Saturday, February 9, 2013

Shorter Novels Trending?

With Kindle books on amazon routinely selling for 99c, I've noticed a new trend among indie authors. We tend to publish shorter and shorter stories, with the sweet spot being around 80-100 pages. My own novels are a far cry from this length, sitting at 500-600 pages each, but these trends have definitely made me consider writing shorter books.

With shorter books you have the option to string them together in a series (even when together they'd technically make a standalone novel), effectively making one book into two to four episodes. In this way books begin to resemble TV series, and we can get our reading fix in just a few hours. I had this idea a long time ago, but for a different reason. People don't have the time to read long books. We're used to getting our entertainment packaged into a few hours, not days. TV, the internet, movies, and most of all cell phones, have trained us to have short attention spans. Between that and the obvious economic benefits to the writer, I suspect that the era of long books is now passing us by. In the future it's going to be hard to find long, epic novels. Instead we're going to see novellas strung together in series, with each installment sold for 99c, and each of them conveniently ending on a cliffhanger that leaves you wanting more.

A great example of this is a series I've recently been reading by a fellow indie writer, Isaac Hooke. He  wrote the first book in the Forever Gate series at just 86 pages. At first, when I saw this, I thought it seemed like a cheap shot to the readers. I thought no one would pay 99c for a short novel, but when I read Isaac's debut, I realized just how effective that length was. It was a great, fast read--never boring, never slow. Forever Gate had my attention from the first page straight through to the last, and whatever depth I felt was missing, I later found in the sequel. If anything, the shorter length only left me wanting more and made me more willing to buy the sequel. Overall, this was a brilliant business strategy, but also in my opinion, a better way to write a book.


  1. This is certainly true, and harks back to the serials of yesteryear, when writers such as Charles Dickens and Alexandre Dumas published chapters weekly in the local newspapers.

    One other benefit, from the author's side, is that we can now write a short 80-100 page standalone piece, and if there is interest, we can expand it. The Forever Gate itself was originally envisioned as a standalone novella with the potential for more, but people became interested and asked for more, so I added a cliffhanger to use as the excerpt for part 2 and begin expanding it!

  2. Very interesting! I hadn't thought about serialized novels, but that's true. And as a writer I can certainly see the appeal of a short standalone piece. I'm fascinated to hear what you did with Forever Gate 1. I thought it was always intended as a series.

    Given your success with it, I would be tempted to say it's worth the gamble to do what you did from the get go, write an 80p novel with a sequel in mind. Then write the other 80-100p novel which is its sequel, and just take your time to publish the second part (following the schedule you set for yourself in the teaser page of the previous book).

    Lots of food for thought! Hope your series is still doing well. It's certainly caught my interest.

  3. That's very true.. there's so many approaches we can experiment with nowadays.. write the first two parts and wait to release the second, or write the whole thing and release it in parts based on a schedule--like Scalzi did with the Human Division... etc. etc.!

  4. Sorry, I'd much rather pay $3 - $5 for a 120K novel than $.99 for 30K words.
    Bob J.

    1. Forgot to mention I see a LOT of negative reviews regarding the length of "Forever Gate."
      Although I'm trying to encourage my authors to try using the series format, I would set minimums on the word count. Please also note, page count means nothing in the eBook world. Word count is a much more accurate way to describe length. (Yes, I know Amazon "estimates" page count based on Kindle pages, but a lot of people read on iphones, ipads, etc.)
      I think the length of Jasper's Dark Space books is about right.