Very recently there was a discussion posted on one of the Author groups I'm a member of. An author had posed a question, saying the book she was currently working on was finished, that it had clocked in at 160k words, and asked if she should split the book - making it 2 books instead of 1.
This group of authors is very supportive to each other. We freely ask for advice and opinions among each other, inquire about any successful promoting tools and tactics, share reviews that we've received... the list goes on. And there are always several of us who chime in with answers to those inquiries that are as varied as the genres each of us writes in, give our congrats on those reviews, etc.
Many suggested she split the book into 2, saying 160k was too long. Some said leave it. Some took the middle road and said depending on the genre, it could go either way (fantasy books tend to be longer, for example.)
I was one who suggested keeping it as one book, reason being that word count should never, NEVER dictate a story... ANY story. I went on to say that it doesn't matter if a story takes 50k words to tell or 200k, that the focus must remain on the story itself.
Now, the 'experts' may disagree. I use that term very loosely, because I think a lot of the time when those people are saying a story should remain around 70-80k, or that anything over 100k is 'too long'... they're focused on the wrong thing. They're focused on word count, on a statistic that tells them books in the range of X number of words sell more copies. But a good story isn't defined by word count. A good story is defined by the story itself.
The problem with letting word count define a story is if we aim for a certain length, we're already not giving that story our best. We're not giving readers our best. If it ends at 60k (after editing) and the target was aimed for 70k... 10,000 words of 'fluff' which do nothing to add to the story and can often take away from it would have to get added to hit that mark. If it ends at 80k (again, after editing) pieces of the story would have to get cut out in order to hit that mark - once again, taking away from the story.
A story is done when it's done. The story defines the word count, not the other way around. To do anything else is not giving either readers or the story what they deserve: the very best. That's my personal opinion from an author's point of view. Others will disagree, and that's perfectly fine. We are all entitled to our opinions on the subject, after all.
Another subject that was discussed was from a reader's view. Yes, I'm an author, but I'm just as much a reader. In order to continue to improve at my job, reading is a requirement, one which I love to do. I doubt there is a single author who doesn't love to read.
The issue was the number of pages in a book, which is basically word count, but readers don't count words, they count pages. Someone had mentioned that they don't read anything over 300 pages, which was just that person's personal preference when choosing what to read.
Here again, the focus is not on the story, but on its length. How many books have been written that are 350, 400, even 500 pages long? Limiting oneself to books of a certain length comes with the possibility that there is a book out there that could very well be a reader's all-time favorite book - but it's never realized because the book exceeds that page length, and thus that enjoyment is never discovered. One of my favorite books is It, by Stephen King, which my wife will most likely frown at me for because... well, clowns. She does not like clowns.
Word count for that particular book: 444,414. Number of pages: 1,138.
Granted, that's Stephen King, an established (very well established) writer, but the point remains that had I limited myself to page length, I never would have read It, let alone read the book about a dozen times more over the years. Again, this is just my personal opinion and others will disagree, but from a reader's viewpoint, the length of a book doesn't matter. It's the story within those pages that does.
Lastly, I'm going to hit a subject that, quite frankly, bothers and frustrates me. It has for some time, and I feel that it's time someone put themselves out in the open, even knowing that the flak and the bullets will likely start flying for talking about it. Regardless, I shall do so because it needs to be talked about: Pricing.
Before digital books came about, we only had paperbacks and hardcovers. Trade paperbacks could be picked up for anywhere from $4.99 to $7.99, hardcover books were pricier. That hasn't changed. When digital books came about and indie authors first came onto the field, opening up a plethora of books for readers to enjoy, it wasn't long before a pricing battle began, with the argument coming about that digital books shouldn't be priced the same as paperbacks because there were no printing costs involved. Fair enough, I can certainly agree with that, and I do agree with that.
The problem however, is that this thinking has gone far beyond that initial fair argument to the point that people want something for next to nothing. It's inflated to saying that digital books are overpriced and either shouldn't cost more than $0.99 or they should be free. Why? Because they're digital? Indie authors put just as many hours, pour just as much blood, sweat, and tears into their books as any other author. The fact that those books are available digitally doesn't take any of that away.
I'm not saying digital editions should be priced the same as a paperback, because that printing cost is taken out. But saying that digital books shouldn't cost more than $0.99 or should be available for free is essentially saying that all of the countless hours, the numerous headaches and frustrations, and all of the blood, sweat, and tears that we pour into our work is worthless. And to be perfectly blunt, it's saying we're worthless.
