Monday, February 20, 2012

The Miniaturization of Sci-Fi Romance Part II

Last week, I discussed the disturbing (IMHO) scaling down of SFR novels and why this is an alarming trend. You can read the post here:

The Miniaturization of Sci-Fi Romance

Since then, I discovered one of the digital publishers I was scouting is now only accepting SFR of up to 50,000 words (usually less than 200 pages). Discouraging for a writer of full length (i.e. 100,000+ word count or roughly 370-400 pages) SFR? Absolutely.

But how does this impact readers?

What are we really buying?

Last Monday, I looked at evidence that SFR offerings are becoming shorter than the "traditional" length of those published in print first, which tend to be 90,000-120,000 words in length, not 30,000-50,000 words. (Let's face it--a 150 page SFR novel would look pretty puny in print!)

Since I have a Kindle, I buy almost all my digital books on Amazon. I did a random sampling of SFR titles available on their site along with prices and page length if it's offered. Here's what I found:

(In order of highest to lowest price with KB listed first)

565KB - Print publisher, newer SFR author - $8.69       289 pages
278KB - Print publisher, popular SFR author - $7.99     320 pages
469KB - Print publisher, popular SFR author - $7.99     320 pages
423KB - Leading digital pub, new SFR author - $7.00   286 pages
626KB - Print publisher, popular SFR author - $5.79     381 pages
385KB - Digital publisher, est. SFR author - $5.79           not listed
420KB - Print publisher, popular SFR author - $4.99     560 pages **
790KB - Leading digital publisher, SFR author - $4.24   294 pages**
252KB - Digital publisher, popular SFR author - $3.99     not listed
566KB - Digital publisher, newer SFR author - $3.99       not listed
200KB - Digital publisher, newer SFR author - $3.99       88 pages
382KB - Leading digital publisher, SFR author - $3.82   158 pages
326KB - Leading digital publisher, est. author - $3.03     135 pages
285KB - Leading digital publisher, new author - $3.03      not listed
237KB - Digital publisher, newer SFR author - $1.99       36 pages

Although there is some correlation on price points for length of book, it's not definitive. If you pay $3.99 for a SFR title it doesn't necessarily mean you're purchasing a work that even close to a full length novel. Unless the approximate page count is listed, even the KB size isn't a good reference. Here's a quick comparison of four novels with KB and page count available:

1772KB = 832 paperback pages
465 KB = 320 paperback pages 
420 KB = 560 paperback pages ** (also included in above analysis)
790 KB = 264 paperback pages ** (also included in above analysis)

Eye-opening? The variance in pages vs. KB may be due to some file sizes including graphic artwork where others may have only text. And if artwork is included in the file size, files reflecting higher resolution may reflect a higher KB than a lower resolution.

Since this is an unknown, it could mean buyers using KB as reference may think they are purchasing a traditional novel-length story in some cases when they're really purchasing a novella or very short novel, and the artwork is making the novel appear to be a lengthier work. 

What are your thoughts?  Do you have a preference for traditional SFR novel length (90,000+ words) or do you prefer to read shorter works in digital format? As a reader, do you think the shorter SFR novels are a good trend or a bad trend?


  1. I have found with some of the digital publishers that they state a book will only be released in print as well as ebook if the word count is 50/60K+. So perhaps part of the shift to 'only accepting up to 50K' is an effort to avoid any commitment to the expense of print copies. Also an author is more likely to be able to get several novellas out in a year, but maybe only one or two full-length novels. So novellas are probably a better bet for authors if they want to establish a backlist quickly.
    I have to say that out of the titles I've bought lately, the novellas have hit Donna's 'Missed it by that much' description, while I've enjoyed the full-length novels more.
    But the question has to be asked - is it really the publishers fuelling this miniaturization, or is it the readers? Do *they* prefer the shorter lengths? Or are they buying novellas because they don't realize the length, are finishing them quicker and so then coming back for more titles? Is it the cheaper price? I've found with the recent Kindle titles I've bought, not only is the word count/page count not listed, but there's been no distinction between 'novel' and 'novella'. Clearer labelling is needed for a start.
    Personally I prefer longer works, and I'm finding the shorter ones less satisfying. I don't think it's impossible to write a good sfr novella - at least I hope not since I'm in the process of writing one myself. But I think it has to be something special. But I would like to see word count/page count listed, or for them to be classified as novels or novellas more clearly. And I don't want to see the restriction of 50K or less becoming a permanent or widespread rule!

