The Infinite Wordstream: Part II

(This is part two of a two part series. Read The Infinite Wordstream: Part I here!)

The Infinite Wordstream

If reader satisfaction is to mean anything to the budding epublishing author, it’s going to require hitting the moving target of reader desire. To reverse myself for a moment, the old 3,000 word and 300 page limits were and still are awfully handy as guidelines because the teeming mass of our reading public has been indoctrinated to expect these formats and sizes. It’s comforting for both readers and writers to know exactly what the expectations are.

It’s as we move out of the realm of standards that things get hairy. Spend some time with writers who have published their short stories electronically and you will hear horror stories of 1 star ratings, angry comments, and negative reviews…not for the stories’ merit but because of their length.

“Charging money for this is insulting” is one comment leveled at fantasy author David Dalglish‘s short story release, Guardian of the Mountain (get it here) from an admitted fan of his other words. At the time of this article’s writing, the 13,000 word short story—the equivalent of 50 paperback pages—was selling for just $.99, yet this reader was offended at the length. Crime fiction writer Ed Lynskey released a novel length collection of 15 short stories, Out of Town a Few Days (find it here), and received a 2 star review. The comment? “Not a real fan of short stories.” Full stop. Nothing about the collection’s merit.

With that preface, things might seem gloomy for short story and novelette writers the world over. But indie writer Deborah Geary might disagree. She writes a popular urban fantasy series (the “Modern Witch” series) that has garnered great reader reviews, but also constant fan pressure to release more, sooner. To keep the hordes at bay, she published several “Novel Nibbles”: stand-alone, 20,000 word stories not meant to be part of her regular lineup. Rather than an angry response at the length of the nibbles (which are about ¼ the size of a novel), she’s received positive feedback and now new chants of “we want more” and “turn this into a novel, too”.

It’s speculation on my part, but I have a feeling that Deborah’s releases would have been considered “unpublishable” five years ago: too long for magazines, too short to be novels, too awkward to be collected in an anthology. Yet, even in today’s climate, they might’ve been 1-starred had they been half their length and released as “short stories” in the digital market. Through hard work and careful cultivation of her audience she’s found a non-traditional word count that works. She’s helping to break the old standards.

Tapping the Stream

The point for writers is that the face of not just publishing, but writing itself, is changing. Reader bias for standard lengths will continue as long as there are print books (which I hope is forever). But as the digital market evolves, so will reader tolerance for unusual formats and non-standard lengths until, at some magical moment, we’ll just be talking about “story”. And that’s good news for writers everywhere, because the craft of writing shouldn’t be pushed into a corner by the cost of paper, the weight of a book, or the width of your spine.


Writer of crime fiction, psychological drama, and dark humor.

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Posted in Deep Thoughts, Epublishing News
6 comments on “The Infinite Wordstream: Part II
  1. yoga-adan says:

    “good news for writers everywhere, because the craft of writing shouldn’t be pushed into a corner by the cost of paper, the weight of a book, or the width of your spine” –

    nice two part series, thanks matthew

  2. Debora Geary says:

    Thanks for the mention and the interesting read, Matt! I do think e-publishing has opened up the length options, but I will say this – I still get a lot of reviews (good ones) saying my novellas are too short :). Readers, and I’m one of them, still prefer longer works on average, I think. We’ll see if that changes as authors release more short works!

    • Matthew Iden says:

      Hi Deb – Thanks for stopping by! That’s encouraging that your readership is giving you positive feedback on your shorter works, even if they’re wishing for something longer. And, I agree, longer works are still where it’s at; immersion into story doesn’t happen in 12 pages.

      But I think we’re going to see wild experiments in the near future–exciting experiments–where we see just how far we can push the boundaries of “story”, both in short form and long. I understand the most popular epublishing in China has an entirely different format: very short, daily serials that go on and on and on for hundreds of thousands of words…essentially digital soap operas. The most popular of them might last for years. Now that’s short AND long form together…


  3. Sarah Burns says:

    What I love so much about the indie scene is the shear volume of different types of titles. I think I made a blog post called ‘why I love my Kindle’ and in that I said that I’d never appreciated just how edited and written to forumla books from the ‘big’ and traditional publishing houses are.

    I think that reviewers need to be more constructive. It’s OK to not like something; literature is subjective. What appeals to me won’t necessarily appeal to Joe Bloggs on the street, but I always try to be balanced, fair and constructive in my reviews.

    There may be a return to how Dickens’ work and Arhtur Conan-Doyle’s work was originally published ie: weekly serialisation. Interestingly both DIckens and Conan-Doyle are enjoying a come-back over here in the UK. Its the Dickens’ bi-centenary this year and the BBC have serialised Great Expectations (superb adaptation) and also the Mystery of Edwin Drood. The BBC have also adapted some Sherlock Holmes tales, and, last time I checked, Sherlock Holmes was near the top of the Kindle charts.

    Intersting though; the Kindle and other e-book devices are opening people’s eyes to a wider range of books, which is, of course, no bad thing.

    I’m in awe of any author’s who can write short, or long, stories!

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