Digital Freedom: Story Length

In the 70s and 80s, short stories were a viable path to publication, especially for genre fiction. Magazines were in vogue and offered many avenues for writers to earn notice early in their careers, sometimes before their first novel was even finished.

When magazines lost popularity, short stories also became less common. Authors could collect their own short stories into single volume books, and anthologies were still a thing, but overall they became a far less meaningful to a writer’s career.

Flash forward to the age of digital books, here and now. Publishers are primarily focused on novel length works, but writers, both those with publishers and those without, are finding audiences for their shorter tales by self-publishing.

The largest reason publishers lost their desire for short stories is because they lacked a cost effective avenue to get them into the hands of readers. With digital publishing, readers can access short stories in the exact same way they consume novels – on their smart phones, tablets, computers, and most importantly, instantaneously. The only difference is the size of the file that gets downloaded to their device.

Shorts do still need editing, formatting, and cover art, but with physical distribution no longer being a factor, they’re making a comeback in a big way.

Short stories come in many forms, often with disputable word counts. This is mostly because lengths can vary by genre – 16,000 words for a chapter book for children, 60,000- 80,000 for a mystery novel, and 100,000 words for a thriller; just for a few examples.

As a general guideline, you can consider the following forms:

  • Flash Fiction – stories under 1,000 words
  • Short Story – 1,000 – 10,000 words
  • Novelette – 10,000 – 20,000 words
  • Novella – 20,000 – 50,000 words
  • Novel – over 50,000 words

What about you? Would you consider self-publishing a shorter length fiction story? If you already have, would you do it again? Comments are always open.

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