  2. Also, after a comment via twitter - perhaps it's because more novellas are being submitted rather than novels?

  3. Sigh, sorry for clogging up the comments - I meant to add maybe it's something worth doing a poll on via the SFR Brigade blogsite, about what wordcount peeps are submitting at the moment, and what they find is being accepted mostly.

  4. Well, you know me. I write at longer lengths and I like to read them, too. I do like a great SF short story, but they are extremely hard to write--add the romantic element in and they are almost impossible to do correctly. I did some when I was writing TREK stuff, and I think they came off all right, but I had the benefit of not having to introduce characters or universe details. That's why we often have the sense we're missing something when we read an SFR story at shorter length. There just isn't enough time to develop everything the way it should be developed.

  5. I'm working on a couple of shorts, but I don't think I could do a "novel" justice by writing 50K or less. I'd have to take so many shortcuts I don't think the story would work as well.

    That's a great idea on a poll, Pippa. I'll see if I can get that done.


  6. I think ebook readers like shorter reads overall and so publishers cater to that. Print readers are a different type of reader. But I list all my odd counts on the ebooks, for example The Shifter Evolutions saga has 6 books in the saga and each is 80-90,000 word and the word count is listed.

    On another note:
    Created by me, guaranteed to make you laugh, this is pretty funny to lighten you day:

  7. One thing that affects the KB size is how much extra content they add. I read a digital book that ended rather abruptly at about half way through the file. It had tons of excerpts and stuff. Felt a bit cheated.

    My books are, for the most part, quite HUGE. The Key, Girl Gone Nova and Steamrolled all come in at 140+. Not sure what that is in pages. It does make the print cost on the high side, though they are a great deal in digital ($4-6). What I find discouraging is readers who now expect/want to pay $2.99 for ANY book. I'm sorry, but if I put out a BAB (big a** book), I don't plan to sell it for .99 - 2.99!

    My publishers do let me opt out of returnable with bookstores and I leapt on that when they started offering it. Tired of getting my digital sales hosed by returns.

    My latest release (Kicking Ashe) is 70,000, but it was supposed to be a novella, so its not exactly reflective of my usual. (grin)

    I can see why some pubs don't want to do print until there is demand. It is expensive to maintain a print title.

  8. One element I evaluate, especially in shorts and novellas, is the scope of the story. Some settings and plots demand a higher word count to give them justice, while others do just fine at a lower one.

    I've read novels that I felt were padded/bloated and could easily have been shorter. But there have also been shorts/novellas that could have used extra word count to really flesh things out, whether for the romance or the worldbuilding/plot.

    So choosing a story scope that fits the word count is something to consider before a single word is even typed.

    What I love about digital publishing is that it evened the playing field for authors who want to write shorts and novellas and anything in-between (and, conversely, door-stopper epics). In years past, shorter works have been mostly locked out of the market.

    The idea of a novel-length book (80-100k) being a standard or the best way to tell a story is based on the current print distribution system. Given the limitations of print and how much it costs to sell books, publishers decided that a certain length maximized their profits. The fact that many stories can comfortably be told with an 80-100k word count is merely icing on the cake.

    Now that the distribution/delivery system is changing, it opens up other markets.

    Look at the game changer Twitter has become. Users are forced to write messages in very small increments, but it's all the rage. SFR books have the same potential to capitalize on this widening ebook market. It's not the length, but how you use it.


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