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29.5.10

The Long and Short of it...

I know... I'm late. But better late than never in posting the blog.

So, I have a question, which may take a while to get to, but rest assured, it's in here. When I first started writing stories, I have to confess that I never really considered the length of said story. I had an idea and ran with it until it was done. Now remember, that at this point, I considered a novel, just that, a novel. Though I'd read a ton of ebooks, they were always novel length. I'd never ventured into the realm of shorts or novellas, always choosing stories that were just digital versions of the books I'd buy in the stores. I'm not sure if I equated shorts to stories I'd see only in collections or the kind of stuff you'd submit to magazines, but I hadn't considered short stories in their own right.

After a couple of books were contracted, I was informed (nicely, of course) that shorter stories sold better in e-form. Quite honestly, I was shocked. I mean, to me, I thought readers would want to read a full book. I didn't realize there were such tasty treats out there as the Lust Bites and Novellas found at TEB. Needless to say, I've since written a few of these, though my heart is still in the grand tales. I love epic adventures that allow me time to develop characters and weave intricacies into the plot line. It took me a while to figure out how to condense a thought into just a single event and build the plot around that event.

Okay, getting to the question part...really.

As I've been flipping through some different sites lately, some personal sites, some commercial, I've come across a number of reviews or ratings where the reviewer/rater has given a story a so-so review based mostly on the fact it was too short. There are common comments, such as...the characters weren't as developed as I wanted, and the plot wasn't as intricate as I'd hoped it be, I'd have liked more back-story...

Now everyone is allowed their opinion, and I'm truly not knocking reviews or ratings of books. We all get some great and some not-so-great ones. But I was puzzled by these comments. I mean...what is the reader expecting in a 15,000 word story? It's hardly enough time to introduce a plot, add some angst, get to the 'hot' stuff and resolve everything before one's time is up! So it made me wonder if readers are expecting a fully developed novel shrunk down into a pint-size offering?

Is this true? And if so, are authors falling short or are readers really expecting too much for the reality of the situation?

For me, as a reader, I look at the length of a book and adjust my expectations a bit. I know, if it's a short story that's part of a collection, that it's really going to be more of a snap-shot into the lives of the characters, not a full journey. I still expect a storyline, but I don't anticipate it'll be as involved as a story twice it's length, simply knowing there isn't enough time to get it all in. I want character development, but I don't expect it will be mind-altering in such a short space.

Perhaps it being a writer and knowing that 2000 words can be the difference in the plot being full rather than a bit sparse. That 2000 words can be the ending you've always wanted versus a quicker wrap up than intended. I think I give authors a bit of a break realizing they're working on restrictions imposed by the publisher and that they're trying to give you as rich an experience as they can within a very short space.

So...what is everyone's opinion on this? Do you expect a full novel in a short version? Do you take into account the length of a story before you make any expectations? If short sells better, but every comment is... I wish it was longer... how do authors please their readers if their shorter offerings are looked at as not quite complete, but folks won't buy the larger ones?

I'd also love to know why readers prefer short? Is it having to read on a computer, though with the iPad and e-readers now available, I think this argument will soon be a thing of the past? Is it the desire for instant gratification where you know you can sit down and finish a book in an evening? Does it come down to cost?

Any insight is welcomed. But before I leave you, I wanted to announce that Deadly Obsession is now available in PRINT!!!! Yeah!!! It is, of course, a long book and I'm hoping the option to read it more conventionally will help make it a success, but either way, I'll still write longer novels because I love epic adventures.

Thanks for tuning in. See you all next month.
Kris
Romancing life...one adventure at a time.


9 comments:

Jude Mason said...

Hi Kris,

I write shortish. (Grin) Most of mine are between 15K and 35K, with one or two hitting the longer 'novel' length you've mentioned.

Okay, from what I've heard/experienced etc. it seems readers want variety. I sell more books at the 30K range then shorter or longer. But, I've had comments from fans who want a 30K story to be longer. I've had other comments asking me why it went so long.

Reviewers will always confuse me. Many times, what they get are what a publisher has requested. A specific call for submissions, meaning word count, genre and possibly story line. The reviewer will rave about the story then say it's too bad it was so short. (Head--->Desk) Or, they'll say the stories in an anthology were either too much alike or not enough alike. OMG!

You can't please everyone all the time. I write what I feel is best for me and what my readers will like. Or most of them. I pray a lot too.

I really hope you get a few comments in here. I'd love to know what experience others have and also what readers think.

Hugs

Kris Norris said...

Hey Jude,

I share your head banging experience. And it's not necessarily about mine. I have a couple 15K (due to seasonal restrictions) and have others around the 30K mark as well. I think 30K is a pretty good length. Lots of time to develop, but not overly long... but 15K...

Seriously, you can't have a 60K novel condensed into 15K...not me anyway.

Having read your stuff, your length is perfect, lol. But it's true. So many times they say wish it were longer, but then don't want to buy the longer stuff...and the anthology thing... Hello... that's why it's an anthology.

Thanks for the input. I'm hoping others will comment too. I'm curious if there's a happy medium and wonder, too, if readers are expecting more than perhaps an author can give in such short accounts..

hugs,
Kris

Jaime Samms said...

Okay; As a reader, first: I prefer short, for, as you say, ease of reading. If I have to read on the computer, I'm not enamoured of sitting there for long periods, though now, I have a Sony reader, and it's not so much of an issue.

