Story Length: Short, Long, and In-Between

One of the many advantages of eBooks is that they can be any length. Physical books need to be a certain size for binding purposes, neither too thin nor too thick. If you wanted to put a short story on paper, you had to submit it to a magazine, an anthology, or a collection. If you wanted to write a story of intermediate length–either a novelette (7,500 — 17,500 words) or a novella (17,500 — 40,000 words), markets were hard to find. (I know because I had trouble marketing Lyon’s Legacy before self-publishing it.) However, electronic files don’t suffer from paper constraints.

What does this mean for authors? It’s possible to write and publish stories at the length they need to be instead of the length the publisher needs them to be. Yesterday, I was reading reviews for the latest book in a popular urban fantasy series I follow. (I won’t name it since I haven’t read the book in question.) Some of the reviewers mentioned that nothing much happened in this novel that advanced the overall series; in fact, the heroine spent much of her time unable to do anything. A couple of people even said that this novel might have worked better as a short story. Perhaps this author had to fulfill a contract for this series and was counting this book toward that requirement. She might have done better paring this story down to a shorter length. Short stories, novelettes, and novellas can be used to develop secondary characters or explore side stories or settings related to the overall plot or world of a series. Also, by being able to write stories at different lengths, writers can practice various aspects of their craft.

What does easy access to a wide range of stories for readers? It gives them more options to find works that fit their schedules. If you only have a short time to read, you might want to polish off a shorter work instead of starting something you may not be able to get back to for a while. Short works may also serve as a good introduction to a new author, as the reader can invest only a little bit of time into reading before deciding to move on or look for other works by that author.

I would say more–there are pieces of flash fiction longer than this post–but I need to get back to my Season Avatars prequel. It still hasn’t decided if it’s going to be a novella or a short novel. (Forty thousand words would be short for a fantasy novel, but that could be a separate blog post.) In the meantime, I’ll ask you these questions: Do you prefer to read stories of a certain length, or do you read a variety of story lengths? If you have a preference, why?

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15 thoughts on “Story Length: Short, Long, and In-Between

  1. Hi Sandra! I like to read all around, but I don’t see as many novellas marketed in a way that makes it easy for me to pick up. Even though I don’t buy as much in print anymore, I still tend to scan bookstore shelves as my first introduction to authors. I’m sure my approach will change since more and more of authors I love are only in digital now, but I think finding the books they love is as tough for our readers as marketing our work is for us!! We are in a state of great change, that’s for sure. But I digress…. would love to read more short works since my reading time feels more fractured than ever. I’m sitting on several full length novels I can’t wait to read but I don’t want to start them until I have that ever-elusive LONG afternoon to really dig in and read. Good luck with the prequel piece!! – Joanne

    • Joanne, it is possible to put novellas out as standalone paper books. I did so with Lyon’s Legacy through CreateSpace. Whether or not a bookstore will stock a 130-page book is another question. As for reading, since I’m unlikely to get a long afternoon to myself, I squeeze reading in whenever I can. A few minutes here and there do add up.

  2. I’ll read any length. But you raise an interesting point, Sandra–freed from the necessity for binding, ebooks probably will set new length standards (or destroy them!). I’m still addicted to print books, but even I have a Kindle.

  3. You make a good point, Sandra. For me, ebooks have made it easier to pick a novel of any length. Since I travel to a different office every day big, heavy, books used to be something I avoided. Same with vacations, I can bring a limitless amount of books of any length with my kindle, I love that.

  4. I love books of all sizes but would read short stories when on time crunch. My pet peeve, people who publish 2-3 chapters at a time and publish it after they publish a full-length first book, so readers are forced to buy those chapters to catch up.

    • Do you mean serial publishing, Ednah? John Scalzi did that earlier this year, publishing one of his books a chapter at a time and then in a collection. I haven’t read that book yet, but if I do, I would get the whole collection instead of the separate chapters.

  5. I’m mostly engaged in a story when it’s novel length (or at least YA novel length, so about 80K), but I do enjoy a nice novella once in a while, especially if it’s part of a series. I think e-readers are great for novellas.

  6. Ebooks offer a flexibility authors didn’t have in the past. The story’s length should be up to the story, not the printer’s guidelines.

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