The Writer's Mailbag: Installment Seventy-Seven
Here We Go Again
Hang on to your hats because the Mailbag Express is leaving the station on Track #9.
Thanks for returning. We have a slight shortage of questions this week but what we have are dandies, so let’s get started.
My Knowledge About Writing
Length of Books
From Chuck: “What is the ideal length an ebook should be? I’ve read 75,000…I’ve read 100,000…how is a writer to know what is too short and what is too long?”
Tough question, Chuck! This is such a subjective topic. I turned to our friends at Writers Digest for their opinion. What they suggest is that between 80,000 and 89,000 is ideal. Less than that gives the impression of not giving readers enough for their money. Over that and you run the danger of being long-winded and boring.
Evidently chick-lit books can be a bit shorter, in the 70,000 word range, while science fiction can be a bit longer, say 90-100 k. Then we dip into juvenile and middle school genres, and 50,000 words works for them.
And surely someone will mention some famous authors who have scored on novels over 125,000 words, and it is true that it happens, but it happens rarely. For every successful ebook over 125,000 words there are hundreds that failed miserably at that length.
I hope that helps.
Here is my best suggestion. Write the book the way you want to write it and don’t even think about length. Then sit down and trim the fat. Then have an editor trim it some more. After all the trimming is done, you are done. Pat yourself on the back and be proud.
Ebook or Traditional?
From Amy: “I read somewhere that ebook sales are going down. Is that true and if it is, what does that mean for writers? Should we concentrate on publishing ebooks or try for traditional publishing companies and/or self-publish hardcovers?”
Amy, yes, it is true and you should do both.
That’s the condensed answer.
eBook sales, according to sources I checked, dropped from 32% market share to 30% in 2015. That’s the first time sales have dropped in quite some time. What does it all mean? Not much, probably. eBooks are not going away but traditional books aren’t going anywhere either. Libraries across the country are reporting a steep drop in eBook checkouts, so it appears the hottest trend in publishing just might have peaked.
What should you do? I would suggest both. Create a hardcover through a company like Createspace and also publish an eBook. Traditional publishers will still sign on for your book if it’s good enough, so keep sending out query letters even after you self-publish.
In other words, cover all the bases.
And good luck!
From Eric: “Bill I got resentments. I try to keep positive about life but I have to admit I get a little pissy about life encroaching on my writing. I know I need that life in order to write but it still gnaws in my craw. Are you able to not be upset with writing interfering with life and life interfering with writing. Damned jealous mistresses.”
The thing I really like about Eric’s questions is he usually speaks for all of us. I think he does in this case. I mostly get pissy when life interferes with my writing, as it is doing right now. I went to see two customers this morning which means I didn’t start writing until 10:30 and that is just eating at me. I’m in the final edit of a novel that should have been done a month ago. I’ve got two more novels just waiting for me to continue, and I can’t find the time.
So I sit back and remind myself what a great life I have. That’s the best I can do.
The flip side of the question rarely, if ever, happens to me. I’m pretty good about not letting writing interfere with my life. I can compartmentalize writing and keep it in perspective. I’m not one of those crazies who locks himself in a room and doesn’t bathe or brush his teeth for months while working on a manuscript. I’ve got too many other things going on i.e. urban farming, and I always try for balance. There are days I fail miserably at balance, but for the most part I find it fairly easily.
Do I get upset over it all? Not really, Eric. I’ve got a damned good life. The best advice I was ever given was to just keep my mouth shut and count my blessings. I’m healthy, I’m loved, I’m doing something I love to do…..what in the world do I have to be upset over?
95,000 words by Yours Truly
Writer’s Follow-up on Earlier Question
Let’s talk a little bit more about the ideal length of a book. I tend to agree with Writer’s Digest on this one, and I agree based on my own experience as a voracious reader of novels. I like the 100,000 word limit and in my perfect world, all novels would be between 80,000 and 100,000 words. I’m just talking about me now, so don’t throw stones, please.
So, if I’m going to write a novel, and I want the length to be 100,000 words, I can now start planning how to arrive at that 100,000 word total. It is suggested by the experts that you have at least one “spark” for every 20,000 words. A spark is an event that propels a story for a given amount of time. With that in mind, I can write my book based on about four or five sparks. I would then write my introduction, have the first spark, let that push my story for about 20,000 words, then introduce the next spark and so on until the book was concluded.
From Georgina: “What’s the best way to market myself as an online writer?”
Well, Georgina, anytime you ask for the “best way” you are asking for a purely subjective response, because what I think is the best may not be shared by other writers. Still, this is my site and you did ask for my opinion, so here goes.
The best way to market yourself as an online writer…..write!
No matter what kind of freelance job you seek, or no matter which direction you choose to follow as an online writer, you need a portfolio of your work, and not just any work, but your best work.
In order to have your “best work” you need to write, then write some more and then, after that, write some more.
If you are improving as a writer….if you develop some serious skills….then it will show as you publish your works online.
Too many writers I know place the cart before the horse. They create their own websites and get business cards and establish Facebook pages and do just about everything they can think of except….develop their skills as a writer.
It seems almost comical, but I’m willing to bet you know someone like that.
More Next Week
Boy oh boy, the holidays are definitely upon us, aren’t they? Well, none of the biggies falls on a Monday, so I don’t expect any problems delivering the Mailbag through the New Year.
Having said that, I will see you next week. Thanks for stopping by. Have a great week of writing. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go see what Billy the Kid is up to.
2015 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly”