Does it matter how long your (romance) book is?

Words: 2128
Time to read: 11 minutes

There was some romance discourse last week, well, maybe not discourse, as the topic was broached by people who weren’t fighting about it (sometimes respectful discussions can happen), but it is worth a look. They were talking about the length of a romance novel, and how long a romance novel really should be. It’s kind of a sticky subject because there are a lot of reasons why romance books are longer than they should be, or, for that matter, shorter than they could be.

In a time where attention spans are short and money is scarce, I can see how someone wouldn’t want to write long novels–and charge for them. People read in bite-sized chunks (Hello Kindle Vella and Amazon Short Reads) and move on to something else. Novellas appear popular these days (I’ll add a question mark because I don’t know that to be true from a reader standpoint) and if you’re a writer and can write two novellas a month, you can build a backlist and readership that much quicker.

My main concern is how people feel about longer novels. You can pat yourself on the back if you write 100k+ novel. It’s quite a feat to be able to pull that off. It’s more extraordinary if you can hold someone’s attention for that long, and that’s the rub. According to the discussion that I peeked in on, few authors can.

I remember when Lucy Score came out with Things We Never Got Over. There was much discussion about the fact that it’s 570 pages long, or over 140,000 words. Does a romance novel need to be that long? And since publishing that in January of 2022, she’s come out with two more in that series: Things We Hide from the Light (February of 2023) which is 592 pages long, and Things We Left Behind which will be out in September 2023. We can assume that book will be equal in length, and that means to read through the entire trilogy, you’re committing to 400,000 words. You can argue that if she’s a good a writer it doesn’t matter how long the books are. But, she also works with a professional editor who would (hopefully) tell her if her stories dragged.

More indies than we realize (or want to acknowledge) work without editors, especially developmental editors that can charge $1,000 dollars or more per manuscript. Indies aren’t getting the feedback they could to tighten up their books, and I get it. When you can’t find a beta reader who will help you for free or trade, many indies go without any kind of feedback before publishing. They don’t get opinions on that subplot, or how much crap they’ve thrown at their couple to extend the story. They don’t know how to pace themselves and bog their stories down with info dumps and add characters that don’t do anything to enrich their books. I’ve also read authors by Montlake (an Amazon imprint) whose reviews say similar things . . . the books were too long, the novel could have lost 100 pages and been a better read. So working with an editor doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll end up with a perfect product.

Is this opinion, or fact?

Does it matter?

The problem is, quality is subjective, and an author sure as hell can’t do anything about a reader’s attention span. Negative reviews can make it feel like it was the author’s fault they didn’t write a good book, when it actually could be the reader who had too much going on to settle in a read something that was more than 150 pages.

On the other hand, a book that’s only 150 pages that’s poorly written can feel like 1,000 pages and I’ve read first chapters that took me all day because I just couldn’t get through them. It doesn’t matter how long or short a book is if the writing is terrible or you don’t care about the characters.

I suppose the answer is you’ll find your readers if you deliver consistently. Over time, readers will come to know what you write, and if they’ve tried you and didn’t like you, for whatever reason, they’ll avoid new books.

I can’t write short. I have three full-length standalone novels that prove that when I was trying to write a novella-length reader magnet for my newsletter. I finally ended up offering the shortest one (77k words) and giving that away rather than keep trying to write something I can’t. This is worrisome in its own way–when you’re told a reader likes certain things and you can’t deliver. I can’t write a book that’s 40k words long, and that leaves me and other authors who like to write long or want to write long with a problem–how do we make sure we’re finding the right kind of readers for our books?

No one wants a review saying our book was “bloated” or bogged down, or even worse, be accused of writing filler for the KU page reads. Like Zoe York pointed out in a tweet thread about this very topic, you get paid the full amount only if a reader reads the entire book. They can “flip” for the good parts, and if they flip to the end you get paid for the book, but what are the chances of that going to be if you bore a reader? If the reader is bored enough, they’ll close out and return it.

A reader can look to see how many printed pages your book is in the product information. Readers who are looking for a certain length can avoid books that are too long or too short for their tastes. I don’t usually do that unless I know for sure it’s an indie book. Some indies overprice their books because they feel all the work they put into their product deserves the inflated price. I’m not going to pay 1.99 for a short story, or 3.99 for a novella. Not when I price my 75k-100k novels at 4.99. Price is a different subject all together and I’m not going to get into it here.

