The Sweetie Chronicles

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart. ~William Wordsworth

The Word Count Issue

In the traditional publishing world, word count for young adult novels is all over the place. The Twilight Saga books are each over 100,000 words. Books like Kate Brian's Private series are more around the 65,000-75,000 word count. Most websites and agents place a typical YA manuscript between 45,000-80,000 words. Here is what Agent Colleen Lindsay says about YA:

YA fiction = For mainstream YA, anywhere from about 45k to 80k; paranormal YA or YA fantasy can occasionally run as high as 120k but editors would prefer to see them stay below 100k. The second or third in a particularly bestselling series can go even higher. But it shouldn't be word count for the sake of word count.
According to wikipedia, a novelette is between 7,500 and 17,499 words. A novella is generally anything between 17,500 and 40,000 words. Anything over 40,000 words is technically a novel. However, it seems like internet opinions on the different types of novels is all over the place. Some people think that anything below 70,000 words is not a novel. The first book in my Peachville High Demons series, Beautiful Demons, comes in just under 47,000 words, so technically, it should be considered a novel, just on the low end of a typical YA novel. Each subsequent novel in the PHD series is slightly longer with Book 2 just over 50,000, Book 3 just over 54,000, and Book 4 around 60,000 words.

In my opinion, none of my PHD books are novelettes or novellas. Most sites and organizations out there consider anything over 40,000 a novel and my books all qualify. On the other hand, since there's really no standard out there that's accepted and understood for everyone, it's not always my opinion that gets voiced. Especially when it comes to reviews. For the most part, a reviewer calling my book a novelette doesn't bother me too much. I understand that some people have longer expectations for novels and that's fine.

Where it begins to get complicated is that without standard accepted definitions among readers, sometimes reader expectations are compromised. For example, I got a 3-star review on Amazon recently that knocked my books for being novelettes instead of full-length novels and that they should have been one book instead of a series. To be honest, I found this review frustrating. I know as authors we are not supposed to complain about reviews or respond to them. I want to make it clear that I'm not dogging this reader for their opinion. What frustrates me is that I had a reader who was disappointed in the product because in their opinion, it wasn't a novel.

I have been trying to figure out what I should maybe add to my description of the book in order to let people know exactly what to expect. I certainly don't want to call it a novella or a novelette because there are a lot of people who know that those delineations mean less than 40,000 words or short story length. I could simply just list the total word count. On the other hand, I wonder if most readers understand word count? Or if that is just sort of an out-there description for a book's length? Any opinions on this from either readers or authors would be greatly appreciated and welcomed in the comments!

Traditionally, it's been the publishers acting as gate-keepers. They have their own standards on word count. Also, they publish more print books that readers can walk into a store and physically see the pages and the thickness of the book. My books only exist online. Even if I had print copies for sale, readers still couldn't tell the thickness since they can only order them online. It's more difficult as an indie ebook author to set the proper expectations for my readers as far as length. But what's the best way to do that? Should I list a word count on my book description? Or should we work together to try to come up with a different standard?

Video games have an "hours of play time" standard. Sometimes video games, especially RPG's, will say "over 100 hours of play time". For gamers, this makes sense and it is generally understood that everyone plays at different rates, so it might not literally take everyone 100 hours to play through the game. On the other hand, some people are slower and might take 200 hours to play. But it's still a numerical indication of how much content is available. I sometimes wonder if it would be valuable to do the same thing for books? For example, I could say Beautiful Demons has three hours of straight reading time. The questions would be how to determine how fast the average reader reads and whether or not this would make sense to readers.

My purpose in writing shorter novels is that I can write them faster and price them cheaper. If I was writing 90,000 word books, I would only be able to release a book every 4 or 5 months at best. Then, since I invested so much more time and would have less books on my virtual shelves, I would have a hard time listing that book at $0.99. With a 50,000-60,000 word book, I can come out with a new book every 2-3 months and give my readers more content more quickly and can price the books low and still make money. For me, it's a win-win. I just don't like the thought of some people buying the book and being disappointed to find it shorter than they expected.

