Wednesday, February 27, 2013

(For Sakina)

I’m fretting. Here’s why:

There was a guy at the last writer’s conference I went to that had a brilliant idea to increase his revenue stream on Amazon. He had a trilogy that was selling pretty well. His great idea was to take each book in the trilogy and split it into two, thus making a six book set. Whereas he as was selling books at $4.99 each, he could now sell six books at $3.99. Brilliant! He’ll cash in.

I think each of his trilogy books was only about 40,000 words long; each of the new hexalogy would be 20,000, just the right size for eBooks, I was told. So, his whole story came in at 120,000.

Now that got me, a new author trying to make a living with words, thinking. I’ve sensed two creatures in me, one a writer, author and artist. Him I like. Him I want to be. But, alas, in this day and age, because I need to eat and want to sell books, there must also be this business man in me. These two guys haven’t had a lot of fights so far, the business guy just barely started getting ammunition, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t had theoretical debates.

I’m always hearing that the publishing business is in flux. Is this the new new business model?

When I shopped The Finger Trap around, I was often told that it was too long. I thought it was novel length. I was told that it used to be but now that was too long. I shaved it down to 135,000 and finally found somebody who understood what I was doing with it. Before that, however I received so many rejections that it made me question my story, myself, my god and country. I looked for ways to strip it or break it up or burn it, bury the body, deny its existence under water-boarding, but, damn it all, it wasn’t that kind of story. It was a complete and whole. And very nice.

Enter Eleanor. From the moment I picked up a pen and started the outline, I knew it would be a trilogy. However, I didn’t want the book to suffer from my rose-colored three book deal glasses so I was careful to craft a suitable and rewarding ending into the first book. Then I wrote the next two and let them be dependent upon one another to a much greater degree. It worked for that story. I sold it too.

But, even so, each installment of Eleanor’s Trilogy comes in at about 90,000 words. According to the speaker at the conference, it's not a trilogy but a beefy ennealogy (9-book set).

“Series sell,” says Johnny Book Business. “Therefore bigger series sell bigger. You’ll be rich!”

“But I’ll sell out the reader if I just bust up the book for cash,” says the author in me.

"Learn to write in the modern world, you dinosaur," says Johnny Business. "Stories that can be finished in two bathroom sittings. Remember all the publishers and agents who told you never to go over 70,000 words unless your name is Stephen King?"

"Who you calling a dinosaur you soulless capitalist swine?" Johnny Author retorts. "I like branches and subplots, they're important. It takes time and words to weave my tapestry. These lengths allow for contrasts and subtlety which are the bearers of symbolism and mood."

Thus goes the debate.

So now, with more knowledge if not more uncertainty, I’m still writing stories. I'm in a thriller right now, a mystery kind of thing with real sinister underpinnings. I’ve given myself a target and the pages are pouring out. But I’m still working on the old model. It’s already over 50,000 words (2 books long) and has about that much to go.

But more books means more chances and potentially more sales. You see it takes work and energy to write, (gasp) and I can’t help wondering if I couldn’t help my chances at success if I wrote more shorter stories instead of fewer longer ones.

Thus I’m fretting. Can I teach this old dog new tricks? Should I try? Am I making any sense at all?

///// I interrupt this fretting to remind Johnny of the following \\\\\\

To the agents and publishers who say stay under 70,000 words:

Twilight is 115,362 words long
In The Hunger Games, there are 99,750 words
Dan Simmons Hyperion is about 175,000 words
The uncut edition of The Stand is said to be 464,218 words*
    *(okay, not fair, Stephen King is a force unto himself… but still good to know).

And, JK Rowling’s little known titles:
Sorcerer's Stone: 76,944
Chamber of Secrets: 85,141
Prisoner of Azkaban: 107,253
Goblet of Fire: 190,637
Order of the Phoenix: 257,045
Half-Blood Prince: 168,923
Deathly Hallows: 198,227
    Total: 1,084,170!

Just write… it’s all good. It’s all write.


Johnny, Author

///// =============== \\\\\\



  1. Johnny,

    I still mainly read novels because I like to get pulled into a story and miss it when it finishes. These vary between 80 - 120,000ish.

    I say write the story at the length that feels right. Don't shorten it into novellas to make money. However, if it fits nicely into novellas then go ahead.

    I would have felt done if Twilight, The Hunger Games or any of the Potters had been shortened for the sake of it. When they split some of the books into two films it annoyed a lot of people because the story suffered at the expense of box office profits.

    Answer is...follow your heart.