What bothers and frustrates me is that people will run to Starbucks to get their daily overpriced latte without batting an eye. They'll hand over the cost of theater tickets and pay the inflated prices of popcorn and snacks. They'll purchase tickets for concerts, ball games, waterparks... the list goes on. All of those things are bought and then consumed, watched, or done within a matter of minutes or a few hours, while reading a digital book can take days or sometimes weeks, since rarely do any of us have time to sit down and read a book from cover to cover. That's days/weeks of entertaining, of bringing readers to new worlds, introducing them to countless characters and firing their imaginations in endless ways. And here's the real blow: the pricing argument that digital books shouldn't cost more than $0.99, when you take a brutally honest look at it, is saying an indie author's hard work - those hundreds of hours, the headaches and frustrations, of pouring everything they can into their books... is worth less than a cup of coffee from Starbucks.
Those tickets get thrown in the trash. Those lattes and coffees don't care if they're enjoyed. But authors do care. We write our stories because we want to entertain others. We want to fire readers' imaginations. That's our job. We put in those long hours, we give our blood and sweat and tears for readers in order to be as good as we can be at our job without hesitation - because our readers deserve our very best. For us, our readers are worth everything that we go through in order to entertain them.
Everyone wants to be appreciated at their jobs, no matter what those jobs are. Sure, with any job the occasional mistake happens. And for the most part, every worker does better at their job when the work they do is appreciated. Usually that appreciation is shown with promotions, raises, even simple 'Nice Going!' paper awards.
Authors are no different. We make the occasional mistake, be it a typo or a missed punctuation. Personally, I'm an extreme perfectionist when it comes to my writing, to the point of it probably being considered obsessive because I want my work to be as close to perfect as possible. It's an impossible goal, as nothing is perfect, but I reach for it nonetheless - because my readers are worth striving for perfection. I'm not joking when I confess to uploading an update to one of my books about a year ago to fix a single typo I came across from one of the first books I wrote that Word's grammar checker hadn't caught - a single word which said truck instead of trunk. Yes, I actually uploaded an update that fixed a typo - a single letter changed in the entire 87k novel. If that's not the definition of obsessive perfectionism, I don't know what is.
We don't get promotions. Our job title begins as 'author' and no matter how many books we write, it remains 'author'. We don't get raises. If a book is priced at $3.99, it doesn't automatically go up with the 100th sale of that book, and unless we change it ourselves (which when we do, it's usually dropping the price, not raising it), it remains constant. The appreciation we get comes in the form of reviews that readers occasionally leave. Sometimes they're good, sometimes not. That's the nature of the job... we can't please everyone, and we don't expect to. But we look forward to those reviews nonetheless. I'm sure most authors will agree that they wish more readers posted honest, thoughtful reviews of their books. Sometimes the appreciation comes from emails that readers take the time to send us, and from the comments they leave on our Author pages. All of those things can turn our worse day around in a heartbeat.
Anyways, back to getting the flak attack and hail of bullets about the whole pricing thing. Look, I'm not saying digital books should be overpriced. $2.99-$4.99 per book is a fair price, perhaps a bit cheaper if it's less than novel length (50k words). Short stories that are like 10 pages long - yeah, those I agree should fall under that $0.99 price. Bundled packs are out there too, which put 2 or more books into a single digital set, with a lot of those basically at a 'Buy 2 Get One Free' price.
But that argument that digital books are 'overpriced' and should be $0.99 or free has made many authors put their hard work at that price point. Mostly because they feel they have to price it there in order to hope to have any chance whatsoever to get noticed. While the initial argument began as a fair observation about cheaper prices due to digital books not having printing costs, it's become a 'get something for nothing or next to nothing.' Fair price used to be $3.99-$4.99, then it dropped to $2.99, then $1.99. Now it's gotten to $0.99.
So here's the hard truth. For a book that's priced at $2.99 on Amazon, the author receives a bit over $2 (70% royalty). Anything priced less than that (even dropping a single penny to $2.98) and the royalty amount an author receives from a sale is cut in half, to 35%. So that whole 'digital books shouldn't cost more than $0.99' argument means that an author who's poured hundreds of hours of labor into a book that they set at that price gets about $0.35 per sale.
So what, right? Well, in a nutshell, it means that when an author prices a book at $0.99, they have to sell 7 copies for every 1 copy if they were to price it fairly at $2.99. And that's not factoring in all of the extra expenses that come with the job - like cover design, editors, and running ads to let people know that work is out there. The writing part is easy, compared to trying to promote ourselves and our work. When you look at any other job, I seriously doubt a single person would want to be told they have to do 7 times the work in order to make their hourly wage or salaried pay that they have now.
Authors give up far more than I think people realize, but we do it willingly because our readers mean that much to us. And yet, for all of our hard work, for all of our efforts to give nothing but our best to our readers, the argument that digital books are overpriced and shouldn't cost more than $0.99 coldly reminds us that despite doing everything we can to give readers their next favorite stories, we're less important than a cup of coffee from Starbucks.