Throwback Thursday: Word Counts…and What’s a Novelette?

Happy Thursday! Thanks again to all of you who left comments yesterday about free/cheap books–it’s given me some food for thought as I ponder ways to get my books in front of more readers. It also helped me differentiate between a limited-time price cut and a “perma-free” book. I also will take advantage of a limited-time daily deal, for example–I bought the whole Song of Ice and Fire series on a bundled daily deal….and I’ve read every blasted ten-thousand words of it. LOL.

I was digging around in my blog archives and thought I’d start pulling some old material to update–below is a blog from 2009 about the length of books. I was still waiting (and would be waiting for about 2-1/2 more years) for ROYAL STREET to come out and wrote more blogs about writing craft in those days. At the time i wrote this, in mid-December, I was struggling with a new novel I had written that I knew needed to be at least 90,000 words long; that’s the “sweet spot” for adult novels. I mean, I was STRUGGLING. I wrote “the end” and it was 52,000 words. Anyone guess which novel this ended up being? I’ll tell you at the end.

So…What differentiates a short-short from a short story from a novelette from a novel? We’re seeing a lot more short digital books these days and it can be helpful to understand how the industry defines them….


At least in fiction, it does. Writers spend a lot of time staring at the small writing in the bottom left corner of our Microsoft Word documents. Word count. In general:

Less than 1,000 words=short short

1,000-5,000 words=short story

5,000-10,000 words= novelette

10,000-25,000 words=novella

50,000 words and up=novel

So, you might ask, what is that black hole between 25,000 words and 50,000? Hell if I know.

Otherwise, you’re in rewrite hell. Which is the real estate I am currently occupying with my work in progress.

It was 52,000 words when I wrote “The End,” so I added a couple of chapters. Now, it’s 62,000 words.

My great swampy middle, as novelist Jim Butcher calls it, needs more swamp. I hate swamp. The journalist in me feels creating swamp is just wrong. We pare sentences down to bare bones and edit things within an inch of their very existence.

So now I’m creating another subplot and trying to weave it into the swamp. Is it enough to add at least 18,000 words? Probably not. I hate swamps.

* * * * *

So, what was that troublesome book? It became REDEMPTION, first in the Penton Legacy series, and finally clocked in at about 96,000 words!

Free Books versus Cappuccino (and #giveaway)

There are a couple of “book marketing gurus” who are all the rage these days, urging authors to offer free books to those who sign up for their newsletters or who want to simply download them from Amazon or another website. The idea is that the reader will love the freebie so much that he or she will rush out and buy the rest of the series or other books by the author, boosting overall sales.

Do you think that’s true? Do you download a lot of free books? Let me rephrase that: do you download free books that you actually READ, and then go looking for more of the author’s work? Read on to weigh in and get a chance to get, yeah, a free book!

I remember when a friend gave me my first Kindle for Christmas way back when it was still a novelty, and I’d insisted that I only wanted to read print books. Now, I’m older and have worse vision and think digital books are pretty nifty and convenient. Whip out my phone, open my Kindle app, and I have the world of books at my fingertips.

Still. When I first got that Kindle, I was agog at the free and almost-free books out there. I downloaded anything that looked interesting. How many of those have I actually read? Maybe 1 percent…maybe. Some are buried deep in the heart of my Kindle library; others I’ve removed altogether. There are always books–books I paid for–that I wanted to read more. So, obviously, that marketing tactic doesn’t work on me as a reader.

There’s also the idea that I have spent months working on a novel and all that entails, from plotting to writing to revision to editing to proofreading, and having four or six months of my hard work valued at…nothing. Or 99 cents. “Less than a cappuccino,” as authors have been fond of saying for a few years as the freebie train has kept chugging along.

So, as I ponder marketing for new releases over which I have pricing control (if the author doesn’t have control over pricing, this is all a moot point), I ask you, my reading friends:

Do you download freebie or 99-cent books?

Do you only download them by authors you like or have been wanting to try, or do you download anything vaguely interesting as long as it’s free?

How many of those downloaded freebies do you actually read? Have any of them prompted you to buy other books by the author?

Leave a comment to be entered for a FREE digital version of any of my books–by Suzanne Johnson or Susannah Sandlin.