Indie Epublished Authors: Build Your Backlist Quicker with Shorter-Length Novels

Happy Monday, WG2E-Land!

Here’s a fabulous tip to help you begin to fill your cyber shelves and thus also fill your readers’ online shopping carts:

Build Your Backlist Quicker with Shorter-Length Novels

When I began writing-for-publication over thirteen years ago, I learned to write novels the TradiPub way. In other words, I was taught that for a book to be a publishable novel it had to come in around single title novel length, which meant a manuscript around 300 to 400 pages or between 85,000 and 100,000 words with approximately 250 words per page.

***Personal Anecdote: My agent at the time had me re-write Bootscootin’ Blahniks – the book that started it all for me and got me the big-time agent to begin with – five times, all at different lengths (bouncing between category length and single title) and in different sub-genres (first more chick lit then more romantic comedy then borderline erotica then more contemporary romance) because “that’s what publishers now wanted.” Not what readers wanted, mind you, but what publishers wanted.

So, once I dumped my agent and decided to go the Indie Epublished route, the first three Ebooks (fiction) that I Indie Epublished – The Bootscootin’ Books – were still that TradiPub length (in the length I originally wrote them in) and have done very, very well.

Consider though, that even though I write fast – I can produce a superfab fun novel that TradiPub length in roughly three to four months – that means, I’d only have three to four releases per year. Keep in mind, for TradiPub standards that’s a bunch! (Normal release rates appear to be one book per series per year in TradiPub Oz.)

My goal has always been…

To treat readers to great books for great prices

But, even though I was doing that and satisfying my readers, the one question my readers started asking me the most was:

Can’t you write faster? We don’t want to have to wait three to four months between your new books.

So, I asked myself…

What if I shortened the length of my Ebooks so that I could build my backlist faster and keep my growing reader base in more D. D. Scott-ville books more often than just three to four times per year?

I chatted some more with my readers about their thoughts on this, and here’s what I learned from them:

1. Ideally, they would love to wait no longer than two months between new releases from their fave authors. (That keeps an author fresh in their minds.)

2. Because of their tight schedules as working moms and dads and/or grandmas and grandpas, and in today’s multi-media world, they love quick reads that they can (a) read or listen to during their commute or at lunch, (b) read while waiting on the kids at soccer practice, cheerleading practice, music lessons, dance lessons, etc., (c) read while in a doctor’s waiting room, and (d) read knowing that the characters they’ve come to love will be back very soon with a new adventure.

3. Their attention spans are getting shorter and shorter so they like something they can invest a relatively short time in. Get great laughs and move on.

4. They have no clue how long a book “should” be. As long as the story is great, they don’t care either. Except that, again, they do have short attention spans that are getting even shorter.

So, I listened to them. They are my target audience. And listening to what that audience wants is good business.

In 2011, I began writing Ebooks that dropped to around 250 pages. Then went to 200 pages.

In the meantime, throughout 2011 and 2012, I wrote and released short stories (anywhere from 20 pages to 50 pages) to tide ‘em over in between the longer novels. I produced five, soon to be six, Anthologies (short story collections), including other fabulous WG2E-land Authors that I thought my readers would also enjoy. I’ve written and released holiday novellas, featuring the same characters my readers have come to love and can’t wait to spend time with.

Then, in 2012, I dropped the length of my novels to between 150 and 200 pages, and finally found the sweet spot for me as a writer and for my readers too! :-)

My books are fast-paced, include lots of action and over-the-top LOL comedic capers. They’re rip-roarin’ fun and superfab fun quick reads.

And, at this new length, I can easily pop out 8 to 10 per year. Plus, I feel comfortable keeping my price at 99 Cents, which meets my “great price” goal. :-)

***Note: I’m not going into the semantics of whether my books should now be called novellas versus novels. Frankly, readers don’t know the difference and don’t care. As long as they know the approximate length and how that stacks up to the price they’re paying for the book, that’s all that matters to them.