So writers and readers, what is the best way for an Indie author to set up the right expectations for their readers so that readers aren't disappointed and can find the right length content for their needs? With self-publishing becoming more and more popular, you can find downloads that are anywhere from 10,000 word short stories all the way up to 200,000 word epic dramas. The question is how to properly tell the reader where my book falls. Page count seems a bit archaic since there are not technically pages in an ebook. So what would you suggest? I would love to hear any comments and opinions on this matter so please let me know!

15 comments:

Miss Fletcher August 30, 2011 at 1:41 AM  

I hear you. My first book is 76,000 and is constantly labeled as a novella and too short. How frustrating when people mark you down for it.

My actual novellas (one of which is 60,00 so not technically a novella) nobody complains about the length, even when they are too long to really be considered novellas.

I don't think there is a easy answer to this. Each author is different and the solution is slightly different. I would not advise placing the word count in the listing like some authors do, as it tells an average reader zero.

What about time of reading in hours? I've seriously thought about that before. Saying something like "Eight hours reading time". So someone who reads two hours a day knows it will take them four days to read the book. *ponders*

If you figure the answer out let me know, lol.

MoonlitReviews August 30, 2011 at 7:08 AM  

"Hours to read" won't work either, because everyone reads at different rates. You just kind of have to take those lumps as they roll in, because you won't please everyone. There are set standards within genres (as defined by those who hand out awards) as to what constitutes a short story, novelette, novella, novel. It's not your fault if the reader doesn't understand those standards. It's going to happen. I love your books, they are great, quick, YA reads that keep you interested. I have a short story series out at the moment that runs anywhere from 7,500-11,000 words each. Technically they are all in Novelette territory, but I still label them as short stories, because I know the readers would nitpick if I tried for the higher end of the spectrum. In the end, it's a personal call for the author. I don't think readers truly understand word counts, but it's something you can try. Smashwords, for instance, automatically displays your word count, which I find enormously helpful when viewing short stories.

Beth Caudill August 30, 2011 at 7:30 AM  

What about listing them as short novels? They are ~ even with the Harlequin category books in word count. And those are considered novels. The Rita's break apart the novels into short and long.

I think price should be a good indicator of length as well. But because everyone can set their own price (which can be good)...I think it would be wrong for people to expect a full 80,000+ word novel to be $.99 or $2.99.

josephrobertlewis August 30, 2011 at 7:54 AM  

Hi Sarra, at the end of my product descriptions, I state the length both in word count (rounded to nearest 1,000) and page count (wc divided by 250). I don't know if it really helps, but I'm happy to disclose more information if it helps the reader to set expectations.

Aimee Laine August 30, 2011 at 8:30 AM  

As a writer, I like seeing books with word counts. As a reader, though, most readers aren't going to know what a word count means, so a page count is more appropriate (or an approximation ... 250-300 words per page for example).

I'd always heard 50k minimum for a novel so your numbers are a little different than mine.

The problem I see is that people are actually more tied to the price than the quantity of words.

They THINK they are getting 'a novel' for $.99 and that that's this super-great-awesome 'deal' ... when in fact NO novels should ever be priced at $.99 (In my opinion). :) But that's just me.

You can't control reader perceptions. If breaking up your stories is the right thing for YOUR stories, then that's exactly what you should do. Whether it's 40k or 100k like Twilight ... it's about the story, it's beginning, middle and end, not the number of words inside. :)

My $.02!

Juliana August 30, 2011 at 9:05 AM  

@Beth - I think "short novel" will confuse reads and they will think of short stories instead.

I'm all for putting the word count on the description.
If I ever self-publish, I'll add the word count.

For readers who aren't in the midst of the industry, they won't care how many word, pages or whatever your novel has. They just want to read. Sure, they will notice it's shorter than the regular 80k novel, but, trust me, they won't care.

And for readers like us, adding the word count will be enough.

