Cutting Off My Stories To Spite My Face

In this information-saturated society, the advent of e-readers has presented more opportunities for writers than ever before.  Not only is it easier for an author to publish his or her work, but also the demand exists for works of all lengths. Who is the target market for e-reader shorts?  Commuters, workers on break, younger readers with shorter attention spans, and those people who want to sample an author’s work without committing themselves to a pricier longer-length novel?

So where’s the rub?

Around the water cooler, I’ve been hearing authors bemoan lackluster reviews for their shorts stories, novelettes and novellas.  “I would have rated this story higher, but it was too short,” or “I wanted more,” seems to be the most frequent reaction.

Is what we have here “a failure to communicate” (to paraphrase “Cool Hand Luke”) between reader and author? If the reader’s reaction is disappointment (even though the work is clearly labeled for page number, and priced accordingly) should authors be writing these shorts at all?

Okay.  Time to assess.

Some authors release free prequels to longer-length works as a successful sales technique, but I’m not certain if this is exactly the same thing.  Are these prequels ‘samples’ or completed stories?  Does it matter? Is free the critical factor?

When I write a fantasy short, I try to establish the characters quickly and effectively and thereafter focus on one caper or adventure.  The pace is quicker, but there still must be a character arc and a satisfying ending.  I can write these shorts in a relatively short period, but I take all the time I need to create a work of which I can be proud.

I’d love to hear YOUR opinion on shorts.  Do you think shorts are worth writing?  Do you buy shorts or would you only purchase one if it were free?  When you finish a great short do you react with a sigh of satisfaction or do you have the urge to throw your e-reader across the room in frustration?

My inquiring mind wants to know.

~ S.G. Rogers

20 thoughts on “Cutting Off My Stories To Spite My Face”

  1. I’d like to know too! The shortest indie release I have has received good reviews, but gets a lot of returns. Why? My other stories don’t get returns. Are people reading and returning because it can be read quickly? Are they irritated by paying for something short? It makes me not want to publish this length (13K) again, though I used to write this length frequently.

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  2. I fell in love with the short story years ago and flash fiction soon followed, and that’s what I love to write. It has nothing to do with the current trends or fads. If my work finds an audience that would be marvelous. On the length of a story, it should take as many words as it takes to tell the story – no more and no less and whether that fits into someone’s arbitrary definition of a short story versus a flash piece is nothing I’m going to spend a lot of time worrying over.

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  3. I’m an editor at Flashquake and although we aren’t primarily fantasy, I love magic realism. I love reading a story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. That’s one of our requirements at Flashquake too. Myself, I’ve published 450 word stories and will published a short story collection with Red Hen Press in the future that contains a variety of lengths including flash. I’m predicting that flash and other short story collections will be a hit on e-readers very soon. As a reader I’d like to see MORE independent published shorts for e-readers. I’d think that a free story would entice a reader to buy a larger collection.

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  4. What a conundrum… I published a short to stimulate interest in the longer work I have, although it was a different genre. The novella even has the first chapter of my longer book. I garnered the same comments — “more! more!” or “wish it was longer, would love to see these characters again.” Sigh. I’m not a fast writer, and I figured it would be good to have something out in between the longer books. Not sure if the novella helped or hindered. Oh well.

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  5. SG you have opened Pandora’s box! I cannot believe that you don’t have a hundred posts by now! I agree in principal with what you are saying. There is no question that readers do get upset when a Novella turns out to be a short story, or a Novel has turned out to be a Novella! I think the problem has arisen, in part, due to the lack of self-publishing standards because prior to this, short stories were the venue of magazines or anthologies but not frequently sold alone. It seems that since the advent of self-publishing, anybody can write a story, unedited or incomplete with no story or true character development, label it as they see fit and put it out on the market where a reader may “assume” that the company selling the books be it Diesel, Amazon, Astraea, B&N, Smashwords,All Romance Group(I could go on because I am not naming any particular company or author) have vetted the books to ensure that they are in the proper category and properly edited. Please don’t think that I am trashing self-publishing, because I am not, I support Indie authors as much as possible. Your industry is in its babyhood right now, it reminds me of when I first began my career as a Rehabilitation Consultant in Ontario, Canada. Since that was in the early nineties and no-fault auto insurance was introduced and their was an instant demand for case managers but no standards. Well you can just imagine what happened, right. Individuals with English Degrees, more suited for your industry, were now becoming Rehabilitation Consultants. and managing the medical issues of individuals with catastrophic injuries and charging astronomical rates! It took our Provincial Government almost 8 years to catch on and change the rules to ensure that those who were Rehab Consultants doing medical management had the professional qualifications. So I am getting to the lack of standards in the industry now.