To recap and put my plan into perspective, I’ve been Indie Epublished since August 2010. By the end of this year, I’ll have right at 30 Ebooks on my cyber shelf, making up my backlist. Between August 2010 and December 2010, I only released 3 books (two fiction and one non-fiction). In 2011 and 2012, I’ve been able to release around 27 new titles. And that healthy-sized list and increase will have brought me, using my best guestimate based on my sales figures, around 300,000 readers by the end of this year.

It’s Your Turn, WG2E-Land: Tell us about the lengths of your Indie Epublished Books. Have you been releasing shorter-length Ebooks? Could that approach work for you?

The Best of Building Backlist Wishes — D. D. Scott

D. D. Scott is an Amazon and Barnes and Noble Top 100 Bestselling Romantic Comedy and Humorous Mystery Author. She’s also a Writer’s Go-To-Gal for Muse Therapy and Indie Epublishing, the Co-Founder of The WG2E – The Writer’s Guide to E-Publishing, and the Founder of The RG2E – The Reader’s Guide to E-publishing.  You can get all the scoop on her, her books, her Online Classes and Live Workshops, plus juicy tidbits too from her new cyber home…D. D. Scott-ville.

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  1. Jeanne says:

    Lots of cool ideas , D.D………always look forward to your next e-book release! Keep them coming!

    • D.D. Scott says:

      Thanks sooo very much, Jeanne! Nothin’ beats treating readers and knowing I’m doing so with great books (and lots of ‘em) for great prices too! :-)

  2. Lois Lavrisa says:

    DD- great post. I’ve heard from a traditional published author (who now is an indie) that they consider a novel at a minimum of 50,000 words. Of course you are so right, what you label it doesn’t matter to readers- they just want a great book from their favorite author.

    • D.D. Scott says:

      Exactly, Lois…it just doesn’t matter what the TradiPub definitions are. Readers don’t know and don’t care. They just want a great book and as many as they can get from their fave authors.

  3. Sibel Hodge says:

    8 – 10 books per year – wow! Again, you’re going to steal my Wonder Woman knickers! :) How does 150 pages equate into word count?

    My first novels were around 90,000 words, then I’ve wrote a short story collection, a novella, and a shorter novel around 65,000 words. The children’s novel I’ve just finished is back up to 90,000, although I was intending it to be around 60,000.

    I think it’s so important to build up your backlist and increase your virtual bookshelf, and at the end of the day, a story should be as long as it needs to be – no more and no less :)

    • D.D. Scott says:

      Gotta luuuvvv those knickers, Sibel! LOL!

      Let’s see…150 pages at 250 words per page equates to around 37,500 words.

      And I totally agree that the story itself dictates the length. If it’s complete, it’s complete. The word count/page count doesn’t matter to the reader. As long as they feel they got their money’s worth out of it and enjoyed it, that’s the key.

      I do think books with a bunch of action can get away with even shorter lengths because let’s face it, you’ve got the readers’ adrenaline going so fast and furious that a shorter time span works better for that genre.

  4. Julie Day says:

    I have started with short ebooks (long short stories between 5-10K) with both my YA and romance series. Then will be building up to novellas and novels over the next couple of years. I started writing YA short stories beccause I thought at the age they won’t want to read long books and that word count was ideal for them to read. I plan to make them all into boxed sets along the way, and write short stories in between my main projects, either for womens’ mags or straight into ebooks.

    • D.D. Scott says:

      What’s super savvy on your part, Julie, is that you’re taking the time to take into account what your target audience prefers. And that’s the key…figure out what your readers want and then give it to ‘em! :-) U Go, Girl!!!

  5. Adan Lerma says:

    a big ditto! ;-)

    “I’m not going into the semantics of whether my books should now be called novellas versus novels. Frankly, readers don’t know the difference and don’t care. As long as they know the approximate length and how that stacks up to the price they’re paying for the book, that’s all that matters to them.”

    • D.D. Scott says:

      Cheers to that, Adan!

      Readers, for the most part, don’t know the terms and could care less if they do. They simply want great books for great prices and now also one-click ease getting their books.

