Friday, June 25, 2010

Repost with Permission

I went over to Hitting the Hot Spot. If you don't know it, it's Total-E-Bound's blog and I've linked it up there. Anyway, my good friend Kris Norris was blogging about short stories and I have to say, I am behind her rant one hundred percent. Hence, the re-posting of it here....

So, I have a question, which may take a while to get to, but rest assured, it's in here. When I first started writing stories, I have to confess that I never really considered the length of said story. I had an idea and ran with it until it was done. Now remember, that at this point, I considered a novel, just that, a novel. Though I'd read a ton of ebooks, they were always novel length. I'd never ventured into the realm of shorts or novellas, always choosing stories that were just digital versions of the books I'd buy in the stores. I'm not sure if I equated shorts to stories I'd see only in collections or the kind of stuff you'd submit to magazines, but I hadn't considered short stories in their own right.

After a couple of books were contracted, I was informed (nicely, of course) that shorter stories sold better in e-form. Quite honestly, I was shocked. I mean, to me, I thought readers would want to read a full book. I didn't realize there were such tasty treats out there as the Lust Bites and Novellas found at TEB. Needless to say, I've since written a few of these, though my heart is still in the grand tales. I love epic adventures that allow me time to develop characters and weave intricacies into the plot line. It took me a while to figure out how to condense a thought into just a single event and build the plot around that event.

Okay, getting to the question part...really.

As I've been flipping through some different sites lately, some personal sites, some commercial, I've come across a number of reviews or ratings where the reviewer/rater has given a story a so-so review based mostly on the fact it was too short. There are common comments, such as...the characters weren't as developed as I wanted, and the plot wasn't as intricate as I'd hoped it be, I'd have liked more back-story...

Now everyone is allowed their opinion, and I'm truly not knocking reviews or ratings of books. We all get some great and some not-so-great ones. But I was puzzled by these comments. I mean...what is the reader expecting in a 15,000 word story? It's hardly enough time to introduce a plot, add some angst, get to the 'hot' stuff and resolve everything before one's time is up! So it made me wonder if readers are expecting a fully developed novel shrunk down into a pint-size offering?

Is this true? And if so, are authors falling short or are readers really expecting too much for the reality of the situation?

For me, as a reader, I look at the length of a book and adjust my expectations a bit. I know, if it's a short story that's part of a collection, that it's really going to be more of a snap-shot into the lives of the characters, not a full journey. I still expect a storyline, but I don't anticipate it'll be as involved as a story twice it's length, simply knowing there isn't enough time to get it all in. I want character development, but I don't expect it will be mind-altering in such a short space.

Perhaps it being a writer and knowing that 2000 words can be the difference in the plot being full rather than a bit sparse. That 2000 words can be the ending you've always wanted versus a quicker wrap up than intended. I think I give authors a bit of a break realizing they're working on restrictions imposed by the publisher and that they're trying to give you as rich an experience as they can within a very short space.

So...what is everyone's opinion on this? Do you expect a full novel in a short version? Do you take into account the length of a story before you make any expectations? If short sells better, but every comment is... I wish it was longer... how do authors please their readers if their shorter offerings are looked at as not quite complete, but folks won't buy the larger ones?

I'd also love to know why readers prefer short? Is it having to read on a computer, though with the iPad and e-readers now available, I think this argument will soon be a thing of the past? Is it the desire for instant gratification where you know you can sit down and finish a book in an evening? Does it come down to cost?

Any insight is welcomed. But before I leave you, I wanted to announce that Deadly Obsession is now available in PRINT!!!! Yeah!!! It is, of course, a long book and I'm hoping the option to read it more conventionally will help make it a success, but either way, I'll still write longer novels because I love epic adventures.

Romancing adventure at a time.


Molly Daniels said...

Before I got my e-reader, I groaned if I saw the book I'd purchased was over 100 pages. That meant more time at the computer and it would take longer to read (unless I (gasp!) skipped over the sex scenes!)

