eBooks: Do longer or shorter books sell better?

Recently, Smashwords’ blog revealed a survey showing what could help you as an eBook publisher, sell more of your books. I was particularly drawn to the section on longer books versus shorter books. Here is a snippet of what the survey found and then I will explain:

The top 100 bestselling Smashwords books averaged 115,000 words.  When we examined the word counts of books in other sales rank bands, we found the lower the word count, the lower the sales.

Now consider how authors can use this finding, combined with the knowledge of the power curve, to make smarter publishing decisions, and to avoid poor decisions.  Often, we’ll see an authors with a single full-length novel break the novel into chunks to create a series of novellas, or worse – they’ll try to serialize it as dozens of short pieces.  When you consider that readers overwhelmingly prefer longer works, and you consider that bestselling titles sell exponentially more copies, reach more readers and earn more money than the non-bestsellers, you can understand how some authors might be undermining their book’s true potential.

Young adult literature has gotten heftier.

Okay, so it seems the chunkier the book the better the sell. I see evidence of this with current YA titles in Walmart or the library. Back in the day young adult books were roughly 150-300 pages long(maybe more, maybe less). But as I pick up a popular teen book now…whoa! I mean, it is like holding the Holy Scriptures- almost 700 pages of hefty goodness is disseminated to readers and of course the teens who we think hate to read are gobbling up these monsters.

I did my own digging

So, with this survey it is saying that the longer the works, the more it will sell. Serials are a no-no.  I took the liberty of finding this out on my own, so on Smashwords I searched the bestselling category. It did not matter about genre or subject matter.

The search spit out hundreds of eBooks that sell really well and with four or five star rating…and guess what? Many of them had words of 80,000 or more- so Mark Coker is right on that particular aspect.

Don’t be discouraged however, because I have published a really short(but free) story on Smashwords and have received both five star reviews and over 350 downloads and a couple of one star reviews. The one star reviewers said, “This book was too short”. Which is all well and good because at least it was free and not a waste in dollars for them.

Why don’t readers like short books?

I can only venture a guess, but as a reader myself, if a book is in a genre I enjoy, I really don’t mind the book being lengthy. Other factors include:

  • The author’s writing style
  • Falling in love with the story/character/plot
  • Needing to be entertained a little longer
  • Enjoyable subject matter

Can you think of more reasons why big books are so exceptional?

What can writers do about this and can short books sell well?

After the “bestselling” search, I went on and selected “bestselling” and “fewer than 20,000 words” and found something interesting: There were books less than 9,000 words selling for anywhere from $1.00 and up and with good ratings and good sales! I don’t think I paid attention to genre although the categories ran anywhere from African American to Nonfiction to Fantasy.

Here are some things I have done and witnessed concerning selling short fiction:

  • My short fiction “Mark of Fortune” began as a short story and I placed it on Smashwords as such. It got a lot of readers, but I am now labeling it as “Prelude to Mark of Fortune series” this should let readers know that “Hey, this isn’t a full length book but will lead to one slightly longer or much longer than it.”
  • Research on what a novella versus a novel is. For now, I know that a short story or flash fiction is 1,000 to 20,000 words. A novella is about 17,000 to 40,000 words. There are different opinions on this from both scholars and readers alike and if you’d like more clarity please visit this hub: “The Difference Between a Short Story, Novellete, Novella, and Novel
  • Try writing a novel. As a poet and short fiction writer I choose to write in small verses and chunks, but I delight in reading a novel and I have full length books brewing in my mind to write. It could be that the stories come up short when you have not planned well for them.  Two simple exercises can remedy that: 1) Try the Star Point System for Writing a Novel or 2) Grab up your favorite novel in the genre you like to write and pour through every page- take notes on the writer’s voice and style, characters and plot.(Will blog on this really soon).
  • Try writing short fiction pieces for magazines and small presses. Head over to pw.org to seek out databases of folks who’d love to read what you’ve written.

I’m not saying this will cure all your ills but at least you don’t have to be something you are not. If you are an expert at writing only short fiction then stick to it, because if it’s good-

It’s good 🙂

If you found this post helpful to you, please reblog it, or share it on your social networks. I also welcome comments as the feedback helps me know what I am doing right and wrong.



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