How Long Should A Story Be?

The simple answer to this question, of course, is this: A story should only be as long as is necessary to complete it. Word count goals aside, the main thing is writing a story that isn’t rushed but also doesn’t drag on. It should keep the reader wanting to turn the page. When it’s done, there should be a satisfaction in it.

Lately, I’ve been discouraged because my stories seem to go on and on. My stories often range from 50,000 to 70,000 words. Most of the time, I end up with 60,000.  Other authors around me seem to manage to produce a satisfying story at 30,000 or 40,000 words. If I could cut my word count in half, I could produce twice as many books in a year, and the more books an author can produce, the more money that author has the potential for making. I’d like to say that money has nothing to do with writing, but the truth is, it has a lot to do with writing. If the books aren’t selling, then authors have to find other ways to earn money, and most of the time that will require the authors to write a lot less.

At the rate I’m going right now, the most books I can produce in a year is between 8-10. That’s what I’ve been pretty much doing for the past couple of years. I thought I was doing more this year, but the truth is, I’m going to be at 9. Last year I was at 10. But then, last year, I did that nonfiction novella.

So I’ve already been writing as much as I can without going through burnout. Some authors think I write too many books a year. Well, I know of authors who are publishing a lot more than I am. Some are publishing a book a month. Some even publish two in a month. I don’t know how they do it because I’m maxed out on how many I can do unless I start writing shorter stories.

My last attempt at doing this was The Bride Price. It was supposed to be 30,000 words. It turned out to be 50,000. I thought plotting it first would enable to me to bring the word count down. It didn’t. I’m already at 52,000 words in Married In Haste, which needs at least 10,000 more words in order to wrap things up nicely. I just started The Rejected Groom (which follows The Bride Price) which is already at 13,000 words, and I know that I’m only 1/4 of the way into the story, if even that far along. Then in Wanted: Mail Order Husband, I’m at 22,000 words, and I don’t see this finishing before the 50,000-word mark.

It’s frustrating because sales are going down on all of the retailers except for Amazon. Now, I don’t know if that’s because more people are switching over to Amazon, if I don’t have the same visibility I used to at those other retailers, or if it’s because I’m not producing books fast enough. It’s probably a combination of all three factors.  Charging $3.99 instead of $2.99 for a new book is out of the question because my sales will drop if I do that. That’s why I spend this year doing everything I could think of to get more books published. I thought dictation was the answer, but it turns out I dictate at about the same pace I type when you factor in all the editing I need to do with dictation because dictation doesn’t pick up the nuances in the English language, like dear vs. deer.

So I’ve had to come to a very difficult question: how long should my stories be?

Would I be happy with my work if I were to shorten it in order to produce more books in a year? I know some would argue that happiness shouldn’t be a prime motivator for writing. They would argue this is about making money, and an author should do whatever it takes to make more of it. If that means writing about stuff you aren’t all that excited about, then you should do it. So, I’m guessing they would tell me that I should write the stories at the length that will make me the most money. Shorter, in this case, would be better.

But let’s say we fast forward to my death bed. I love writing, and I love writing the types of books I do. Up to this point, I have written each story in the way the characters wanted it to go. These stories average 60,000 words. If I were to have trimmed out some of the subplots, would I have been as happy with the stories as I am with them right now?

The truth is, no, I wouldn’t be as happy with them. One of my favorite series is the Chance At Love Series because of the thread I had going through each story about Abe and Carl. I especially liked Carl, which made it fun to do into the murder of his first wife and the fallout from that.  If I had removed all of that, the stories would have been shorter. Would they have been complete? Yes because that extra stuff had nothing to do with the main plot, and I suppose when you’re making a story shorter, you have to cut out some of the excess around the edges. I kind of like the excess.  One of the things I’m enjoying most about Married In Haste (which is Book 2 in the Marriage by Fate Series) is that I’m finally going to put something at play with Lady Eloise that I’ve been working on since the last Regency series I did (Marriage by Bargain Series).  These little excess things I do don’t really add anything of importance to the main plot, but they’re fun, which is why I’ve been doing them. They lengthen the story.