    You mentioned it yourself, readers feel stories are written hastily to make a quick buck. Now I admit I have not said this tactfully but I read reviews before purchasing books. Recently I think I an spending more time closely looking at reviews because of the obvious fact that some less scrupulous authors pad their reviews to move up the ranks, to put it in a nice way. At first I was skeptical and bought the books anyways despite what one or two reviewers might have said amongst the others that the books were a poor read, only to discover that they were right. I don’t return books since I use eBooks only but I will never read that author again due to ethics. I am not the only one to feel this way.
    I have noticed recently that many authors are not even bothering to give Amazon or Diesel etc.. a summary of the book, a bio of themselves, but want me to read their book, free or not. Come on guys, I cannot judge a book from its cover so at least help me out. Then tell me how many pages not Kb, that’s for data transfer info. Is it a short story or is it a Novella? Be honest to the reader and make sure that the seller lists it properly or it will still fall on your back.
    Note I am just summarising what I have been reading and hearing from fellow readers. Also keep in mind that some sellers permit samples of your works. So if you are writing a novella that is connected to a series but looks like the same knowledge could have been obtained by reading the sample, again you will be blasted at the proverbial watercooler!

    Personally, I have noticed that many authors have jumped onto this bandwagon. I am talking big names, big money. I don’t want to name these authors but do they really need more money when they already have books on the New York Times Best Seller list. Sometimes the description is such a great one that I can’t resist it since I enjoy these authors. Then I hit a Novella that should have been a short and a very short short that I paid 2.99 for! What a disappointment. Therefore I read about the anger in some readers voices when they feel they’ve been had!
    What does this all come back to: as self-publishers there have to be standards set on the quality of the editing, the descriptive accuracy, categorising the books with consistent labels that have specific guidelines and make readers aware if these do that they know what they are purchasing.

    I like shorts because it has given me the pleasure of meeting new authors that I might not have read otherwise. This is not a bad idea. Where I would consider a Novella anything under 300 pages, another person might have a totally different idea. So if I get a 90 page “book”, it may take me 15-20 minutes to read at tops. If I paid even .99 then I have to look at the value for the time frame even if it was a great story. Perhaps your readers are falling into this trap without realizing it and then are upset when the ride was too short. I would prefer to pay 2.99 and get 500 pages, it’s a better value, pure and simple. But if I know that it is 90 pages before I purchase then I can make the choice whether I want to purchase or not but I need the information to make this decision.
    The next can of worms that you opened is the Free books. In all industries, is there not a percentage of “Pro Bono” work? I am retired due to my accident which as you may remember rendered me a quadriplegic with a head injury to boot. After a good recovery period, although I had to sell my business, I still do some of the same Pro Bono work when I can. Of course, my motivation is different but the fact I could charge if I chose to at the ridiculously high hourly rate that counselors charge. So my point is free books cost you money, no question but how much more revenue have you acquired because of it. Has the industry set up a program do you can track increase of business solely due to release of a free book. My favorite publisher is of course, Baen, why?, because they have a program where the medically accredited mobility, sight or intellectually disabled can download any book on their site free. Yup you can imagine my calibre library right? Well, I do have many books and some are science fiction but guess what, I don’t abuse it. I chose the books that I am interested in reading only. I think it’s a great program just like James Patterson who sends loads of books to your troops overseas. I believe that an author who bravely puts out a free book is an angel in disguise for many of those who cannot afford 5.99 or more to see if I like a new author. However, if you hook me in, then you get onto my boom budget just like your new book did

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  6. Oops I do have problem with keys, sorry about that. I ended abruptly since I must have hit a key that finishedy comment or perhaps you have a special button for those of us with “verbal diarrhoea”!😃 So I apologise my comment went out unedited which I didn’t want but that is life and it is a free opinion.

    As I said, I think Novella shorts and free books are both great sales tools but please note that I speaking from the perspective of an eBook reader only. My husband has banned any more physical books in our home since it is bulging with them so my comments pertain to how I utilise my eBook readers.
    To maximise the exposure of authors, if that makes sense I use the Kindle,Nook, Sony and Kobo Vox foru reading pleasure. It takes up less room.
    So please don’t stop writing shorts but please do make sure they are complete. You are all correct with your comments but perhaps you are being painted, or perhaps tainted, by the brush of other authors who don’t make the same efforts. I am sure that you have noticed yourself authors actually selling novellas that are, in reality, chapters in a book. This becomes evident with their sequels. That is not what a Novella is supposed to be. I think that most of the confusion surrounds the Novellas and now with more labels coming out like “flash” I think that those standards better develop quickly. Otherwise your Novella maybe Heather’s flash, just as an example. I know that that would not be the case with the two of you but you see my point. Reader confusion leads to disgruntled readers.