But now I have a Sony and I actually enjoy the longer ones, because now I can read to my heart's content anywhere, and really enjoy the characters without having to worry about an aching wrist/finger or being uncomfortable in my desk chair.

I've tried to write within the confines of 15K and I've discovered I'm more comfortable with the 20-32K books. I can get everything in; backstory, descriptions, humorous scenes, and wrapping it up neatly.

Because, frankly, some books leave me screaming for a sequel! I want to know what happens the next day after the characters have climbed out of bed.

Mia Watts said...

Wait, "screaming for a sequel" is a bad thing???

Also, I wouldn't be an erotic writer if I didn't address your wrist and finger comfort in a lewd manner. Consider yourself lewded. ;)

Molly Daniels said...

Yeah, but when I get a reply "No sequel planned'??? LOL:)

And euuuu...I was referring to my mouse/scrolling wheel...but knowing you, you'd find something lewd in that also. Happy Friday...

Julia Rachel Barrett said...

Short works sell best, regardless of what we, as writers, think about that fact. Readers love stories they can finish over their lunch hour, or maybe over a lunch hour and two breaks. So it's our challenge to figure out how to write a complete story in few words.
Think back to the not so distant days when the big pubs had the money to publish short story anthologies. This is no different...

Chris said...

This fits in SO well with Wave's post today!

I like a mixture of short and long books. I tend to read shorts as a palate cleanser between longer works.

S.L. Armstrong said...

When I opened up for my first anthology, an author who wanted to submit said 'I've never written a short story and I don't know how'. The way I explained it to her was that a short story, at least in what I -- as a publisher -- was looking for, was merely a snapshot of a moment. 10K-15K words is not a lot of space to write a grand, sweeping romance, but it is long enough to introduce two characters to each other and have them fall in lust.

Yes, short stories are paced very differently, and while I don't believe expectations should be altered (I fully expect a short or novel length story to be fully realized, rich in character, and passionate), I do believe the definition of what should be expected might need some adjusting. Short 'stories' are not really stories. They're vignettes that show a single moment to the reader.

At least, that's how I approach them as a writer and publisher.

Novellas, on the other hand, have upwards of 40K words to work with. IMO, that is plenty of space to have a fully realized romance that is satisfying to read, tight, and engaging with romance, sex, and a little plot thrown in. I write only a handful of novellas as I don't like the format (nor do I care for short stories), and the novellas I've purchased have been nothing short of a disappointment.

I suppose my point is, short stories are what they are, moments in time offered up to the reader, while novellas and novels give the writer the full opportunity to completely realize their characters, plot, and relationships. All three should always been well written, well edited, and tight. I think that's the biggest problem right now. Many offerings in the digital world of publishing are none of the above.

Mia Watts said...

That's exactly the way it should be viewed! Maybe what we need to do is re-create the definition so that expectations match.

As a writer, I want to give the reader everything... or at least the sense that they have *received* everything necessary to commit to the characters for that moment in time.

*going to reconsider own short stories*

S.L. Armstrong said...

I think a lot of readers pick up a short story thinking it's going to read like a novel. Thus, I feel, their definition and expectations are skewed. Short stories and novels are two very different species requiring very different skill sets. Some writers understand that, as do some publishers, and so there are strong, short pieces out there.

I understand what you're saying, though, about how you want to give the reader everything. :) We all do, because the reader is, quite often, pretty damned demanding. *chuckles* But, I think when an author tries to do that in the shorter format, it winds up feeling rushed, as if things are hastily forced just to meet the word count requirement. Then you wind up with discussions like over on Wave's blog where a lot of people are coming down on short stories in general.

Time for a redefining of what a short story is. A snapshot of a moment, the in into a life. A glimpse. Just make sure it's one hell of a glimpse. ;)

Mia Watts said...

SL, I really appreciate you stopping by and adding to the discussion. :) I'm honored to see you here.