  6. Great post once again. I have to agree and I’ve considered cutting my new novels down – so long as the story is all there and not too cut about. A story ends when it feels right and all too often we can pad things out too much. My first novel was 130,000 and is now in 2 volumes , edited and rewritten (The Seeds of Time and Harvest), the 2 new volumes which have added chapters and new scenes are now at 70000 and 56000 words.
    All my older novels are 96,000 down to 70000. I believe readers do like quicker reads when using their e readers.
    My current WIP is on target for about 65,000 words which feels right – but we’ll see!
    Thanks DD once again


    • D.D. Scott says:

      What you said right here is perfect, Faith:

      “A story ends when it feels right and all too often we can pad things out too much.”

      I sooo agree. If scenes don’t move a story forward or add something special to your characterization, then for me, as both a writer and reader, they’ve got to go. I’ve always been able to tell in TradiPub books that “oh, we just needed a longer word count here.” I’m not seeing this as much in Indie Books because we don’t have that artificial word count to meet.

    • I love this idea of dividing longer works into two volumes. I’m going to do that with my next book, due out this month. Thanks for the tip!

      • D.D. Scott says:

        That is a fabulous approach indeed, Riley! :-)

        It’s really fun to think up new ways to “package” our products! A “book” is no longer a “book” in the printed format of a standard size that we’ve known for years.

  7. I’ve done just that: reduced the size of my stories to build a backlist quicker. The idea struck me back in June. I think it was from visiting many author sites who were doing well indie and seeing the large number of books they had available. Many said they didn’t see great sales until they had six or more books published.

    My fantasy novels hover around the 150,000 word mark and take more than a year to write. At this pace, I was looking at another five years before I saw any real results. And with each release, it would be like being a new author all over again because there was twelve or more months in between books. And the idea of selling that book for 99 cents really hurt.

    My goal over the summer was to see if I could write a short romance novel. I set my sights on 30,000 words, but ended up with just over 36,000. A novella? I don’t know. My research indicated novellas could top the 25,000 word mark or 40,000. This would be adult novella (here we go with labels again–something I don’t like when they get too specific).

    A novel in the planning for grade 3 and 4 will top out around 20,000 words. It will be considered a full-length novel because of the age group.

    With the successful completion of the first shorter (than 100,000 word) novel, Castle Romance was born. The first draft of the second in this group is just over half finished. It a Christmas theme novel and will be released in late November, early December. My goal is to release six short novels a year, plus one fantasy novel (I have to finish the series). To help build my online bookshelf faster, I published four short stories over the summer.

    I so agree with you that the writers goals have changed for indies, and I’ve got the skeleton of a blog I’m working on to talk more about this. Writers used to have to write for publishers, think about what they wanted. Now we write for the readers. When we realise, it sets us free.

    Great post, DD. Thanks.

    • D.D. Scott says:

      Great points, Diane!

      I hit a huge sales boost after book three (the completion of my first series) and then again after book six (three books into my second series).

      What you said right here is excellent too:

      “My fantasy novels hover around the 150,000 word mark and take more than a year to write…And with each release, it would be like being a new author all over again because there was twelve or more months in between books.”

      We can’t afford for readers to forget about us because it’s been sooo long between books. You want to have another book out as soon as you can to feed off of the momentum you’ve already built.

      And you nailed it in that we are “writing for readers, not publishers”…that’s smart writing and smart business too! :-)

  8. Patrice says:

    You are certainly an inspiration DD – and I agree that shorter is better for today’s readers.
    Now that chick lit-romantic comedy is BACK, perhaps it never went away with the readers, I am enjoying my shorter, hilarious, fun-to-write, snappy books, and have started a new series. This will take me around 2-3 months for a 50,000 word ms, but that still only gives me 3-4 new books a year. Wish I could write faster, but I have too many other things I like to do!

    • D.D. Scott says:

      Chick Lit and Romantic Comedy never went away, Patrice. Ask any librarian too, who will tell you that’s always been their number one, most-requested genre. :-)

      If 3-4 books per year works for you and you enjoy that pace, and your readers know they can look forward to that schedule from you, then you’ve found your sweet spot. So Go Girl Go!!!

