How Thick Is An Ebook?

how thick is an ebook

There’s an old story that goes like this.

When an author submitted his new 35,000-word manuscript to his/her literary agent, the agent says, ‘um, looks good, but can you pad it out to 90,000 words?’

This, of course, was when the physical dimensions of a book were considered important, because the thicker the book, the more potential sales value it would carry when it sat on a shelf in a bookstore.

When I look at some of the books in my own book case, my collection of James Clavell novels are all very thick, either in hardback or paperback, yet in the middle of them is King Rat, which must have escaped Clavell’s literary agent’s attention, as it is a very short novel.

Further on are my Douglas Adams books, and starting with Hitchhikers’s Guide to the Galaxy, which is an incredibly short, and thin book; it is noticeable that all the subsequent books by Adams became thicker and thicker. The Salmon of Doubt looks like a tome next to HHGTTG.

Today, however, while the physical size of a book may still matter in a bookstore, what about ebooks?

It only takes a quick scan of a handful of ebooks, say in the Kindle Store, to notice that the number of pages that constitutes an ebook is almost as wide as the Pacific.

In two minutes I found ebooks ranging from 10 to 950 pages. There were rumours in 2013 that Amazon had set a minimum word count of 2,500 words, which was reported by many blogs including Galleycat.

I struggle to accept that 2,500 words can constitute a book, ebook or otherwise, but that is for others to decide.

What is noticeable, however, it that short read ebooks are very popular. A check of some of the bestseller lists on Kindle reveals that ebooks at around 100 -150 pages are selling very well.

In past times, books of this length would have been classed as novellas, but as an ebook has no dimensions, it hardly matters what it is called now. It’s an ebook.

While I persist in informing my readers upfront if one of my ebooks is a novella, and therefore a short read, perhaps I am showing my age, and needn’t bother anymore.

It’s just an ebook.

Who cares?

Derek Haines

Derek Haines is an Australian author, living in Switzerland.

9 thoughts on “How Thick Is An Ebook?

  • I have the same policy—if one of my books is novella length, I call it out as a novella. I feel like doing otherwise is going to upset some people I’d rather remain friendly with.

    But one thing I will cop to—I’m writing a lot MORE short books now.

    Most of my books are falling under 100K words. The most current books are in the 5o-70K range. Still a pretty decent length, and in paperback they look nice and substantial on the shelf. But the majority of indie authors I talk to feel like 100K is pushing the bottom limit. So I’m kind of torn on that score.

    But I’ve taken to writing “episodes” lately. Some of my books are falling around 20K words. And, frankly, I think that’s enough space to tell the right kind of story. It’s a substantial enough read to keep the reader happy, I think, but also allow me to churn out a volume of individual books rather than focusing on a volume of pages.

    Still … I think you should always warn the reader, and I think you should adjust pricing appropriately.

    Reply
    • Thanks for your insightful comment, Kevin. I still write full length novels, say 70-100k, but strangely, a couple of my novellas at 20-30k sell much better, and at almost the same price as my full length efforts. If I can earn $3.99 for a 25k novella, against no more than $4.99 for 100k novel, what should I do?

      I have pride in my writing, but then there is food to pay for. The ebook market is new, and different. One that likes a fast feed it seems, so I will need to adapt, like you seem to have done already.

      Reply
  • I’m working my way through your articles. Just read the one on 10 mistakes not to make. I found that one refreshing. I’ve been trying to take the advice not to talk about my books except for special reasons or promotions, but to build relationships instead. I’ve found that it’s a lot of fun.
    I’ve nominated you for an award, The Dragon’s Loyalty Award. If you want to participate, check out the directions at justcanthelpwriting.wordpress.com. I’ll have them posted by Saturday!

    Reply
    • I’m glad to hear you are getting ideas from my blog, Virginia. And thanks for the award nomination!

      Reply
  • A novella is a novella, is a novella, not a novel. Thank you for stating the distinction.

    Reply
  • Size matters, especially when it comes to price.

    I don’t mind buying a short story or a novella if I know that’s what I’m getting, but a “book” shouldn’t be less than 100 pages or 40,000 words. It’s about setting expectations and delivering value for money, and too many people are charging book prices for short fiction. (And vice versa, but that’s another rant.)

    Personally, I blame Amazon’s royalty structure. The 70% range shouldn’t be static. It should be adjusted for length, to allow people to sell a short story for a buck and make a fair amount from each sale. The same goes for epic-length box sets on the other end of the scale; if I’ve got three full-length novels on the market for $5 each, I should be able to collect them into a $12 box without cutting my throat on the royalties.

    It’s hard for fiction to come in all shapes and sizes when the price structure is one-size-fits-all.

    Reply
    • True, JB. At least Kindle do give a page count, so buyers are informed. However, the page count is not perfect, as some are based on a paperback version, which can be misleading. Whereas ebooks without a paperback version are based on KENP. The results can be wildly different.

      As for a flexible royalty scale, I’m not sure Amazon how Amazon could do this fairly. As a $0.99 to under $2.99 ebook only qualifies for 35% royalty, it’s hard to see how a change could be applied, unless the royalty rate was increased, which would naturally be unprofitable for Amazon.

      So, because ebooks that are priced at $2.99 or above qualify for 70% royalty, of course authors of novellas choose this price.

      Reply
      • That’s my point – the $2.99 70% floor creates a perverse incentive to jack up the prices of short fiction. I see 5000-word short stories at that price way too often, and that’s too expensive. At the same time, I see authors selling full-length books at 99 cents just to get exposure, or $2.99 because that’s the 70% floor, when they should be asking more.

        I mean, I like a bargain as much as anyone else, and I understand that processing fees are basically static, but there should be a way for authors to sell short fiction for a decent royalty without having to price it out of their audience’s range. What good does it do me to make 70% on $3 if nobody pays that?

        Reply
  • Got a friend who is trying the mainstream route for her book and is still being told by agents and writing tutors that the MS must be 85,000 words!
    My ebooks and paperbacks range 72k to 101k and all sell. I’d love to word count “published” novels to find out how many really are 85,000.
    My latest will finish around 75,000 because that’s where the story ends. Another 10,000 to pad out would be ridiculous. (One reviewer who doesn’t like me says my books already have “too many words” – and she’s bought three of them!)
    Like the idea of a novella though, very useful for good ideas that don’t have the legs for longer but they would have to be cheaper or I’d feel I was cheating the reader.
    The publishing industry though! One name of some renown told me that Medieval Crime Comedy was three things and I was only ALLOWED one!! Ignore these people!

    Reply

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