So I guess what I’m saying is that I want to keep my books the length they are.  Now, for another author, the way I do things might not work well. Short stories and novellas can be very well done. Longer books than what I do can be very well done, too. I just have to come to peace with the fact that I’m not other authors. I am me. I need to stop comparing myself to others, which isn’t as easy as it sounds. 🙂

About Ruth Ann Nordin

Ruth Ann Nordin mainly writes historical western romances and Regencies. From time to time, she branches out to contemporaries romances and other genres (such as science fiction thrillers). For more information, please go to www.ruthannnordin.com or check out https://ruthannnordinauthorblog.wordpress.com.
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22 Responses to How Long Should A Story Be?

  1. If you don’t enjoy what you do, then it becomes a chore. 🙂

  2. tyg233@yahoo.com says:

    I’m sorry when I get to the end of one your books. Funny I wish they were longer. As for sales your books are worth more than $2.99. I would not hesitate to pay the $3.99 if that was the asking price and then some.

    Please keep up the good work. Do you ever come to the New York area?

    Sincerely,

    Tierney Grate

    >

    • It’s nice of you to say that, but I couldn’t raise the price like that. There are so many good books out there that are free through $2.99 that I don’t dare raise the price.

      I’d rather have someone wish my books were longer because they enjoyed them so much, so I appreciate the compliment. Thank you!

      Unfortunately, I never get to that area. I get to go to Omaha and the upper west US, but that’s about it. With kids, I don’t get to travel as much (or as far) as I’d like to. One of my dreams is to visit the area of Maine and Vermont, so maybe one of these days when the kids are all out of the house, I can finally get to that area of the country.

  3. You’re doing just fine Mrs Nordin. I like your books and I like to read. Don’t change a thing.

  4. Gail Palmere says:

    I love the way you write your books. They are much more fun to read. I hope you do not change, but I can certainly understand the problem when you are trying to make money. Just keep on writing, and I will keep on reading!!

    Gail

    • Thanks, Gail! You’ve always been kind to me, and I appreciate it a lot! I think authors have a tendency to write a certain length. I always hover around the 60K mark. Nonfiction or thriller is easier to shorten, but my primary love is romance so I choose to spend most of my time in that world. I do have a lot of fun while I’m writing, and I don’t want to lose that excitement. I’ve been blessed beyond my wildest dreams to be able to even make money doing what I love. When I was a kid, I never thought this was possible. I just need to stop comparing myself to other authors and focus on what I’m doing. 🙂

  5. Nadia says:

    Personally I do not enjoy Novellas and will not purchase them, I prefer full length novels which allow decent character development. I prefer meat on my bones. Keep up the good work.

    • That’s how I feel when I write. Around the 30,000-word mark, I feel like I’m just getting warmed up. Sometimes I don’t fully understand characters until I get later into the story, and then I can go back and modify things that fit them. Part of the fun of writing is finding out who they are. Most of the time, they’re not what I had expected them to be. I enjoy being surprised, so I don’t mind. 🙂

  6. Anonymous says:

    Honestly I like the length of your books. Sometimes I don’t want them to end. 🙂 when I finish one of your books I’m always thinking is that it? that’s the end? Please don’t make them shorter. They are always engaging. I read long books and short ones but it all depends on whether the characters are real to whether it drags or not. Your books never drag.

    • You made some excellent points. I agree that regardless of the story’s length, it’s important that the story doesn’t drag. I think some authors have a natural inclination to write shorter stories and others for longer ones. The key is to do what is best for the characters. As long as that’s accomplished, then that’s all that matters.

      I’m glad you like the length I currently write at. 🙂

  7. Glenda Harvey says:

    I would still buy your books if they were 3.99. I think that your books are a good length. I’ve read some books that are too short for the plot and they feel hurried and unfinished. I feel satisfied at the end of your books. The loose ends are always tied together nicely and I feel as if I really got to know the characters.

    • I’ll keep my books at $2.99. 🙂 I always knew I would do that. If someone is buying a book a day, the prices add up fast. Given the fact that people can’t get my books through KU which would let them read it for free, I don’t want to ask them to pay more than $2.99.

