As y’all know, I do editing on the side now and then. Well, lately, editing is more my full-time job and writing is on the side. One of the trends I’ve noticed is that serials and shorter books are becoming more common. Serials, in case you wondered, are partial books, sort of like mini-series on TV or soap operas. You buy episodes rather than a book. Eventually the book ends and the author will usually publish it as one whole “bundle.” I don’t buy serials because I like reading a whole book. The big publishers tend to publish serials in two parts and market them to die-hard fans–“Buy the first half now! Read it early! Get the second half in six months and when it’s bundled, we’ll send you the whole ebook!” I don’t know how well this is working for them because I’d think you’d have to have some pretty enthusiastic fans to buy half a book.
That said, there are a lot of indie authors who are writing serials. Some report great success so long as they can put out the parts on a regular basis and fast enough to keep fans happy. Others don’t see sales until they bundle the serials into one finished product and sell it that way.
Overall, when I started writing, lo, these many, many years ago, the standard novel was about 75,000 words in the mystery genre. Romances tended shorter, especially the Harlequin lines, running from about 60k to 70k. I’d guess that about 15 years ago, romances started become series much like mysteries and fantasies have been for a while. (Series: complete novels, but using the same setting or characters in each subsequent book). Series with romances still aren’t as popular as they are with mystery and fantasy fans. Fantasies and science fiction also tended to be longer than mysteries–85,000 words and up to about 120,000. Where do these numbers come from? The publishers put these numbers out as requirements for writers submitting. They still have word count requirements. Magazines still have word count requirements even if they are only released as ebooks. I sometimes get asked why Executive Gardening is so short–I wrote it for a blog. The word requirement was: No longer than 850 words. Some of my other short stories were originally published in magazines–that means I catered to the requirements. All traditionally published writers are writing to specifications set by the publishers. Indies have more room to play with length and even the way a novel is bundled and sold.
The new trend with novels, including mysteries, seems to be about 60,000 words to 75,000. Fantasies have come down too–the range is now 75k on up to the 120k and there are some dabbling in the 65k range. I don’t generally take on editing at the 120k word level. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the main reason is that 90 percent of 120k word novels need cutting. Lots and lots of cutting or they need to be broken into two novels, but the author didn’t create or find a great spot to break it into two because she wasn’t thinking about that while writing. I don’t like taking on that kind of work because new authors are quite adverse to cutting. Cutting and streamlining are an author’s best friend. But it takes time to learn how to write tight and how to recognize infodumps and the like. When an author is at 120k, they usually need to cut down to at LEAST 95k. But you can’t tell them that because they instantly die of a heart attack on the spot and there goes your income.
I think the trend towards shorter mysteries and shorter fantasies will continue. There will always be a market for the longer ones, but authors are writing them less and less often. Why? Editing is charged by the length. That means writing a longer work costs more. Printing it still costs more and sometimes it can cost a lot more. The more often an author puts a book out, the more often we stay in sales rankings–in other words, you sell more if you put out more books. This means the most successful authors are the ones who are able to complete two or more books a year. Readers tend to forget about authors after a month or two so it’s important to get product to market to stay relevant. All of us have a certain writing pace and it’s fairly difficult to change that. It takes great discipline to sit down and write a book for 6 months or one year or two years–for no pay. No guarantee of payment. Then you send it off to editors and beta readers and they want CHANGES. This means more disciplined hours. Now you’ve PAID for editors so you really want the book out so that you can make back that money. You have to start working on a cover too–or pay for one. But you don’t want to spend too much because what if it doesn’t sell? Then, you have to start all over and hope for better luck with the next one…
There’s downward pressure on book prices all the time, although this past year, I’ve noticed books are more expensive and pushing upwards. The big guys are charging more and putting books on sale a lot less. Indies have to sell the first in a series for free or 99 cents…that means they have to charge more for subsequent books to pay for editors/covers/food or just write a short first novel, sell it cheap and hope it’s good enough to convince people to buy the next one. Notice that sentence: Or write a short first one…there’s incentive to write shorter books: Get it out fast, find out if it’s grabbing readers and then continue the series.
The trad publishers are in the same boat. Many imprints no longer do a print version UNLESS the ebook sells well (Carina Press is one. Avon also has a line that is ebook only.) Some of these publishers have a shorter word count for all the reasons listed above.
Anyone else notice trends? Or if you’re a writer, do you find yourself creating trends?