Also, I'm all for writing shorter novels and selling them at a lower price.
I wish I wrote shorter novels too (all of mine end up being around 80k-120k ... I don't seem to be able to write less LOL). Like you said, they come out faster and you can price them cheaper.

Later, you can create an omnibus of your books.

Cheers =)

L. j. Charles August 30, 2011 at 9:07 AM  

Hey, Sarra.

I think the PHD series are the perfect length and appropriately priced. We all hate to have disappointed readers, because heck, they're a huge part of the reason we write. When one of my readers comes up to me with a huge smile to tell me the book was great, well, there's nothing better. Then I get a reviewer that thought the book was very good, but not her usual genre so she gave it a 2 rating.

We can't always please all readers, so I think the bottom line is that we have to publish our books to be true to our standards of truth and honesty.

Lifethread is 74+ K and is priced at 1.99. I'm adding Lifethread: Mistake as a bonus to it and re-publishing just before Creation is released. I have no idea how to price Creation so this is a very timely post for me. Thanks.

L. j.

Fang Girl J.D. August 30, 2011 at 10:09 AM  

I think word counts are the way to go. Writers and the traditional publishing industry have been using word counts, why not bring that into the self-pub world?

As more indie authors post works at varying lengths with word counts in the descriptions, readers will start to learn what it means. WE just need to start making it a standard.

Claudia Lefeve August 30, 2011 at 10:25 AM  

I thought about adding my word count to Parallel, which is approx 55,000. But then I thought, why? The length is appropriate for YA. If adults want to read it, fine, but they should expect a YA novel.

Besides, readers will mention it in their reviews, "quick read", "didn't want it to end", etc. Those don't have to be negatives, but it does give other readers and idea that your books aren't 100k in word count.

When I picked up Beautiful Demons, yeah, I was a bit dissapointed that it was short, but only because I wanted more! So I bought book 2 :)

I don't think you need to justify, respond, or worry about those who aren't happy simply because of word count.

Sarra Cannon August 30, 2011 at 11:15 AM  

Wow! I am completely blown away by all the thoughtful and intelligent responses. Thank you so much for adding your opinions here.

Fang Girl J.D. - I totally agree with you that readers will adapt to whatever we start to do as a group. If everyone posts word counts, readers will see the comparison and learn what it means. If everyone posts page counts, most people will understand that too. A consistent standard would help so much!

Most of you are definitely right though when you say that all readers and all authors are different. That's one of the best things about the new age of digital publishing! On the other hand, with this one issue, I would love a standard guideline!

THanks again for commenting. You've all given me a lot to think about!

Catherine Gayle August 30, 2011 at 11:33 AM  

I don't know that there is a way to keep readers happy in terms of length. My full length novels are supposedly "too long" according to some readers, even though they all come in between 90,000 and 100,000 words--a standard length within the historical romance industry. My short stories are clearly labeled as being short stories (they come in at around 5,000 words each, so not even novelette territory), yet they get knocked for being too short. I know others who've got novellas that get knocked for being too short to be called a novella, yet they fall within the standard range for the industry.

Readers don't know industry standards, though. They only know low long it feels like when they're reading. You'll never make anyone happy.

You might consider listing the actual word count (maybe round it to the nearest thousand). I've seen some authors doing this. I don't know that it will help with those sorts of comments, but it is worth a shot, I suppose. Since readers all read at a different pace (did you know that Americans living in the north read at a significantly faster pace than those of us in the South, because of the way we speak?), I don't think it would be a good idea to list reading time. Another thought is that you could make your own definitions for the terms novel, novella, novelette...and list those on your website. That way they'll know that if they pick up a book you've got marked as a novella, it will clock in at a certain word count.

Megan Duncan August 31, 2011 at 3:51 PM  

Ok...so I'm a ding dong and will never post on a blog through my phone again. I totally posted the following msg in the wrong place :-s...

Honestly, I totally agree with you. I think the average reader wouldn't even make a review regarding the word count and whether or not a book is a novella or a novel. There are so many different standards for word count nowadays that there isn't a wrong or right answer. I think it is all opinion based.

