As a new writer it’s very difficult to break into an established market. The competition is stiff, and it’s even harder if what you are writing isn’t mainstream. The big publishing houses don’t seem to take risks anymore, at least not on new authors, and stick to what sells –just look at the current saturated mystery and romance markets. E-books open up a whole grassroots market for niche publishers and independent authors. Granted, as a reader you have to do your due diligence, because the very freedom that e-publishing offers, means anyone can write and publish. In addition to leveling the playing field, e-publishing opens up all sorts of exciting opportunities for new formats. Once you eliminate the constraints of expensive prints runs, publishers and authors are able to explore new non-traditional formats; not just short stories and novellas, but serials as well, and even integration with digital and visual arts.
In my online travels, I’ve read a number of comments by people who say they only read novel length fiction. I might have said that myself five years ago, mostly because there wasn’t the selection of shorter works out there. Now, I’m not so picky. For me as a reader, I don’t really care how long a work is as long as it is priced accordingly. Above all, I look for quality and value. As long as I get those I am happy. It doesn’t matter if it’s 10,000 words or 70,000. I’ve read short stories that made me cry, and long novels that bored me to tears. I’ve found authors who can bring a character to life in fifty pages, and others who couldn’t manage to do it in two hundred. So in addition to not judging a book by its cover, I try not to judge it by word count either.
As a writer, I like the flexibility that e-publishing gives me when it comes to length. A novel is tough. I tried and failed many times before I finally decided to stop worrying about the pressures of word count and work my way up to it. For me, in most cases the characters or story itself will determine the length. When I start, I have a sense of whether a story will be a short story, novella, or novel, but I don’t set out with a fixed word count in mind. I find that some stories just lend themselves to a shorter length. Sometimes you may have a great set of characters that you just want to share but who don’t deserve a full novel. Or maybe you want to give them a test run before you fully commit. I tend to think in vignettes or “snapshots”, and short stories are the perfect format for this. In the past, the only venue for these would have been short story collections or magazines; now they’re readily available for download right beside lengthy tomes. This is not to say that I don’t intend to finish a novel one day (believe me I am working on it). It’s always been my dream to write a novel. But in the meantime I know that if an idea pops into my head, I can run with it and not have to get hung up on the counter at the bottom of my screen.
When I’m writing, I generally use myself as my target audience—that may not always be a good thing, but I try to put myself in the reader’s shoes. I figure if I would read it, there has to be others like me out there, and for me, size doesn’t matter… as long as the author knows how to wield their words.
Let me know what you think. I’m really curious how other readers feel about this topic.