(This is part two of a two part series. Read The Infinite Wordstream: Part I here!)
The Infinite Wordstream
If reader satisfaction is to mean anything to the budding epublishing author, it’s going to require hitting the moving target of reader desire. To reverse myself for a moment, the old 3,000 word and 300 page limits were and still are awfully handy as guidelines because the teeming mass of our reading public has been indoctrinated to expect these formats and sizes. It’s comforting for both readers and writers to know exactly what the expectations are.
It’s as we move out of the realm of standards that things get hairy. Spend some time with writers who have published their short stories electronically and you will hear horror stories of 1 star ratings, angry comments, and negative reviews…not for the stories’ merit but because of their length.
“Charging money for this is insulting” is one comment leveled at fantasy author David Dalglish‘s short story release, Guardian of the Mountain (get it here) from an admitted fan of his other words. At the time of this article’s writing, the 13,000 word short story—the equivalent of 50 paperback pages—was selling for just $.99, yet this reader was offended at the length. Crime fiction writer Ed Lynskey released a novel length collection of 15 short stories, Out of Town a Few Days (find it here), and received a 2 star review. The comment? “Not a real fan of short stories.” Full stop. Nothing about the collection’s merit.
With that preface, things might seem gloomy for short story and novelette writers the world over. But indie writer Deborah Geary might disagree. She writes a popular urban fantasy series (the “Modern Witch” series) that has garnered great reader reviews, but also constant fan pressure to release more, sooner. To keep the hordes at bay, she published several “Novel Nibbles”: stand-alone, 20,000 word stories not meant to be part of her regular lineup. Rather than an angry response at the length of the nibbles (which are about ¼ the size of a novel), she’s received positive feedback and now new chants of “we want more” and “turn this into a novel, too”.
It’s speculation on my part, but I have a feeling that Deborah’s releases would have been considered “unpublishable” five years ago: too long for magazines, too short to be novels, too awkward to be collected in an anthology. Yet, even in today’s climate, they might’ve been 1-starred had they been half their length and released as “short stories” in the digital market. Through hard work and careful cultivation of her audience she’s found a non-traditional word count that works. She’s helping to break the old standards.
Tapping the Stream
The point for writers is that the face of not just publishing, but writing itself, is changing. Reader bias for standard lengths will continue as long as there are print books (which I hope is forever). But as the digital market evolves, so will reader tolerance for unusual formats and non-standard lengths until, at some magical moment, we’ll just be talking about “story”. And that’s good news for writers everywhere, because the craft of writing shouldn’t be pushed into a corner by the cost of paper, the weight of a book, or the width of your spine.