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. 🙂