I agree. I've read one author who masters the snapshot. I'm not a fan of her characters, but her technique, style, they are all there. I even kind of end up the piece "seeing" what she sees in her men. Or rather, what they see in each other. That's art. That's talent.

S.L. Armstrong said...

I've been pretty reticent about jumping into discussions. Despite the whole writing thing, I am a pretty antisocial person. But, since I've been immersed in short stories for the last four months, I thought I could at least offer my views, even if they might be lame.

I know I've read some shorts, but... I think most of them were tie-ins to longer pieces. You know, short stories submitted to anthologies that had their grounding in novel series the author already had out. For me, the reason I don't buy short stories is not because I think they suck. It's just that I can't justify spending $2-$3 on 15K words. *chuckles* Bought in an anthology, I could maybe be convinced to, but alone as is the fad? Just can't justify it to my penny pinching brain. ^_^

Now, back to cleaning the house for company tonight. I'd rather be writing.

Fran Lee said...

Oh, lady, you have picked my favorite subject...and I am one of those authors who has longer novels that don't sell for beans, and shorter ones (because readers don't want long ones"...and on almost every novella or short novel, the comments you see are "I REALLY loved this one, was so SHORT!"

I have reader ratings on my book pages that make me want to laugh, cry, and scream at the same time. For example: "This was a hard one to review for me mainly because I liked to so much (the reviewer gave me a three out of five) it was just so painfully short".

I have had fan mail saying, "I loved your characters and the plot, but why didn't you make this a full length novel? I have e-mailed the fan back and directed them to my full length novels over at Resplendence (who will take longer books) and have never heard another word. When I e-mailed them again to ask if they checked them out, the response was "They cost so much! One was over $7 and one was over $6!"

DUH! Publishers charge more for full length novels. Oh, well...can't win for losing.

Kris Norris said...


What a treat... gee I hope it came off the right way.

I'm not knocking shorts.. I have a few too, lol,And for that very reason... I like writing long and needed to get some shorter works out there to get readers to buy my stuff... but it does drive me a bit batty when readers/reviewers seem to think you can condense a novel into 15K...

Now folks will say... oh we're not doing that.. but as has been pointed out... it seems that they are. I also feel that shorts are more of a glimpse... one event, one chapter in their lives. No epic journeys, just a quick look into how they met, or how they got back together...

I feel this is especially true with erotic romance, mainly because you also have to get in enough heat that the reader is satisfied. Publishers want their shorts hotter than hot, and if you have to spend 7K with your characters between the sheets, that doesn't leave a whole lot of room for all the other stuff... but if you spend 10K putting in all the good story and plot, they get upset that there's not enough steamy stuff...sigh.

Anyway.. again, I think there's room for every kind of story... personally, I think my lust bite days are done... I need 20K to get my idea across... but major kudos to those out there who can write short and do it well. I do bow to you all.


Molly Daniels said...

(Rolling eyes at Fran's fan mail comment)

I don't have a problem spending up to $10 on a 300+ page book. What are they complaining about? That same book in paperback would be MORE than $7; more like $15 plus S&H!

Did you email her back and point out that fact?

Sarah said...

Unless a short story (under 50 pages) is part of a longer story (say a catch-up on ppl already intro'd in another story) I don't bother reading them. Price is fine, but when I fly through it in half an hour, not so good. Plus, I want a STORY! I want to be absorbed into the life and world of the characters, and I've yet to read a book (and over the years i've read thousands) that can accomplish that in such a few pages. Novellas (I consider them from 50-150 pages) work. Especially those in a series. I can read the whole series and be absorbed into it. But ideally, I LOVE a 300-500 page story. At that point, price is usually better than the shorts (per page count) the story is engrossing, the worlds rich, the characters fully developed, and reality fades for a while. THAT is a good story. That is what satisfies. The shorts are like being given a single chocolate from a box, and told that you can't even look at the rest.