Friday, September 13, 2013

You Can't Fuck Over Your Audience

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.

Example 1
Brie's First Day of Submissive Training by Red Phoenix, 47 pages, first book in a nine-book series.

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.

Example 4
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.


  1. I agree, and infact this was essentially the theme of the blog post I did on serials a while back. Readers aren't stupid; they can do basic arithmetic.

    And I've seen plenty of writers grouching that readers are trying to tell them how much to write, with negative reviews complaining that a book is too short. I'm with you, though, that it's not the wordcount but the incomplete story, the rushed story, the chopped-off story, the story whose last 60% is all telling, squished into the last chapter. We can't expect your average reader to be able to use the same terminology we would to explain precisely what's wrong. But if a story feels chopped off or rushed, saying "It should've been longer" describes the feeling. If a disgruntled writer can't dissect the actual verbage of the complaint and figure out what's really wrong, they have more substantial problems than just a few annoyed readers.


  2. Sorry, Angie! I wasn't trying to rip you off. Honest! *smile*

    This post came from a conversation with someone else who used episodic television to justify serializing their story (or tried to). At which point, I went on a rampage about why Buffy the Vampire Slayer worked and Lost didn't.

  3. No prob, I didn't mean that. Just saying that the basic conversation is happening around the intertubes, and I agree with you about it.

    Also, TV episodes are completely irrelevant here because you're not charged $2.99 or however much per episode. Whether you're watching something as part of your basic cable package, or as part of a premium channel for which you pay per month, it's still an all-you-can-eat set-up. Selling serial chunks one at a time, is a completely different business model, and very difficult to organize so that it's worth it for the reader.

    And that's not even going into the issues with Buffy and Lost. :)


  4. I would add a tweak to your argument, Angie. I think the public's televsion consumption is growing closer to how books are consummed in that the viewer wants to decide when and how much. A good example is Netflix's decision to make the entire season of House of Cards available at once.

    And I'm not arguing with with about the all-you-can-eat benefits of cable, but we reached a point where that long-term benefit was non-existent. We cancelled our cable wight years ago when basic service reached $70 a month and my kid was only watching SpongeBob and Avatar. I could buy the three seasons of DVDs of those shows for what I paid in cable for a month. Why pay for all the bells and whistles on cable when I can get the DVDs/Blu-Rays for the shows I can actually watch or stream Netflix for a tenth of the cost? Some indies are literally pricing themselves out of the market with cable thinking.

    But the sex analogy is still better. If you've paid $500 for an hour with a prostitute, wouldn't you be pissed if he leaves before the hour is up? *grin*

  5. Well, if you want to go all 21st century on my :) then I'll point out that the TV and movie people are actually ahead of the pack when it comes to wringing every last dollar out of their fans, what with this newfangled thing where you need to buy six different DVDs of the new Star Trek movie if you want to see all the special features, because each vendor has its own exclusive feature in its special version. :/ Nobody on the book side is doing that yet (that I know of) but the philosophy of sticking it to your fans is certainly alive and well, and it wouldn't shock me if a year or three from now, some writer uploaded different versions of a book to Amazon, B&N (if they ever get it uploaded [mutter]), iBooks, ARe/Omnilit, Kobo, Smashwords.... Why settle for six or eight bucks if you can get thirty-six or forty-eight? :/

    And yes, I would definitely be annoyed if I paid a rentboy for an hour and he left early. :P


  6. Oh, shit, girl! Book people have been doing the different edition thing for decades. The original edition, the annotated edition, the author's original text, etc.

    And don't get me started about Paramount's idiocy when it comes to the Star Trek franchise. Into Darkness still pisses me off, and I don't mean the DVD crap either.

    As an entertainment producer, I try to keep the behaviors that would tick me off as a consumer in mind. It's one of the reasons I don't go exclusive with Amazon.

    That doesn't mean I won't experiment a little. Alter Ego will be releasing two novels in December--one on Amazon and one every place else. If I get a third one done, novel 2 will be exclusive on B&N and novel three exclusive on Apple.

    (And don't start bitching at me about Smashwords. You're the only one I know that buys from them, and if there's something you want, all YOU have to do is ask!)

    In three months, each novel will be released on the opposing platforms. I just want to see how each one does by itself in a closed environment. If I'm right, probably not very well. But I like putting raw data up on the blog. It gives some new writers a reality check.

  7. Hey, I'm all about experimental data, so your scheme sounds cool. If I see something I want, I'll definitely ask, although I'm kind of out of e-book money for a bit.

    And actually, my preference is ARe -- I love their 50% rebate sales, and usually stock up then, so I'll have like $100 worth of new e-books plus another $50 of free money sitting on account. And they sell PDFs. :) If someone's not selling romances, though, then ARe isn't an option, so Smashwords is my next choice, for that PDF format. [hides under keyboard]

    Definitely interested in how your experiment comes out, though.


    PS -- I know this is ridiculously late, but I've been back to the hospital a couple of times since my last comment here (and have a lovely set of full-color photos of the inside of my stomach as a souvenir of one of them) and haven't gotten around to checking my "saved" blog entries recently. :P