      Which brings up the point that I’d be sure and let your readers know what they can look forward to from you each year.

      Many readers actually mark a calendar and set reminders that, for example, “D. D. will have 3 books out in October, 3 in November, and 1 in December.” I can remember looking forward to a mailing I received from Debbie Macomber several years in a row in which she’d send stickers out each year so you could mark your calendars when to look for her new books that year.

  9. L.C. Giroux says:

    I’ve been doing this from the beginning. My stories come in at 40-50k words and my readers love them. It confuses the hell out of my friends writing for harlequin. Between boxed sets and a couple of holiday themed short stories, I expect to release 13 pieces in the next 16 months. Oh, and I don’t price at .99! I have just recently raised my prices to 3.99 and am selling more copies than I did when I lowered them to .99 for my anniversary.

    • D.D. Scott says:

      What you said right here, L.C., totally rocks:

      “My stories come in at 40-50k words and my readers love them.”

      Giving your readers what they love…that’s what it’s all about, right? Cheers to that!

      I hear ya on the pricing issues too…I’m watching all of this very closely and do think we’re going to see some wild swings now that the Agency Pricing Model is done on the TradiPub end. It will be interesting to see how all of this shakes out. And congrats on increasing your sales!!!

  10. Tamara Ward says:

    As a reader, I’m finding I enjoy shorter reads, too. Occasionally I’ll find myself in a book thinking, “This should be over by now. Really, the author could wrap this up by now instead of continuing to insert plot twist after twist for seemingly only the sake of creating a traditional length novel.”

    • D.D. Scott says:

      Yes, exactly, Tamara! And I think in books with high action, it’s even more apparent! I mean c’mon…there’s no waaay that level of action can be sustained for that long! LOL! It begins to make it even more unrealistic, even though that part alone is fun at first.

      Here’s another interesting psychological theory too…there’s a degree of instant gratification going on when a reader finishes a satisfying book. And the more you can create that feeling for your readers each year, the more they’ll begin to count on you and seek out the superfab fun stimuli you’re treating ‘em too!

  11. JamieSalisbury (@JamieRSalisbury) says:

    Great post! My line of thinking also – people are on the go so much shorter novels just make sense. Then you can build them as a series and your readers look forward to them. Pricing? I’m all over the page about that because I’m not sure what works. I’ve set mine at 2.99, then lowered them to .99 and have seen no difference in traffic.
    Still, something to ponder!

    • D.D. Scott says:

      People are indeed on the go so much, Jamie. That’s it in a nutshell. We now live in a past-faced world, and our multi-media streams demand that more is said using as little time as possible.

      And we’ll always be pondering and experimenting with price. The great part about that though is that we have the freedom and control to actually mix things up a bit! :-)

  12. I used to write with an eye on the word count. Now I write until I’ve told the story in completion. It is very freeing and as long as the story doesn’t feel rushed, readers are satisfied.

    • D.D. Scott says:

      I luuuvvv what you said here, Christy! I was the same way. I used to always check my word count to see where I was and where I “needed” to be based on where I was submitting to next. Not any more. My characters and plot lines let me know when I’m done, and it feels great and my readers love it too!!!

  13. Great post, D.D., as usual! I do think people have less time these days and like to have an entertaining and satisfying read while they sit in the doctor’s office with a kindle in their handbag.
    I am currently working on a series of novellas, but I have also shortened my romcom length. One thing I noticed from the movie industry, which knows how to sell to an audience, is that romcoms are always short and sweet.

    • D.D. Scott says:

      Atta Girl! Short and sweet works! And the more times each year you can treat your readers to that kind of high, the more readers you’ll attract.

      That’s the kind of thing that builds buzz in those doctors’ offices where your readers are finishing your books!

  14. Liz Matis says:

    Great post DD. This is what makes indie publishing so freeing.

  15. Stacy Green says:

    This is an interesting topic. I write suspense novels, and my target is always around 90K. I’m not sure I would know how to plot a story to come in at 50K or less, to be honest. But it does sound like an interesting strategy.

