Are ebooks changing how we write?

I think ebooks are changing fiction in interesting ways.
Print book length today is decided mostly by marketing forces. Publishers request specific lengths for novels not because those are the best lengths to tell a story, but because they have carefully studied the finances behind producing books. A 500 page paperback costs very little more than a 200 page paperback, for example; the printing cost of either is minimal, so the cover price publishers would have to place on a 200 page paperback would be almost the same as the price they’d be able to put on a 500 page doorstopper. Readers get more feeling of value from buying a longer book – when you place the 500 page novel next to the 200 page novel on the shelf, both for $8, the 500 page one looks like the better deal. But bookstores can’t place as many copies of longer books, which results in reduced orders for longer books.
So physical book length is determined by marketing forces: longer books having more apparent value for readers, but shorter books taking up less space on shelves and racks. The “happy medium” as it exists today is the result of significant (and ongoing) data analysis by major publishers.
In short: the medium, not the story, is determining the length of stories being told. Go back fifty or sixty years, and most books were half the length they are today, because the market pressures were different.
Ebooks free us from some of these expectations. As a result, short fiction is seeing huge renaissance right now; some writers are looking at perhaps being able to make a living from just short fiction for the first time in decades. Serialized stories are coming back in a BIG way; little 8-20k episodes released on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis. Reading material for an hour or two. Something like a TV episode you can read on the train headed into work and finish up over lunch or on the way home.
Short novels are back, hugely so. The old norm for a novel used to be 40-60k words or so, and writers are moving back in that direction. But there are longer works as well, because there is no *upper* limit on book size either. So writers can produce stories which are the length the story ought to be. However long that might be, for that story. And writers can now make sales of that work, be it 3k words, 10k words, 25k words, 60k words, or 500k words. (Although there is significant downward pressure now on story length – it is advantageous to release 4+ works per year, keeping something in the “new” category at all times, which is easier to accomplish if at least some of the works are shorter.)
What do you think? If you’re a writer, is the digital medium impacting how you write? The length of your work, the pace of your work, what sort of stories you are willing to try? As readers, are you trying out new stories at different lengths via ebooks? Are you reading short stories? How do you feel about serials? If doorstopper-length novels start to go away, will you miss them? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.


12 Replies to “Are ebooks changing how we write?”

  1. I don’t think its changing the way I write as I’ve always basically written to the story I’m telling, be it short or longer. What its changing is the ability to make sales from work outside the stereotypical lengths publishers have pushed for due to their specific models. I no longer have even the temptation to puff up shorter works or cut back longer ones. Digital has created the capacity to find a market based on the story quality rather than external, and now somewhat arbitrary, physical factors.

    1. That makes sense, Dan. But I think many writers have tended to write to the length publishers request; because the alternative was to be unable to sell their work. Now, we see even major publishers producing serial novels, novellas, and other odd length fiction. And of course, via the indie option, the writer can publish a work regardless what length it turns out to be. 😉

  2. I don’t think its changing the way I write as I’ve always basically written to the story I’m telling, be it short or longer. What its changing is the ability to make sales from work outside the stereotypical lengths publishers have pushed for due to their specific models. I no longer have even the temptation to puff up shorter works or cut back longer ones. Digital has created the capacity to find a market based on the story quality rather than external, and now somewhat arbitrary, physical factors.

    1. That makes sense, Dan. But I think many writers have tended to write to the length publishers request; because the alternative was to be unable to sell their work. Now, we see even major publishers producing serial novels, novellas, and other odd length fiction. And of course, via the indie option, the writer can publish a work regardless what length it turns out to be. 😉

    1. There is no way to prevent someone from copying your work. You can set up Google Alerts which will inform you when someone is distributing your work, most of the time. You can also pay for piracy-watch services, which are very effective at spotting pirate distribution of your work. If you spot someone doing so, you can send a DMCA takedown notice to them – or to their internet service provider or web host, which will take down their website if they don’t remove the content.
      It’s not perfect. But people are working on the problem. 😉 Of note: many of the most pirated works out there are books which were never published as ebooks. Prior to the ebook release, some of the most pirated books on the internet were the Harry Potter stories – scanned into ebook form and distributed free. Releasing the ebook versions of those books actually diminished piracy of the book.

    1. There is no way to prevent someone from copying your work. You can set up Google Alerts which will inform you when someone is distributing your work, most of the time. You can also pay for piracy-watch services, which are very effective at spotting pirate distribution of your work. If you spot someone doing so, you can send a DMCA takedown notice to them – or to their internet service provider or web host, which will take down their website if they don’t remove the content.
      It’s not perfect. But people are working on the problem. 😉 Of note: many of the most pirated works out there are books which were never published as ebooks. Prior to the ebook release, some of the most pirated books on the internet were the Harry Potter stories – scanned into ebook form and distributed free. Releasing the ebook versions of those books actually diminished piracy of the book.

  3. Hi Kevin,
    what kind of pattern do you follow when writing? how many hours a day/words a day do you target writing?
    i have just released my very first ebook, of 50k words – that was the length of my story and it wasn’t guided by any standard length out there.

  4. Hi Kevin,
    what kind of pattern do you follow when writing? how many hours a day/words a day do you target writing?

    i have just released my very first ebook, of 50k words – that was the length of my story and it wasn’t guided by any standard length out there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



^