Short-ish stories

Did you ever stop to wonder why novels are so long? Before you say anything I know that they aren’t all long, but the typical novel sits at approximately 70-80k words. That is a lot of reading! Longer stories make a lot of sense when considered in the traditional publishing sense, no-one’s going to pay $20 for a book that’s only 60 pages long. However with the growth of digital publishing, perhaps there is more room for shorter stories?

In this day and age people don’t have as much time for reading, If you’re anything like me you save your novels for your next holiday to read on the plane or whilst relaxing on the beach. These activities lend themselves well to prolonged reading sessions, but what about your average day to day? Thankfully the growth of e-readers and smart phones is helping to keep reading alive. It’s now possible to carry a virtual library with us wherever we go and hop into a book in the five minutes we are waiting for the bus. Personally I struggle to enjoy a book the same way when I read it like this, in tiny increments staggered over weeks or months. Sometimes I will get a solid two or three hour window in which to read, perhaps a lazy Sunday afternoon, and that’s when I really enjoy getting stuck into something I am reading. That got me thinking, where can I find stories that I could read from start to finish in that narrow window of time? It has to be long enough to have some interesting characters and plot development, but short enough to get through in one sitting. With some experimenting I’m finding 20-30k words is the sweet spot. Some people would call these Novellas, but I like to think of them as short-ish stories.

These short-ish stories aren’t just good for readers, there are advantages for writers too. Hands up if you are a terrible procrastinator. I know what you are thinking, yeah yeah I’ll put my hand up in a minute, right after I check my twitter feed… I have tried writing a 100k word book and it’s an awful lot of work, a huge commitment. I’m already five years in and have probably written 500k words with all the re-writes and edits, and yet I still can’t quite seem to get to a point where I am happy with it. I’m coming to the terrifying conclusion I may never be happy with it. Compare that to the short-ish story I just finished writing. It started as an idea for NaNoWriMo and grew from there. I wrote and edited it end to end in 3 months. It’s just over 20k, enough to tell a compelling story but not enough to waffle, get distracted or bog myself down. If it proves to be popular I can continue expanding on the world with more short-ish stories, or even standard novel length stories when I know it’s worth the investment. If the story isn’t overly popular I haven’t invested 5 years only to find out no-ones interested.

Pricing is another plus. There’s realistically only so much an unknown author can charge for a book. In the current age of App stores driving peoples expectations of cost down to all time lows, I’d say you’ll be lucky to sell your book for much more than $5. If you’re a terrible procrastinator like me that represents $1 per year before the seller has taken their cut, not a great return on investment. With a shorter story you can go straight for the sweet spot of $0.99. You probably won’t make quit your job money but it’s a much better return on your investment of time.

What do you think? Have you written a story that’s 20-30k words? If so did you try selling it and how did it do? Have you read a really good short-ish story lately?

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One thought on “Short-ish stories

  1. I’m looking at trying some writing of this length later this year, once my compilation of short stories is finished.

    I’ve completed four NaNoWriMo first drafts between 50K – 75K words but the thought of going back to edit that much is incredibly daunting. I’m working through some short stories at the moment but I do have a couple of ideas that I think would fit nicely into that 20K- 30K you talked about.

    I agree that the short form is finding a nice little revival in this age of e-books. It’s once again viable to throw short stories out into the world much like Stephen King and others did years ago when they submitted regularly to men mags.

    Now you can just charge appealing, small prices for quick hits of your works and, at the same time build a fan base. As you say, Short-ish; long enough to be more than a quick snack yet short enough so that you don’t explode after just finishing that wafer thin mint.

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