    • I think you have to consider genre, Stacy. Thrillers and some forms of fantasy do need to be longer and have more layers. My romcom suspense, Aphrodisiac, which had been traditionally published, is over 100,000 words. But a traditionally published cozy mystery is often half that. Also, YA and middle grade are shorter. And literary can go anywhere from miniscule to a doorstop tome. I think being true to your own story and style has to be the ultimate guideline.

      • Stacy Green says:

        Thanks for that, Alicia. I’ve thought about doing some more short stories (I’m putting out my first in a few weeks) but I’ve got so much going with novels and marketing it’s hard to find the time. Love your last thought – thank you:)

        • D.D. Scott says:

          Exactly this, Alicia:

          “I think being true to your own story and style has to be the ultimate guideline.”

          And it is also true, Stacy, that some genres tend to run longer and some shorter. But it’s really whatever works best for your story and your style and voice.

          For example, my style is all about fabulous LOL, one-line zingers along with slapstick style , physical comedy scenes. Both of those styles lend to shorter, fast-paced pieces.

  16. Well, no.

    I’m not your target audience and I don’t write for your readers, so I’m not going to say that what works for you is wrong. Lots of pulp writers in the 40s and 50s made a good living doing something similar.

    However (you knew there was a “but” in there, right?), churning out fiction isn’t what I want to do. I read a variety of books, mostly mysteries, and I expect a story to run from 70,000 to 90,000 words. Shorter than that and I feel cheated. Like where’s the rest? I want stories with more depth, a couple of subplots, and engaging characters who are memorable. I write for readers with the same tastes.

    I also enjoy reading Diana Gabaldon and George R.R. Martin, two authors whose books are much longer. Because the prose is so rich and lush and the stories so involving, I don’t forget them for the two or three (or more) years between books. I have a feeling their books will be read long after you and I are forgotten.

    The great thing about indie publishing is that there’s room for stories of all kinds and all lengths. Each writer is free to pursue her dream in whatever fashion she desires.

    • D.D. Scott says:

      You’re right, Elise…each of us must write what we enjoy writing and what our readers enjoy reading. Great point! :-)

      I would say though that just because a story length is shorter doesn’t mean it can’t have depth, multiple subplots and certainly doesn’t mean it cheats readers. Just saying…

      It only takes one great line or moment or character in a book for it to end up on some readers’ keeper shelves. And there’s certainly no page requirement or word count guideline for that accomplishment.

      What’s also important here is that we each realize, just as you’ve stated here, that each approach we choose will not please everyone. And that’s perfectly okay. I’m not writing for people like you who will not appreciate what I do. And that’s a great thing to know all by itself.

      Thanks for the great comment!

    • SK Holmesley says:

      I agree here, it does have to be based on what your customer’s expect. I read a lot of fantasy epics and want the primary characters to be well thought out and have depth. I want back story, so that I understand how each primary character became who he or she is. On the other hand, one of my favorite genres is Regency Romance. I already know the history, background, culture, and character expectations there, so am expecting a short, snappy story with a happy ending and no dangling threads all in under 200 pages. But then I read Regencies to chase off the doldrums, so need the positive, upbeat ending, and would feel cheated if I didn’t get it–in 200 pages or less. :-) As a reader, for me, what I read and when is about both mood and timing. And I love the short stories of those writers who can stick to the mood (whatever it is) and story and not leave me feeling cheated at the end. To this day, one of my favorite stories is “The Open Window” by Saki (H.H. Munroe). I first read it in 9th grade and read everything else I could find by him over the ensuing years, because that one story made me laugh. Not all his stories were as sharp as that one, and some were better, but he was one of my favorite authors in my teens and continues to be in my memories. As a reader, I think that both approaches are good, because I would be very sad if no one ever wrote any more epics for me, since other worlds provide a level of escape I don’t find in any other genre, while at the same time, I the idea that with ebooks I can get an immediate fix if it’s a bad day and I need a Regency to brighten it.

  17. SK Holmesley says:

    Thanks, D.D. for some really great, thought provoking information.

  18. Great info as always, D.D. I love the idea of building a back list quicker! Luckily, I’m a fast writer, too, and am excited to start churning out more books. I think as indie writers, we can turn out both quantity AND quality.