As a writer: I write the story from the beginning until its done. Often, that carries me beyond a given word count for submission calls, whether the call is for 10,000 or 20,000, I go over. Odd, but true.

What I don't write much of is long. I seem not to have the staying power to get to the end. I'm good at short, but the trick, I've found, is pick a plot and stick to it. Short has to be simple,but pack a lot of punch. Complex story lines just means you won't get it all done in time. One plot, as few characters as you can get away with. It seems to be what works for me.

As a rviewer, I expect a writer to give me a complete story with 3D characters. I don't demand a complex life story. A day, a meeting, a turning point; what is essential is a character who either changes from beginning to end, or finds a damn good reason to keep what he has. If I complain something is too short, it's not going to get a rave review from me. If I love the characters and hope I get to read about them again some day, that's a different sentiment alltogether, and it is very possile to do in a short story.

Jaime Samms said...

commenting again....You cannot condense a novel into 15,000, and I don't think it should be attempted. A short story is not a condensed novel. It's short story, and a different animal, requiring different writing techniques alltogether, in my experience. (I can't write long as effectively as I write short. There's so much complexity required, and I have a hard time getting that in depth.)

Susan said...

Long stories please! For a while, when I was first starting to read ebooks, I read a ton of shorts. Mainly because the ratio of shorts to longs was so high. But, too many of them were poorly done. I understand and do give some leeway to the authors working under these constraints, but the shorts just left me feeling, well, shorted. (BTW, Kim Dare is one of the few that do a great job with a short story - her character development is amazing). These days I only purchase a short if I either know and love the author, or if it sounds really, really great from the blurb. Give me an 800 page (sorry, still don't think in word counts) book every time. Ok, yes, none of the ebooks are that long, so how about at least 200 pages?

I could be snarky and say that the desire for short stories is due to the rise of the Internet and how it encourages us to have short attention spans, but I won't. :-)

Jaime Samms said...

I woudn't even say that's snarky, Susan, so much as just a statement of fact. We do have short attention spans, and want instant gratification. I count that as part of the reson I like reading short stories.

Lisabet Sarai said...

As a reviewer, I've commented myself on feeling dissatisfied when a shorter work ends. Even with an ebook, if I'm enjoying myself, I want to keep going.

On the other hand, it took me a while to get used to the TEB notion that 15-20K, including chapters, is a "short story"! In my previous work writing erotica, stories are rarely longer than 5K. The first time I tried writing a short for TEB ("Rendezvous") I managed to make it the required 15K but I was astonished when Claire asked me to break it into chapters. My feeling is that the "shorts" one sees in romance are really more like novellas.

I do think it's possible to produce a very satisfying tale in only 15K. (I'm working to get better at it myself.) But I still prefer to read novels, personally.

Best,
Lisabet

Kris Norris said...

Hi Ladies,

Some interesting insight.

I agree that an author can make a short story (mostly 15K) interesting and have fun characters you want to come back and revisit...

But...I still don't get the "it's too short" comment. I mean...it's a short story. You can only write 15K so, I think that particular comment should be rephrased. Yes, you might be able to say you weren't satisfied with the plot, but I do think as a reviewer/person rating a book, you need to take the length into account. Don't expect it to be more than a glimpse into the lives of the characters... this can still be 3D and enjoyable, but I don't feel it's in the same way as a full novel...especially when you're trying to fit in the other 'hot' elements, lol.

I guess my problem is I much prefer to write long. Unlike you Jamie, I have too much staying power (lol). If a submission is capped at 20K, my editor knows she'll get 19 999. I think 20K is more realistic to fit it all in, but I much prefer just writing until it's over in my head...

Unfortunately that's often after any cut-off, which might be why I don't write for certain lines or submissions very often. I don't like having to curtail a story to make it fit.

But if I want my stories to sell, I have to get a number of shorter, no more than 30K, in there. It seems to be quite the paradox.

I agree with Susan, I think much of the short frenzy is more about lifestyle and the desire for instant gratification and not wanting to have to wait for days to finish a book that's behind the success of the short. Though Jamie has a point I've heard lots too... reading on the computer. I don't find it a problem, but then now that there are so many kinds of e-readers out there, hopefully the long book will make a come-back.

Either way, great points ladies. Lisabet is another person who's good at the short (I've read your stuff and yes, you can write short very well).

I appreciate the comments. I think it boils down to the fact that yes...writing short is really a different beast and it's not something that's easy for everyone.

hugs,
Kris

Mia Watts said...

OMG you are GENIUS! There were so many "bites" in there that I wanted to cut and paste. My favorite has to be this one: "a snap-shot into the lives of the characters, not a full journey"

YES! Thank you! I get slammed a lot for having the romance happen too quickly, or not enough fill to the plot. But what it comes down to is time.

Readers buy short, therefore we try to write short for them.

Readers want hot and memorable characters, so we give them that.

There's 12-15k here to work with. Two or Three sex scenes, relationship development, outside plot factors and all of it requires a tidy bow of HEA in that time frame.

No matter how you slice it, a short, while entertaining (which is what it should be) will hit the high points of what you need in a story. It's NOT going to be the Pulitzer Prize winner of deep introspection and new psychological development processes.

I love how your brain works, Kris. Great article.