With the popularity of the e-reader and commonality of self publishing, word counts seem to have lost their importance.
A lot of authors let the story determine the word count and readers seem willing to read books no matter then length. The only ones who seem terribly concerned with them are publishers and editors because it helps publishers estimate the number of pages a manuscript will have after it becomes a book.
But we’re self-publishers, right? So why should we give a damn about word count?
Publisher’s word counts:
Before I dive into why word counts should matter for a self publisher, I want to talk about the word counts that publishers expect and demand.
I realize that a lot of these numbers overlap and they have no real rhyme or reason, but these are the guidelines that traditional publishing uses to decide how to sell and package your book. There are also varying expectations according to genre. For example, romance – 50,000 – 90,000. Self-published authors routinely write longer and shorter than that and it sells just fine. It’s all very mysterious and I’m sure it directly relates to how much money they will or want to pay the author for their work.
While readers don’t really care about the word count, there is a perception of quality when it comes to the length of a book. The 99c kindle boom has give readers unrealistic expectations for how much a book should cost. And comparatively, there is a perception that books at 99c that may be a loss leader for the author as an entry way into a series, may lack the depth, subplots, or multi-faceted characterization.
Basically, we’ve trained readers to accept more from us for less from money. And I was complicit. While writing this article, a lot of my thoughts changed about how I will move forward with my publishing plan and how I will incorporate word length into it.
Why this matters to you as a self-publisher…
There are lots of ways that word count can factor into your publishing plan that can both give you time and space in your publishing schedule to write your longer work. Admittedly, this is something that I'm still trying to master, but the possibility is there!
- Pricing—by using length of your novel to decide on pricing let’s your readers know what to expect.
- Writing novellas and short stories can be the entry point for new readers.
- Marketing materials—short stories can be newsletter subscribers that can either remain exclusive or bundled into an ebook to sell later.
Why it matters to you as a self-published author…
I don’t know about you, I always strive to improve my craft by reading books about writing, using writing exercises, and exploring different genres and storytelling tools by writing shorter fiction. Writing outside of your comfort zone is just as beneficial as reading outside of your comfort zone. Trying different methods of storytelling will definitely help you grow as a writer.
Also, just like using a plot formula, writing within word count constraints can help you stretch your imagination in new ways. Packing a well-developed character, beautiful prose, and a story with a beginning, middle, and end into 2500 words is an accomplishment and developing that skill will always prove to be useful. And consider writing contests like NaNoWriMo. Every year people set aside sanity to write a 50k word novel. It's a brilliant way to prove to yourself that you can write a book. I think of writing shorter work in the same way.
Word count may not be a big concern to self-publishers and I’m not necessarily making an argument that it should be. I just wanted to provide another way to look at it!