When is a book a book? Actually, if it’s bound with a cover, a spine and a back. A Kindle is not a book. It’s a manuscript on a screen. It might have 300 pages but it’s simply formatted that way. An average print novel has around 85,000 words. The average eBook on Smashwords comes in at 35,565 words, trending downwards.
Ebooks are getting shorter fast. Why? Because e-publishing platforms encourage authors to write more. If one sells, write two more. If none of them sell just keep pumping out more until one catches on and you’ll make a killing with your back catalogue. (Insert laughter here)
Never mind the subject; hacking out five 85,000-word books a year is beyond all but a handful of freaks. The solution is simple: write five instead of one!
And so we do. I followed one particular Amazon author who had amassed 25 titles in 4 years. Insane! Amazon doesn’t publish word counts, in line with everything else they don’t want us to know. The page count Amazon lists is meaningless because pages can be any size. The writer in question formatted her work into a 300 page ebook with sixty chapters that amounted to around one page in an average print book. I calculated the word count to be around 18,000 per book. In other words, around 5 of her ebooks equate to one average sized print novel and her output in 4 years is equivalent to 5 average print books. It made me feel a lot less inadequate.
If a print book takes off, the author invariably suffers a bad case of verbal diarrhea and no editor will be game enough to rein in the flood. Fair enough, the poor author probably spent half a lifetime trying to bend his/her writing into editor-conform prose just to get accepted. Now let them see what damage I can really do!
Ebooks don’t follow that pattern. If they take off, they get shorter. An Indie author has a huge advantage over the trad pubs: he/she can fire off the follow-up book immediately instead of going through the extended traditional production process. No more testing the water with a “pilot” – just hit Amazon with the complete, yet to be written, series. Some fire up, some flame out – the process of finding readers has not changed, only the method of delivery.
As a relatively new convert to Indie publishing I have to admit that there is something to be said for the incredible shrinking book, just as there was a case to be made for the incredible shrinking newspaper in the 80s. I was part of the team that set up USA Today in Europe. Grabline boxes, graphics, colour, Tweets before there was such a word - nothing was really new about the five or so second rule to grab a reader’s attention. The method of delivery via satellite, the multiple print sites and thus the improved distribution were new. Sounds familiar? Yep, Amazon is USA Today, only much further reaching than anybody could have envisaged.
So what if Amazon serves up fast food made up of garbage and gems all mixed into a big fat stew? Most trad pubs are there with their bestsellers – so is everybody else with a Word document. Financial success is still the exception but some Indie authors do extremely well without ever selling a single print book. Editors, agents and assorted literary glamouristas will just have to accept the fact that they are no longer in sole charge of the Holy Grail.