I struggled with this very issue with my first novel, worrying whether or not it could be considered a novel or novella. It was just around 48k.

It probably wouldn't make a difference either way if you decided to add the word count in your description, as the average reader probably wouldn't pay it any attention. I can't say that I personally have ever even taken a moment to look at the size of a book. But maybe that's just me. If it looks interesting to me I am going to read it no matter how long or short it is.

The best advice I can give you is to not change anything you've been doing.

I can imagine that seeing that review would definitely cause some tingling in your nerves, but don't let it make you doubt what you're doing. You are a great writer of NOVELS! Say it out loud girl, it will make you feel better.

Just consider that review irrelevant. Try to forget it as best you can, cause I don't think they know what they are talking about. :o)

Jordan H. August 31, 2011 at 5:04 PM  

Hi,

I'm writing as a reader. I have never nor do I ever intend to publish, but I love to read. I can tell you straight up that what is most important is a complete story. When I first read your books I didn't even notice how short they were because the story was so complete and satisfying. It really doesn't matter how short a story is as long as it's good. Edger Allen Poe is famous for his short stories because they were terrific not because they were a certain length

That being said. As a consumer I love to have some sort of expectation before I buy something. There is nothing I hate worse than buying a nice large bag of chips then opening it to only realize it's less than half way filled. Ugh! If I'm expecting a half full bag and I buy a half full bag then I enjoy eating that bag, but if I expect a full bag then I it is much less enjoyable.

In terms of books, I know it is difficult to give consumers an expectation for the length of ebooks, but I feel it is a smart business move. Consumers will find it easier to purchase and build a customer loyalty with you. You have to think of your publishing as a successful business. Habisco wouldn't ever label a pack of 6 Oreos with a full box of Oreos. They would lose business that way. I understand the book industry s much less clear to define than the cookie industry, but that only makes customer expectation even more important.

One of my favorite authors Michelle M. Pillow uses a rating system of 5 categories to help readers appreciate the length of her novel. The lowest level is a really short story. The highest level is a full length novel. Next to each category she lists one of her own works that would fit the description. That way fan's of her work can know what to expect.

Jordan

For me this has been the best way that an author has communicated the length of an ebook to me, but wether it be a five point category, word length, or page number. Some sort of length indication is always appreciated to a customer/ reader.

lacycameywrites.com September 2, 2011 at 4:12 PM  

Hi Sarra! I'm Lacy from the Writer's Cafe on KB. I just saw your post on august sales thread and I thought I'd check your blog out. I'm glad I did! :)

My novella I just released is 39k. I'm writing two more in the series and will hover over 40k for the length.

My husband and I are writing a novel together that I'll keep under 50k.

I agree with you about shorter works. It's my goal to write and release around 6 books a year.

I read a few of your older posts from January and it's so exciting to see your journey! I'm so happy for your success! I just read in one of your old posts that you hoped to sell 200, or something like that..and now look at your sells! Super exciting! I am also with you as well on the price mark. I have my novella at $3.99 and I don't think I could sell my books for .99. (except my short stories that I have under a penname...and I'm even tempted to sell them for 1.25 or something.) I mean, if I'm going to spend a cup of coffee that has nothing special added...just coffee! And spend 1.80 or 2.10...surely I'll price my book more than a cup of coffee :)

Keep up the great work and I hope to come visit your blog more!

Lacy

lacycameywrites.com September 2, 2011 at 5:36 PM  

Sarra, I meant to add something haha. I definitely can see the value in lowering a price to .99 like you have done when new releases are available and I may consider doing that around christmas when my other two books release.

Do you think that has helped your sky rocket sales?

Thanks!
Lacy

Sarra Cannon

Young Adult Indie Author

I always secretly wanted to be a cheerleader. And a witch. Now, I write about both. The first five novels in my Peachville High Demons Young Adult Paranormal series are available now in ebook!

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Beautiful DemonsThe Time Traveler's WifeLoveroot: PoemsFear of FlyingWe the LivingAnthem

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