    • D.D. Scott says:

      I totally agree, Riley. The quantity of pages written in no way reflects the quality. I’ve read one-page essays that have changed my life forever, as have 800-page sagas.

  19. Christina says:

    I’ve already decided to do this as well. My first book was going to be geared to Harlequin, but once I finished the rewrite it ended around 44K and I let it stay there. My series under my pen name is shooting for 25 – 30K. I’m still giving myself 3 months to write due to the day job, but by using weekends, holidays and vacation I’ll be able to finish before 3 months is up and only us the entire time if absolutely necessary. I want to be completely self-employed within 4 years and I can’t do that if it’s taking 6 months or a year to write a book.

    • D.D. Scott says:

      I luuuvvv what you’re saying here, Christina, in that you finished your rewrite and felt great about exactly what your word count was at that time. There’s no magic number of words required to tell a great story that pleases readers.

  20. R.A. Lee says:

    Thank you! This has been on my mind. That solidifies my decision for my Desert Town Angels series!

  21. This very thought has occurred to me. My storylines tend to be layered, and thus longer in length. I am determined to start cutting down the length and write a shorter story that stills complete. My current WIP was supposed to be 80K words and is already 93K. I have a specific project that I plan to bring in at 70K tops. I don’t know if I can go super-short, but lopping off 30K words off my standard will make a big difference in my output.

    • D.D. Scott says:

      You could also consider what Faith has done above – she split her longer works into two volumes.

      And if you have a fabulous hook ending the first, your readers will be sure to read on into the next volume!

  22. absolutely great information, Dee Dee. I had already decided my next series would be much shorter but now I’m sure.

  23. Greg Carrico says:

    This is such a timely topic, DD. Sometimes I think you are reading my mind, which would come in at around 30-35 words at any given moment, so it can’t be very entertaining for you.

    I have to make time to read a book these days, and I find my reading practices have changed. I enjoy reading shorter novels and short stories as eBooks, but I’m still jonesing for some Robert Jordan-esque 300k word epics. The longer books I play as audiobooks on my iPod while I mow the lawn, drive, or practice my hobby of juggling flaming machetes. The point is, (not the one on the machete) I have a taste for longer AND shorter novels, and I’m glad to finally be able to have both.


    • D.D. Scott says:

      It is all about simply having the ability to satisfy your current reading wishes, Greg!

      And thanks to Indie Epublishing, we can treat readers to exactly what they’re looking for and do so exactly when they’re looking for it!!!

      Cheers to that and to reading your mind!!! Fun stuff all-around!!! :-)

  24. The three books in my series are 215, 259 & 240. I guess I got windier as I wrote along! But I SO like the idea of NOT writing a 500 page book! Like the readers, my attention span is limited, too. I want to write something else, start fresh on another story. I was trying to do the TradiPub number, but I couldn’t get to 85,000 words and up. Think I’ll start cutting back. It’s nice to read that there are others out there like me.

    • D. D. Scott says:

      Excellent points, Elizabeth! It’s terrific to figure out what length of story you enjoy writing most and then go with that plan! How cool is it that we actually have that opportunity now?!

  25. Lexi Ryan says:


    D.D., I think this is one of the best pieces of advice for people trying to build a backlist quickly. Let’s do the math. I can write about 200k a year (with the day job and revisions and all that other jazz). That means I can write 2 “single title” length books. Or, I can write THREE 50k novels and THREE short stories/short novellas. This is a no-brainer for me. :)

    Thanks for sharing this. I’m still an indie-pub baby, and WG2E has been a huge help!

    • D. D. Scott says:

      Yayyy, Lexi! I’m so tickled to hear that The WG2E is helping you on your very own Indie Epub Journey! Nothin’ beats Writers Helping Writers Reach Readers!!!

      And I hear ya on the “Arithmetic”…it’s all about “doin’ the Math.” :-)

  26. Ann Logsdon says:

    I am so excited by your research into book lengths and what readers want! It seems the old addage about quality over quantity matters in literature as well!