Monday, February 13, 2012

The Miniaturization of Sci-Fi Romance

Mission Success:
Laurie's Journal

The Miniaturization of SFR

Last week, Donna posted an excellent article on the subject of SFR, Missed it by That Much. I wanted to expand on the subject with a new trend I've noted in our favorite subgenre. SFR novels that aren't "novels."

I've read several lately that are probably 30,000-50,000 words in length. This is a little surprising (and dismaying) because the world-building and technical or cultural aspects introduced in SFR are a hallmark of our subgenre. How these elements affect the characters and their goals, desires and relationships, usually require word count that runs far longer than other romance genres--often 110-120K or more. And seriously, as a reader I want to spend more time in these imaginative worlds. Fifty thousand words barely whets my appetite.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoy reading SFR shorts too, but something being labeled and written as a short story or novella implies different expectations than a SFR novel.

Are digital products erasing the lines between novella and novel? Will this trend ultimately hurt SFR?

Since readers can't see the page count when purchasing digital files, size doesn't really compute unless you study and compare such stats. I don't, though I may start paying more attention. I also don't think authors or publishers are deliberately misleading readers--information on the length via electronic standards is usually available--but do most readers understand the difference between less than 300 KB and 600KB plus? There appears to be no KB = page count conversion because the font size or type can affect the KB size.

So, as a reader, I'm sometimes feeling a little short-changed. The stories I've been purchasing are less complex, the world-building less fleshed out, and the story sometimes feels like it took shortcuts to resolve the plot and relationship issues because there simply isn't room to fully explore the conflict or resolution.

This trend may be a product of shorter attention spans. Because of the "quick bytes" networking made necessary by Twitter and Facebook, are we also being conditioned to accept shorter and quicker reads? In another few years, will only the print publishers be offering full length digital versions of SFR?

And what about cost comparisons? Are the shorter 30-50K novels being priced the same as their 100K+ competition? (More of this analysis in next week's post.)

What's your impression of the state of the subgenre in terms of story length?  Do you prefer longer or shorter reads when using a reading device? Do you think the 'downsizing' of digital works vs. print works is a negative or positive trend?

The Miniaturization of Sci-Fi Romance has now been posted.  Click here to read.

Where Am I?

I'm struggling a bit with overlapping deadlines and obligations (it's not just for published authors, believe me) but I have a group of readers looking at the latest draft of my third novel and providing some fantastic feedback. I'm looking forward to a little let-up on my schedule so I can finish the revisions for novel #2 (The Outer Planets) and get #3 to market draft.  My goal? Three marketable (full length) novels ready in time for RWA Nationals in late July. (Or, dare I say it, maybe even a sale?)

Online Happenings

The Love, Lasers and Light Swords Valentine's Day Event promises to be a lot of fun with many prizes being doled out to random commenters. Come celebrate the day at Backward Momentum blog. The event will run tomorrow--February 14th--only!

More Valentines Goodies 4 U

I received a newsletter from a peer, author Connie Shelton, asking me to help get the word out on her latest promotion. Always happy to let my fellow peers know about great freebies! If you like Mystery, Connie is giving away three of her digital Charlie Parker series amateur sleuth novels, Honeymoons Can Be Murder, Reunions Can Be Murder, and Stardom Can Be Murder on February 12th, 13th, and 14th only. Connie Shelton has been a best-selling author on Amazon and her New Mexico-based romances have netted solid 4 and 4+ star ratings on Amazon.

I also offered to gift up to ten copies of Barbara Elsborg's dark Romantic Suspense thriller Chosen to the first ten readers who comment that they'd like one as long as the .99 sale lasts (I'll need your email address).

As of this writing, the novel is still on sale and the offer stands for a few more commenters. (Did I mention this one is dark?) Read the reviews if you're on the fence, but for me this was a mesmerizing, can't-put-it-down read with a terrifying and eerily real villain and a way-beyond-mere-satisfying conclusion.

Ping Pong

Donna, your articles continue to be on target as thought-provoking reads.  Love 'em.

Pippa, again, so great to have you on the Spacefreighters crew. Looking forward to the release of Keir.

Sharon, it's been fun sharing some behind-the-scenes excitement with you involving your upcoming Tor release Ghost Planet.  Hope you can announce some of the news to the world very soon.


