapter breaks,  little description, shorter hook time (if I’m incorporating food, quilting, etc. in a series…which I do for my two Penguin series), very little character description, sparse setting, and limited subplots.

If these books are poor quality, we’re going to end up in hot water.  It doesn’t matter how much space you occupy on Amazon if readers hate your books.  And readers remember.  I think we all put out a book every once in a while that isn’t up to par.  If every book we put out is a stinker, though, we’re cooking our own goose.

What I’m doing for now:

Continuing to write longer for my traditionally published books (as required by my contracts.)
Writing shorter books (but still, full-length novels) for my self-pubbed Myrtle Clover series (which started out as a traditional series).

I’m aiming for two traditionally published titles in a year and over two for my self-published titles (that’s two finished books and maybe be half-finished with a third.  Or even have a finished third self-pub title ready for formatting.)

Keeping it in check:

I’ll watch out for burn-out and stale writing.  I’ll ask my beta readers and freelance editors to tell me if my writing doesn’t seem fresh (I know my traditional editors will definitely let me know if it doesn’t.)

In the last couple of years, however, I’ve noticed that the more I write, the more I want to write.  The more excited I get. The more confident I feel.  The more I miss it when I have an odd day when it doesn’t get done (which means I squeeze it in at the end of the day, just to get that satisfied feeling. A writing addiction?)

The nice thing is that I think writing shorter books for my self-published series is giving me a creative shot in the arm.  I’m thinking about new ways to explore writing the series—maybe holiday novellas.  Traditional publishers can be leery about putting out holiday titles (short shelf life), but it’s something that’s always been interesting to me. 

Do you write short?  What are your thoughts about what the boom in digital publishing means for book length?  As a reader, how frequently would you like to see titles release in your favorite series?
Image: Flickr: Biking Nikon