Sunday, February 10, 2008

Bursting the Balloon--veinglory

It often doesn't take much to put a new customer off ebooks. The first few purchases are crucial for forming their impressions of the format, the product and the publisher. I pay close attention to what readers are saying online about early ebook buying experiences. Whether they could get the book, if they couldn't get the book whether they could contact customer support.

And when they got the book whether it met their expectations.

One recent comment I read, which seemed more than fair was this--readers tend to assume a work is a novel. If it turns out to be a short story they can be a little dissappointed. It seems to me that at some epublishers the length labelling could be a little clearer to avoid this kind of unpleasant surprise. Word count, page count, and if some in house terms are use they should be a clickable link to defintions and misleading. Novel should mean novel? Something that if bound in print would be book length?


  1. Damn blogger anyway. I can't get either spellcheck or picture uploading to work :P

  2. Anonymous9:39 PM

    I know that one epublisher (I forget the name) advertises a certain page count, yet I've heard complaints from readers that several of those pages are taken up by ads for other books by that publisher.

  3. I agree that 'novel' should mean a novel - about 70-80,000 words or over. That's why I like Samhains system, which clearly defines category length works, short stories (some of which are more like novelettes, but never mind), plus novels etc. Torquere also labels their work clearly. Offhand I can't remember if Loose-ID do. EC does. Those are the main places I buy from frequently.

    I don't tend to buy by length, but if I did then the price is usually a giveaway. For 99 cents you're going to get something pretty bite-sized. For $8.99 I expect over 300 pages.

    IMO the confusion occurs when authors talk about 'my book' - to most readers (and I include myself, as an ebook reader for 3 years), a 'book' is something novel-length, or at least category-length. Anything shorter than that is a novella or a novelette or a short story, but that doesn't quite sound as good as 'my book', does it?

    It still annoys me when some authors who never write stuff longer than 20k keep referring to their works as 'my books'. Technically they *are* books as they have ISBNs etc, but you couldn't print-publish a 20k story and hope to call it a 'book'. You could stick 3 or 4 20k stories together and make an anthology though.

    So I think it's more about perception and preconceived expectations rather than anything the publishers need to address. It's possibly more an authorial thing. I can get why you'd want to say 'read my book!' rather than 'read my short story!', but it can cause the Book = Novel assumptions to arise.

  4. Page counts don't do anybody any good since they vary so drastically from publisher to publisher because of their formatting. One might have skinny margins; another might have wide. Word counts are the only way to truly judge, though I think Linda's comments are mostly on the money. Because I write varying lengths, I try to refer to my stories instead of my books, but I know I get caught out on that at times.

    But who determines what is novel length? Some people don't think less than 100k is worth the time or effort. Others have lived with 60k romances all their life and consider anything longer as War and Peace. Remember the days of the truly huge fantasy books? It's an arbitrary standard. All we can really do is post word counts and hope the buyer/reader pays attention.

    FYI, not everybody is encouraging of writing longer lengths. At least one of my pubs has suggested that I write shorter, around the 50k mark, because the longer stories just do not sell as well. I know that what sells varies drastically from publisher to publisher, but still it was disconcerting to hear.

  5. I don't think novel length is entirely arbitrary. With more or less standard formatting it produces what in paper form would look like a book (a cm wide or more). Sure there is a 'soft area' but 10k words is not a novel--40k might barely be a novel but hardly a value for money one....

    In either case some reasonable inidcation of actually length needs to be promonant at the point of purchase to avoid the kind of unhappy reactionm I have seen reflected in some readers comments and to be perfectly honest--I have also experienced it myself.

  6. p.s. saying length should be clear in now way means I think ebooks shoul;d all be novel length. Actually I think ebooks are most naturally at novella length. But the reader needs to know just how much prose they are getting for their money. New buyers especially can't do this from cover price.

  7. Yes -- ebooks are the perfect format for the odd lengths that don't work well in print, but a reader is not going to be happy at paying the cover price of a dead tree magazine that would contain several short stories, and finding the word count of only one.

  8. These days I rather prefer reading novella length. Although I do like to have sequels to move on to if it goes well ;)

  9. I have no problem with shorter length, I just want to know if before I go in. I am disappointed when I am expecting a book and don't get one. That's why when my short was set to come out and the publisher left all that information off I made sure, every time I mentioned that story, to mention that it was a short story, not a novel.