  1. I agree on the shorter sfr stories missing the mark - I've just read one where I don't think either the world-building, the logic or the development of the relationship were as satisfactory as they could (and should!) have been. I felt that Keir was overly long at 100K, but judging by the sfr books I've read lately, longer is definitely better. I think shorter works are best kept to straight genres like scifi to really develop their full potential. And we just had a brief discussion about length/word count in digital copies on Facebook. Two had the page numbers in their details - one was just list as so many KB. Unless I go through my own docs and check how many words=how many KB, I wouldn't have a clue.
    And you've reminded me that I have Chosen still in my TBR pile (which is thankfully shrinking despite two new purchases yesterday. Ebooks are just too easy to buy once you have a Kindle.)
    Good luck on your goals! I will 'see' you at the Backward Momentum Bash tomorrow. :)

  2. Pippa, I'm glad to hear Keir will be a full size novel. Yay! None of my SFR novels come in at less than 110K. I think my short stories will probably come in somewhere in the 25-30K range.

    I've completed an analysis on a sampling of SFRs for a follow-up article next week and discovered that the KB vs. page count comparisons are much more complex than I imagined. It really raised my eyebrows. Stay tuned.

    See ya at Love, Lasers and Light Swords tomorrow.

  3. Interesting! I spoke to a publisher recently who told me they prefer up to 50,000 because that's what readers want, that sells best. Sort of threw me for a loop because I automatically come out near the 100,000 unless I have a word limit on a short.
    I agree that with stories that need world building - it's hard to do in few words. I know that part of the love of sci fi rom writers is the creation of that world and it seems you're being pushed to change tack to suit - well what??
    I know if you hover over the novel description on the Ellora's Cave site - it gives you the word length for the group the novel falls into but Loose Id don't, nor do Decadent.
    I wonder if the 50,000 has something to do with ease of reading on a kindle? That's its some optimum length that research has proved readers want? I've never tried to aim for 50,000 - I might find it tricky.

  4. @Laurie - thanks! Until recently, writing UNDER 100K has been an issue for me! Can't wait to see how the KB vs page count comes out. Some places seem to list the word count (Lyrical does) or page count, but many just the size of the file.
    My sequel to Keir is only 40K at the moment, but then a lot has already been established in the first book, so I think shorter sequels are fine, and maybe sfr novellas/shorts linked to an author's existing universe. My other shorts are all straight SF with no romance at all. However, Tethered is currently 35K and unlikely to rise much over 40K, so I'm a little worried whether elements of it might suffer in that respect. It is set in the same universe as Keir, but decades later.
    @Barbara - I've also found a lot of authors tends to prefer novellas as a way to get more titles out in a year and so get their name out. With virtually all of us trying to promote our own work in an ever-increasing market, I can see the practical side of that. Personally I'd rather get lost in a long book - some of the novellas I've read lately have left me a little dissatisfied.
    I think part of the preference for 50K and under is due to the fact that many publishers tend to state they will only issue print copies for books over 50K - both Lyrical and Decadent do that. So perhaps they're trying to avoid the cost of print copies?

  5. Very interesting discussion. Looking forward to the next installment!

    I tend to write shorter, myself. I think it is eagerness to finish that accursed first draft! Usually come in around 70,000 words and then grow 10-20K in revisions.

    @Pippa - A very belated welcome to the blog! Sorry for tardiness with that.

  6. @Sharon - thanks! No worries, I know you've been super-busy. :)

  7. Now that I think about it all the recent e-books I've read were shorter, too. It seems they're going the way of the old "category" romances, with a length of 30-60K words. Unfortunately, the categories have their own rules and structures that are largely dictated by the length. That is, you can only do so much with so many words, so this happens, then this happens, then wrap it up and done. Not very satisfying if you're looking for wild ideas; great if you like predictable and safe. (I'm hearing the howls of thousands of enraged category readers and writers now, but I don't mean to offend. I don't like bubble gum flavored popcorn either. I want my popcorn to taste like popcorn,and category books are like popcorn, get it?)

    My point is that SFR does not lend itself well to this kind of word limit. Short stories are a different matter and VERY difficult to write. A novel, however, needs time and space to fully develop--at least 100k, preferably more. Past 120K you're pushing it, but I'll hang in there if the material is good. Otherwise, the worldbuilding and the characters both suffer.


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Hosted by 5 Science Fiction Romance authors with 8 RWA Golden Heart finals and a RITA final between them. We aim to entertain with spirited commentary on the past, present, and future of SFR, hot topics, and our take on Science Fiction and SFR books, television, movies and culture.