This interesting topic has come up again recently for me, and it's one that has seen quite a lot of heated debate since well, about as long ago as when stories were first published, or even invented. How long is too long? How short is too short? What's the right length for a publishable work? I feel like Goldilocks and the three bears just thinking about it.
Too short, and your story isn't publishable. There's just not enough profit to be made over such a small story and it won't cover the costs it incurs. And while short stories and flash fiction can be combined into anthologies and collections, with some exceptions, even those are not terribly popular and are difficult to sell for all but the most popular authors.
Too long, and your story is again not publishable. No one will touch it because it will cost too much to put into print. They won't have the profit margins they need to make the money they need to off the book. They have strict guidelines in place to maintain profitability, and they need to in order to continue publishing.
But the problem lies in the stories themselves. A good writer can tweak the story some to control the length of the work he produces, but a story is really exactly the length it needs to be to be told. If the story is told as it should be in 30,000 words, then so be it. That's the length it needs to be.
But how to you sell the thing at that length, especially if you don't want to pare it down to a short story magazines will buy, or pump another 20,000 words into it to market it as a novel? After all, at those lengths, changing the story by that many words is essentially taking half of it away or nearly doubling it in length, and that changes a story to the point where it's essentially a different story altogether.
That's exactly my latest quandary. I'm still toying with the idea of putting out an e-book, to experiment with the new market, and to gain more experience and a better understanding of the moves the publishing industry may be making in the near future.
I don't really want to put one of my novels out there. I just don't feel it's the right move to make at the moment. I thought about bundling 50,000 words of my favorite short stories and putting them out as an anthology, but I don't know about that either. It might be a good idea, but I'm hesitant to put so many of them together and publish them all at once. I don't really know why, other than the fact that I'm obsessed with doing things the right way the first time.
Which leads me to my novellas. I have two of them so far that are sweet middle of the road lengths that are too long for almost every magazine and too short for publication as stand-alone books. But e-books change the dynamic on things. There's no length restrictions with e-books, because it takes no more resources to crunch a novella to the proper format as it does an epic novel. Maybe a few more bytes of memory, and maybe a little more time to save the thing, but really, in today's age of gigabytes and terabytes, that's not an issue.
There may be additional editing expenses for longer works, but for a novella that's not the case. On the surface it seems like the perfect solution. If I want to push the envelope on my writing a little further and explore the e-book experience, novellas may be the perfect way to do it. I can put those stories out for people to read in a medium that allows it, while saving shorter and longer work for the more traditional methods already established in the industry. And if I ever want to go back and put the novellas in print, I might have a better shot at doing that by bundling two or three of them together as an anthology once I get my career off the ground.
I really, sincerely hope the advent of e-books have changed the dynamic of publishing so much that an entire market for novellas and novelettes has been created. I hope the floodgates open for these mid-length stories and sales prove they're just as viable as works of other length in the marketplace, and just as important for the reader. It would be nice to see that, because there's something to be said about a story of that length. They're fun to read. They let you in a little more than a short story does, and a lot more than flash fiction. They allow you a little closer than just the quick peek of shorter fiction, but yet don't take the time and emotional commitment of a novel. After all, when you buy a novel, you're committing both time and emotional energy to something you don't even know you you'll like. With a novella, you can get pulled into a really great story without investing the time and energy necessary for a novel. It's a happy medium. It's not the day trip, nor is it the two-week family vacation, but the weekend getaway of reading, and I think there's a need for that.
We'll see how things turn out, but for now it looks like the evolution of the publishing industry may have taken a turn for the betterment of stories. After all, if it allows the publication of those stories stuck in the no man's land of "improper" length, that's a win for readers and authors alike.