A Book is Not a Piece of a Book

Posted by in Opinions

I’m an artist and I’ve been in the creation game for a long time. (Nearly 8 years since I started my first blog—amazing!)

Most criticism rolls off my shoulders, but every once in awhile I’ll see something that seems like it needs to be addressed. As an author, I am discouraged to respond to criticism by retailers and some sites don’t even allow it. I understand why—they don’t want authors to get all angsty or angry with people who are leaving their genuine opinions in reviews. It creates a hostile environment and lowers the quality of the relationship between these retailers and their customers—a relationship that is crucial to the long-term success of the book industry.

Also, as an author, I would never want to offend someone who is giving my work a chance and supporting the book industry in general by buying books. I appreciate all of that, I really do! Even if those people end up not liking my books or buying them. Every reader, even if they don’t read me, is a valuable part of the ecosystem that sustains me and helps pay my bills.

Still, there are comments on other sites that need to be addressed and the best place for me to address them is my blog. The comment I’m addressing today is about the idea that a story is not a book because it is shorter than a novel, or that I’m somehow breaking a book into partial books as part of a money-making scheme.

This comment seems to come up over and over again, particularly with serials (both mine and other authors’ serials series). So let me explain why serials are still books and why outside forces that have shifted the book industry are causing a ton of confusion in the reading community.

Because of the recent efforts of book companies like Amazon (yes, it started as an online bookstore), Barnes and Noble, and Kobo, online retail for ebooks has flourished over the years and self-published authors have the opportunity to share their work with readers in a professional format for pay. I could honestly never be more grateful for this because it has become a portion of my income month-to-month and has changed my life.

The advent of these new capabilities means that storytelling formats which fell out of popularity for many years have now had a resurgence, and they don’t quite look like books that come out of the traditional publishing model because they are not intended to be the same. In particular, formats like short stories, novellas, short novels, and serials are all coming back into fashion after decades of being unsustainable under the traditional publishing model. Tons of background on this, but let me give you the short version: it was too expensive to print and distribute these types of books because retailers couldn’t easily charge enough to cover these costs for them unless it was highly in-demand work (written by an insanely popular author, for example).

Now, the ebook revolution strips away the inefficiencies of printing and distribution and it is possible to sell these types of books at the prices they were intended to sell at. There’s a lot of debate over what “prices they were intended to sell at” means exactly, but for my purposes I’m just going to say they are cheaper than traditional novels because they have less content.

Because of this shift in the market, readers are seeing a resurgence in novellas, short stories, short novels, and serials available to them. This resurgence is happening primarily in ebook format. But because these books don’t look and read and feel like novels, and because novels = books in most readers minds (that’s all a “book” has ever been to them), readers think they are getting short-changed.

I knew when I published The Billionaire’s Alibi in serial format that I would see these types of comments and confusion. But here’s the thing—some authors love to write serials, and some readers love to read serials. Just like some authors love to write novels and some readers love to read novels.

I love writing serials because cliffhangers are a BIG part of the structure. (Also, because I AM EVIL, but if you’ve read the TBA series already knew that :).) I love building stories with cliffhangers, especially when there are mysteries to be had. This is also why I love watching television but can barely sit through movies—television shows try to stay fresh and addictive while movies tell a story from beginning to end. Totally different structures.

These structures mean that readers today have more choices than ever.

But it also means they need to pay closer attention to their likes and preferences and compare that to what authors are offering them. Readers need to make sure everything lines up, because a book today is NOT necessarily a 90,000 word, 400 page novel. A book can be a shorter novel, a novella, a novelette, or a short story. A story can be told as a series, a serial, or a standalone. A piece of literature can have a variety of structures, many “non-standard” (given that the standard is what traditional publishing has defined, which is 90,000 word, 400 page novels).

My serials are not published in pieces of books that readers have to put together. A book of my serial is a book, period. The way I write my serials and the breaking points I put into them are contained to that one book on purpose, which is why I release them that way and why I attempt to price them accordingly within the marketplace. Each book in my serials series has an overarching theme and a plot that is contained to just that serial. That plot is often resolved by the end, though the larger mystery of the series lives on, just as it does in any series of books.

As a reader, you might not like serials, and that’s fine. Feel free to stick to novels or whatever other format you prefer, but realize that I am offering novella series and novella serials and that’s what you’re getting when you read my books.

Perhaps the best analogy is the idea of digging half a hole. You can’t do it—a hole is just a hole is just a hole, no matter its size.

A book is just a book is just a book, too. The reader gets to choose what size they want.