      I’m glad you think the length I write at works well, and I’m glad you’re satisfied with the way I handle the loose ends and the characters. That’s important to me. I want people to be satisfied when they read my books. I definitely don’t want to rush the stories. I want everything to flow nicely so that the story is complete.

  8. We all struggle with the same things, Ruth. I write around 50,000 words because I feel my books are complete at that length. It probably comes from my journalism background where your writing had to be tight. My latest manuscript is 50,847 words in present form. However, I have editing to do so that will change some. It’s nice to say the money is not important, but it is. However, writing what you feel in your heart is most important, but the two compete. There are no simple answers. I wish I knew the answer. Part of the problem is with technology everything that worked, say a few years back, no longer does. I wish I could figure out the magic bullet, but it keeps alluding me. Good luck and enjoy the process of writing the books you love; otherwise, you would be miserable. God bless.

    • The two issues do compete! It would be nice to write without any thought of money. Too bad we’re not independently wealthy. 🙂 Then we could write whatever we wanted without worrying about whether or not the books would sell well. You are so right about technology. Things are changing so fast that it’s hard to keep up. I agree with you that it’s important to write the books you love. I don’t want to look back and regret not writing the books the way they should have been.

      I hope your next book sells better than the last one did.

  9. Please don’t change the way you write. Your books are the right length for the stories. And I love your side plots. I honestly don’t think you would make more money if your books were shorter even if you could write a couple more per year. From what I’ve read, as a rule, readers prefer the longer books, so you might not sell as many shorter ones. And 50,000-60,000 is considered kind of short for a novel. That’s a good length in my opinion. It doesn’t drag on, but it’s long enough to tell a good story. What you’re doing works. It’s not just you who has dwindling sales. I’m hearing this from many authors. I think Amazon is making it harder to make money from the other retailers with their exclusivity tactics. And we might all have to fall prey to those to make ends meet.

    • I love the side plots, too. They’re so much fun to weave into the stories. I just have to put aside the need to compare myself to other authors who are writing shorter stories who continually rank much higher than I do. It could be that their natural style is in writing novellas, so it works well for them. I have to come to the realization that my style is in the 50K-70K range. That’s where I’m most comfortable. You make a good point. Writing shorter stories won’t guarantee more money. It might have the opposite effect. My stories might suffer because I’m not adding in the side plots. They might not be as fun to read without them. I hate to say this, but I think the endgame of everything that’s been at play with exclusivity is going to hurt all authors in the long run, even those who are currently doing well. I don’t know how long this whole thing can continue, and it is worrisome. But at the end of the day, I had to ask myself what kind of books do I want to write? Do I want to feel like I rushed through a story just to get it done, or do I want to let it be the length the characters wanted? And I’m just going to have to go with what the characters want because, deep in my heart, I know I won’t be happy with the stories unless I write them the way they should be.

  10. Virginia Balthus says:

    I like to read a book that is at lest 300 pages. To me they have more depth to them. Gives me a chance to get into the story. I am 88 yeats old and have always read a lot.So I look for a book with at lest that long before IBuy. I have just started reading your book so I sure hope you don’ t make them shorter. I do enjoy your writing”

    • I’ve decided I can’t shorten my stories because if I do, then they won’t be as interesting. I like delving into the characters’ world and letting them lead me along the journey. If I were to shorten the stories, then I would miss out on the things the characters want to show me. I would be telling them what to do instead of letting them tell me what to write. I know that probably sounds crazy, but I like to think of my characters as real people. It makes writing more fun. 🙂

      I’m glad you enjoy my stories! Thank you for letting me know that.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I read everything you write……Everything!! I wouldn’t change a single word, I treasure your stories so much that you are one of only 2 authors that I re-read. I can find a new perspective or see a little something I missed on a previous trip through the book. Your Nebraska series is like visiting with an old friend……I’m very excited to read Sep and the twins stories soon. Keep doing exactly what you’re doing!!!

    • Thank you! It really means a lot to me that you re-read my stories and that you find something new on the next read through the book. When I write a book, that is my goal. I like to write layers into each story because I find the series and other books that eventually connect up to the series a lot more fun. I try to do it in each individual story, too, but my favorite part is making connections to other books. 🙂

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