Does size matter?

Word count

As I was perusing blogs on Triberr this last Thursday, I ran across two that stood in stark contrast to each other.

The subject was book length, a topic that fascinates me.

Long before I ever became an author, back in the day when I was a reader of books only, I always gravitated toward short books.

I mean, The Old Man and the Sea is about as good as a story gets, and Hemingway told it in about one hundred pages.

But back to the two blogs I mentioned.

The first was a piece by Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords. You can read it in its entirety here.  It was an analysis of eBook data on Smashwords for the year 2012. In his second point in the article, Coker drew this conclusion from the data:

2.  Viva Long Form Reading:  Longer Books Sell Better
For the second year running, we found definitive evidence that ebook readers – voting with their Dollars, Euros, Pounds, Krone, Krona and Koruna – overwhelmingly prefer longer books over shorter books.


The top 100 bestselling Smashwords books averaged 115,000 words.  When we examined the word counts of books in other sales rank bands, we found the lower the word count, the lower the sales.


I have to admit that this finding surprised me because I would have thought that by and large eBooks in a 50,000 to 60,000 word range would have been the hottest sellers.

My initial reaction to this finding, which is not supported by any independent data I have available and is not mentioned in the article itself, is that the best selling books on Smashwords probably fall in the genres of fantasy, sci-fi and horror.  If so, I can understand the popularity of larger books on that site because readers of those genres seem to like and demand long books, even in eBook format.

Another issue about this finding is that Coker said specifically that out of Smashwords’ 200,000 titles only about 200 appear on Amazon.  So, he is not saying that for the whole universe of eBooks longer books sell better, but only that in the Smashwords universe they do.

R. S. Guthrie
R. S. Guthrie

Hot on the heels of that blog, I saw another one by R.S. Guthrie. Guthrie, by the way, is a friend of Caleb and Linda Pirtle, an author whose novel Blood Land we are running as a serial.   In his blog, “Word Count, in a Word? Worthless,” Guthrie, in his own inimitable style, framed the issue like this.

In fact, I will go as far as to say this: I’ve heard writers talking about word count like men talk about the length of their johnsons. As in, if one novel is 50,000 words, and another is 100,000, there is some implication that longer is better. On the contrary. I would bet anyone whose last name is not Dickens, Tolstoy, or Joyce that a 100,000 word book has a few extra sentences.

More like a hundred.

In all seriousness, if your book is its very best at 100,000 words, you should be writing 100,000 words. If mine is best at 50,000, then so be it. We aren’t talking about changing the oil in an engine here, where there’s a predetermined (and necessary) level of fluid, or a cake recipe, where baking soda confused with baking powder or eggs, flour, etc. in the wrong amounts will cause havoc—we’re talking about a work of art.

Near the end of his blog, Guthrie summed up the situation as he saw it.

And the last thing the market needs is a gaggle of mediocre writers trying to ADD more words to make their books longer. Has anyone out there ever been in a writing workshop or class where you were working hard at giving honest critiques and ever found yourself telling another writer to add a lot more verbiage to make a section better?

Don’t you love a lively discussion?

So, let’s hear from the readers out there.  When you shop for a book, do you consider its word count? Do you prefer long or short books?

And let’s hear from the authors.  Do you write to a certain word count? In light of Mark Coker’s findings would you target 115,000 words for your next book? Or is less more when it comes to writing?

Does size matter in the world of books?

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