With the popularity of the e-reader and commonality of self-publishing, word counts seem to have lost their importance.
A lot of authors let the story determine the word count and readers seem willing to read books no matter the length. The only ones who seem terribly concerned with them are publishers because it helps them estimate the number of pages a manuscript will have after it becomes a book.
But we’re self-publishers, right? So why should we give a damn about word count?
Publisher word counts:
Before I dive into why word counts should matter to a self-publisher, I want to talk about the word counts that publishers expect and demand.
I realize that a lot of these numbers overlap and they have no real rhyme or reason, but these are the guidelines that traditional publishing uses to decide how to sell and package your book. There are also varying word count expectations according to genre. For example, the preferred word count for novel length romance is 50,000 and 90,000 words. My novel-length work typically tops off at about 90k, but self-published authors routinely write longer and shorter than that and it sells just fine. It’s all very mysterious and I’m sure it directly relates to how much money they will pay the author for their work.
Okay, now why should any of these numbers matter to us?
1. Reader expectations.
While readers don’t really care about the word count, there is a perception of quality when it comes to the length of a book. The 99c kindle book boom has given readers unrealistic expectations for how much a book should cost. And comparatively, there is a perception that books priced at 99c—that authors often use a loss leader, or as an entry into a series—may lack the depth, subplots, or multi-faceted characterization.
Again… Super confusing. None of this makes any sense.
What I believe is that we’ve basically trained readers to accept more from us for less money. And I was complicit. While writing this post, a lot of my thoughts changed about how I will move forward with my publishing plan and how I will incorporate word length into it.
2. Why word count matters to you as a self-publisher…
There are lots of ways that word count can factor into your publishing plan that can both give you time and space in your publishing schedule to write your longer work and provide new shorter work to release between books. Admittedly, this is something that I’m still trying to master, but the possibility is there!
- Pricing—by using the length of your novel to decide on pricing lets your readers know what to expect.
- Writing novellas and short stories can be an entry point for new readers.
- Marketing materials—short stories can be used to gain newsletter subscribers that can either remain exclusive to your list or bundled into an ebook to sell later.
3. To hone your writing skills and take more chances with your writing.
I don’t know about you, but I always strive to improve my craft by reading books about writing, using writing exercises, and exploring different genres and storytelling tools by writing shorter fiction. Writing outside of your comfort zone is just as beneficial as reading outside of your comfort zone. Trying different methods of storytelling will definitely help you grow as a writer.
Also, just like using a plot formula, writing within word count constraints can help you stretch your imagination in new ways. Packing a well-developed character, beautiful prose, and a story with a beginning, middle, and end into 2500 words is an accomplishment and developing that skill will always prove to be useful. Just consider writing contests like NaNoWriMo— every year people set aside sanity to write a 50k word novel. It’s a brilliant way to prove to yourself that you can write a book. I think of writing shorter fiction in the same way.
Word count may not be a big concern to self-publishers and I’m not necessarily making an argument that it should be. I just wanted to provide another way to look at it!