The trilogy I’m writing now is on the longer side and I didn’t intend for that to happen. I would need beta readers to tell me if there’s anything I could cut, if getting my 107k manuscript under 100k is important to me. It’s not–I’m more concerned with all the books being around the same length. I don’t want my first book to be 107k and my third to be 75k if you know what I mean. But since they are longer–not quite that different from other my books, but still longer by about 20k–I wonder if it would be worth adding page length to the blurb. I dislike all the qualifiers that some authors are now putting in their blurbs. There was one book by an author I won’t name who added a paragraph of trigger warnings. While this blog post isn’t about trigger warnings either, reading all those put me off reading it. Life is hard, and I wouldn’t expect fiction not to be. My characters can have very angsty backgrounds, and to add triggers to my books warning readers my characters have . . . lived hard lives? . . . doesn’t seem realistic to me. So adding page length when I don’t even like adding trigger warnings seems too precious. On the other hand, it would save readers from picking up a book they don’t want to invest time in, so it is an impasse, for sure.

If you like scrolling through Twitter, here are the tweets I saw over the weekend. I’m not picking on Zoe. I love her and she really makes me think about the publishing industry and more specifically, publishing romance.

I listened to a talk once, but I can’t find the video, so I don’t want to say who I think it was because I might be wrong. But even if I can’t remember who said it, it’s worth mentioning. In her talk, she talks about leveling up, and one of the simple things she did to make more money was to write longer books as all her books were in KU. Of course, she’s not encouraging you to book stuff or bloat your books with filler. We all want to make readers happy. We know you can’t create a fanbase without doing that. I just like exploring all sides of a conversation, and if you write 50k word novels and think you aren’t happy with how much you make from KU, I don’t see the harm in looking over your books and deciding to write 70k books instead. But, it is important to look at how you view success and how much time you have to work on your books. Maybe every month is NaNo for you, and 50k every 30 days is manageable and because of your day job and family life, 70k is not. Also, what kind of readership do you have now? Do they want a 70k book or would they be happier with two 35k books? If you don’t have a readership yet, it’s worth exploring what you want to write and what you have time for.

My brand will always be full-length novels. I’ve come to realize I like trilogies–both reading them and writing them. I have a soft spot for standalones but six books in a series will be my limit. If I had a team who could help me package the books, that might be something different, but editing them, formatting them, and doing their covers wears me out and I don’t have the patience to do that often. Eventually, as I publish, readers will know each new release is a full-length novel. For courtesy, since I’m still using Booksprout, I’ll tell potential reviewers this will be a long trilogy. I appreciate all the reviewers and the time they shared with me and my books, but there was one who said Give & Take was too long. At 77 words, it’s one of my shorter books and it just goes to show you’re not going to make everyone happy. So a length warning may be helpful if only to let them know that if they review the entire trilogy they’re signing up for some serious reading time.

That’s about all I have for this week. I started book three of my rockstar trilogy, and I’m so pleased I decided to turn this into a trilogy. It will be a fabulous addition to my library. I love the characters and the over-arching plot I’ve developed. The couples were made for each other, and I’m having a lot of fun pushing them together.

I’ll be working on that book for the next little while, trying to get these ready for an August release. I don’t know if I’ll publish them one week apart like I did before. I don’t have an audience yet, so a rapid release doesn’t do anything for me. I just prefer to have a series ready to go so at least readers know their next read isn’t that far off.

Doing something like this is a lot of work. Sometimes I get discouraged. Sometimes I want to give up just like anyone else. I said something to someone last week I probably shouldn’t have. It’s none of my business how she chooses to run hers. I get frustrated when people don’t put in their time but think they deserve results. I’m not talking about a particular person now, I’m talking about anyone, anytime. I used to be like that. Maybe not entitled, but when I pushed Publish on my first book, I went to bed hoping like we all do that it would be a runaway bestseller. Of course it wasn’t. None of my books have been. I have 16 books out and make pennies a day. Not for lack of trying, and certainly not lack of hard work and willing to try new things. I think the one thing you can do for your business is know what you want and don’t be scared of it. Don’t be scared what other people think of it. If you want to make money, own it. If you want to win awards, don’t let people tell you awards don’t matter. Why you write and publish is no one’s business. Why you quit isn’t anyone’s business (but you can just leave. Stop announcing it every five minutes and just go). Why you keep pushing when year after year you keep seeing the same results isn’t anyone’s business.

I’ll keep writing and publishing and maybe I’ll luck out and have a runaway bestseller. I’ll never know if I quit.

Have a great week, everyone!