The humorous story may be spun out to great length, and may wander around as much as it pleases, and arrive nowhere in particular; but the comic and witty stories must be brief and end with a point. The humorous story bubbles gently along, the others burst. –Mark Twain
I once asked a Southern gothic luminary (who is no longer among the living but shall yet remain nameless) about the publishing process. It was the early 90s. I was barely an adult. I naively intimated that I had a burgeoning collection of short stories that I wanted to submit for publication somewhere. I wanted his advice on how to go about it.
The tall fellow at first smiled, then laughed out loud. He was not laughing with me.
"Write a novel," he said. "Sorry."
I was also sorry. Because he was right.
Collections of fictional shorts have been traditionally frowned upon as a means of breaking into the business of represented, renowned, and respectable book authorship. If your work was first published and critically raved about in the world of magazines, you might have a shot at publishing a collection. Otherwise, you’d better get cranking on your 100,000-word Great American Novel and leave the shorts to the side until people are willing to plunk down cash for anything that has your name on it.
Now comes the eBook. It has no physical heft, for it is comprised of data bits. It requires no name recognition to publish, although such recognition does help sales. It is typically low cost to produce and, depending on the author/publisher, can be low cost for a reader to obtain. So why should a story published as an eBook require a word count greater than 75,000 to be a popular, enjoyable read?
It shouldn’t. More, I don’t think it does.
The most wonderful thing I’ve discovered about eBooks is the diversity of style and length. I can escape for a short time from the daily grind by downloading and reading a satisfying work of short fiction. Or, I can completely engross myself in a long-haul novel. There’s no reason to choose a novel over a shorter work–novella, novelette, or short story–other than my own interest in the story that unfolds within.
If you’ve followed this blog for any amount of time, you know that I am currently working on the second draft of my own novel. Therefore, I am not going to claim that the novel has no place in the eBook revolution. It most certainly does. I have no evidence, but I would venture a guess that the majority of indie author literature being released in eBook form is of novel length.
Still, I can’t help but wonder if the eBook revolution might also bring about a resurgence of interest in shorter literary forms. Why not? Some of the greatest works of literature have been less than novel length. For example, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is approximately 26,000 words long, a third of what is considered modern novel length. Likewise, Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue clocks in around 120 pages.
The fact that the eBook format is less restrictive about the length of a work is one of the reasons I decided to go ahead and put my time travel novelette, Timecast, out there. I’m glad I did. The feedback so far has been encouraging, and that gives me further incentive to finish the novel. I also plan to release other shorter works in the coming months.
Maybe I’ll even do a collection.
And not be sorry.