When it comes to indie writers, there are two major gripes by readers:
1) The story is too short.
2) They are getting ripped off.
Frankly, the readers have valid complaints, but what most writers aren't understanding is that this isn't two different problems. It is the same problem; readers are not getting a COMPLETE story.
Much of the writers' confusion stems from from a couple of misconceptions:
1) Short stories don't sell.
2) Readers love series.
In regards to short stories, a single short is not economical to print. So trad publishers would bundle them into one volume, and then not market the book. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In regards to series, yes, readers go bonkers about them because they enjoy spending time with characters they love. But in a series, each individual tome needs a complete story.
For a story to be complete, it has to have a definitive arc. A beginning, a middle and an end. Stopping in the middle of the story is like stopping in the middle of sex. It's just not satisfying.
Then there's the promise of the genre itself. For example, in erotica, the protagonist's sexual journey changes her. In romance, the heroine and hero find their HEA, or at the very least their HFN. But if an indie writer advertises her story as an erotic romance, she needs to deliver on both promises.
I read a story that was novella length and was advertised as an erotic romance where the heroine was changed by her experience, but she left the hero at the end of the book. The writer received a large number of one-star ratings complaining that the story was too short. The writer believed the readers wanted a novel-length book. What they really wanted was the hero and heroine together at the end.
Our audience is not stupid. As long as you've set up the premise properly and deliver on your promise, they will generally accept your complete story no matter the actual wordcount.
Red's best-selling series is a perfect example of short works combining into a cohesive whole. In the first volume, Brie makes a decision to attend a submissive training school, follows through on that decision, and learns something about herself in the process. This story is perma-free with sexually explicit content, but I strongly suggest downloading it to study Brie's character arc.
Example 2 A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, 720 pages, first book in a seven-book series.
Another best seller at the opposite end of the spectrum--the epic fantasy. Reader complaints about George don't include the "It's too short" wail. While the character arcs for the other POV characters are just as complete, Daenerys Targaryen deserves special mention. Her storyline was sliced out of the main book and put together as a Hugo-award-winning novella, Blood of a Dragon.
Example 3 Se7en, (1995) starring Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Spacey, directed by David Fincher, written by Andrew Kevin Walker.
I include this because Andrew's story and script is so gut-wrenching, yet makes perfect sense. Pitt, Fincher and Walker battled the studio to keep the original ending, and they did the right thing. When the detectives are chasing a serial killer so perverse that sadism should be renamed to "doe-ism," giving the movie a Mary Sunshine ending would have pissed the audience off more. This is a prime example of a not-so-happy ending completing the story. Spacey's Doe, who has been pulling the strings from the first minute of the film, manipulates Pitt's Detective Mills into committing his final murder.
The shortest story ever has been attributed to Ernest Hemingway: "Baby shoes for sale. Never worn."
Is this a complete story? You betcha. The entire arc, beginning-middle-end, is there.
The Final Take
Your story can be any length. One of the great things about e-publishing is that writers don't have to worry about the physical limitations or expenses of print. Your story can be as short or as long as it needs to be. Just make sure your story is COMPLETE, the full story arc without any filler.
And don't insult your audience's intelligence by selling them one incomplete snippet at a time. They will know and they will not be pleased.
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