    On a side note SG and Heather, I loved both your new books! Keep it up.

    Respectfully yours an avid eBook reader,

    Jaxs( Suzanne )

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    1. Everything is changing so fast! Some people are starting to self-publish serial fiction, which I imagine means chapters in a book, more or less. Many of those big authors with the $2.99 short stories out there are being forced to do them by their publishers, and have no control over their prices. For me, I haven’t had return issues with my Heather Hiestand work, but with my new Anh Leod story, very similar to what I’ve done over the years for Ellora’s Cave, length-wise, but at a lower price than they would sell it for. Those are the returns I’m bemoaning. It’s possible small presses had returns all along but we authors never knew about them.

      In the end, it’s the readers who will speak to tell us what they want to read and what they are willing to pay for it. If it is nothing, then those types of stories will go away eventually.

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      1. I didn’t set out to write shorts. My first novel was full length. But when publishers put out submission calls, you write the length they ask for. THEY must feel there is a market for these products. It’s possible, however, I’m simply not reaching the proper market with my shorts. But this post isn’t just about me. I’ve heard the same frustration from very established authors as well.

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  7. I’m a great fan of my Kindle, and have it with me at all times. A great deal of what I read are indie works that are featured as freebies by Amazon. The nice thing about that is that I will often find an author I like, and will return to Amazon to buy whatever I can get my hands on by that author (free or fee).

    Generally speaking, I do not buy shorts or “singles”, simply because I want to be involved in a story for a longer period of time than a short story provides — that “I wish there was more to it” reader’s syndrome. You have written stories that I would have loved to see extended into a full-length novel. As a great fan of your writing, that would be fantastic! Personally, I am looking for a long-term relationship with a story, and not just a one night stand while waiting in the doctor’s office. It gives me great pleasure to be involved in reading a story, have it hovering in the back of my mind while I do whatever demands time away from my preferred activity of reading, and then rewarding myself by jumping back into the life of the characters to escape for a few hours (or days on end, if I am so lucky).

    Something else about ereaders, at least the Kindle: Using an ereader of any kind takes away the experience of slowly browsing through a bookstore, checking out the latest publications (not necessarily just the best sellers and big names), where I have the opportunity of perusing a book before I choose it, carrying around a large selection of tomes that has to be whittled down to fit my dismally small book-buying budget, and using all my senses to enjoy the shopping experience — I even love the smell of a new book! In fact, the silly coffee bars in many bookstores ruin the heady scent of new books with the stench of coffee, but I digress. One of the wonderful things about Amazon is that I can download a free sample of most of the works that I might be interested in buying. I don’t know if this is possible with a short. It could be that a fan of ereaders is not interested in purchasing a story sight unseen. Granted, I can’t smell the books, feel their heft or slip my fingers along the pages of the publication, but I can find out if the book is well-written and something worth spending my money on by reading a sample of the work.

    As a side note, when I do buy a book online, I always check the length of the book when reading the description, and do take into consideration how long the story is before buying it. If it is a short book, I will always weigh the content of the synopsis/book description, the length of the book and the price before making a purchase.

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    1. I’m with you about taking a longer journey with a book than a short can provide. But frankly I don’t have as much time to read as I used to. I’ve grown to appreciate slightly shorter works…but nothing beats a good, long read.

      Everything I have on Amazon has a look-inside-the-book feature. The sample will be longer for a full-length than with a short, but those sneak peeks are there.

      😀 Thanks, Kathy.

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  8. Typically I like the novella length. I’ve even read some stories shorter than novellas and enjoyed them.

    As a reader, I know that I’m buying a short work and not a novel, so rating a story based on length seems dumb. That said, there have been a couple of novellas I’ve read that were so fantastic that I did want more.

    I didn’t, however, “take off points” for those stories not being novel length. I just added a wistful “Wish there were more!” or a pleading “Dear author, write more about these characters/this world.”

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  9. The biggest problem readers have with short story ebooks is that they might not know that they’re getting a short length story. There’s nothing more frustrating than reading an ebook that doesn’t advertise that it’s a short story and coming to the end – sometimes abruptly – within 15 minutes.

    For my short story ebooks, I have the words “Short Story” on the cover and the word count in the description, and, if the story was a reprint, where it was first published. Only once did anyone returned my short story ebook.

    Now it might help that I’m a short story writer and not a novelist. My longest short story – a novella – is 25K words long. If I hear any complaints about length, it’s from the anthology or magazine editors looking at my submissions. Sometimes they want less, sometimes they want more.

    But I have the opposite problem: I seldom get any reviews. 😦

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