Bring on the Novel!

Ptolemy Lane Gets A Full Length Story

I’ve had a back-and-forth tussle with myself and with readers for over a year now, about short versus long stories.  It’s not at all cut-and-dried, these days.

When traditional publishing was the only game in town, everyone wrote novels.  Period.  More, they were very long novels–especially in this century, when paper costs meant charging more for a book, so publishers would stuff more pages into the book (which cost less than printing a whole new book), to justify the higher price.

In some genres, science fiction in particular, there was a very active magazine market, too.  That was where the short stories, novelettes and novellas found a home.  But there weren’t many magazines (paper costs, again), and they didn’t pay very much (except for the Big 4 or 5 pro markets) so mostly, authors wrote novels, because there were more places to market them and stand a chance of earning decent money.

Problems with Length

The problems with length of story started around this time.

Originally, a “novel” was considered to be any story above 43,000 words.  And according to the SFWA–which is now the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association–a novel still starts at that length.

They break up story lengths this way:

Under 1,000 words:  Flash Fiction

1,000 to 7,500 words:  Short Story

7,500 to 17,500 words:  Novelette

17,500 to 43,000 words: Novella

43,000 words and up:  Novel

The Romance Writers of America use the same cutoffs, but add another tier:

43,000 to 100,000 words: Novel

100,000 words and up: Super Novel (or Plus-Sized Novel)

In the golden age of SF, a novel was usually at the lower end of the scale.  50K words was considered perfectly adequate to tell a good tale properly.

But now, traditional publishers all want plus-sized novels.

Then there’s indie publishing, which takes advantage of the ebook-first market, which allows authors to publish a story of any length at all as a standalone product, a “book”.

As soon as indie publishers escaped the limitations of an arbitrary page count, they began to write novels that ended up being the length they needed to be. They avoided the bloated plotting and verbose prose and told fast, clean stories that clipped along like nobody’s business.

Hardly surprising that as the readers grew to enjoy the fast pace and lean storytelling (once more), they looked for more stories like that.  Indie authors provided.

I have been publishing since 1999, and 100% indie since 2011.  I trained myself to write super-sized novels when I was still trying to break into publishing, but I switched to ebook-first and ebook-only markets from the very first.  My first professional sale was to an ebook-first company and my second sale (in the same week) was to a traditional book publisher.   The ebook-first book was 50,000 words.  The traditional sale was for a 95,000 word book.

Since I became 100% indie, I’ve re-learned how to tell well constructed, tight stories, and my novels have slowly shrunk from the bloated 100K to hover around 70,000 as an average.  Most of the authors I know have found the same thing; their readers like the faster reads, and the shorter word counts.

Grey Hat Tactics?

One of the advantages of indie publishing is that authors can get immediately, accurate feedback from readers about what does and does not work with their stories.  Readers tell us via sales.  If a story works, more readers buy it.

It’s a harsh feedback mechanism, but it works.

Readers have told indie authors for many years that they prefer very long novels they can sink into. You know, like the traditional publishers sell, and trained millions of readers to enjoy.

Yet readers have told indie authors in the last few years via indie sales counts that they like the shorter length stories much more than the very long tales.

I know of at least two authors, who I won’t mention by name here for reasons that will be obvious in a second, who don’t write anything longer than short novellas, and haven’t for years.

They don’t tell their readers the stories are novellas.

And their sales are more robust than mine.

I’m in the opposite camp.  I prefer to be open about the stories I’m offering.  In part, that is why I’m writing this post.  I’ve always made sure you know the length of the story you’re contemplating reading.

Especially with ebooks, you can’t tell just by looking at it what the general size of the story is. I’ve been both pleasantly and unpleasantly surprised by how short/long a story ended up being, that didn’t disclose the general length in the book’s description.

Everything Else But Novels

I love short stories, novelettes and novellas.  I grew up reading Golden Age short stories and appreciate the form in a way that many readers do not.  I’ve had lots of emails from readers who say they abhor short stories and flatly refuse to read them.

But there are many more readers (especially in SF) who love them.

After spending nearly a year writing a big, full novel every single month (The Iron Hammer series), I indulged myself with shorter stories for a while.  Novelettes, mostly, but also half a dozen short stories and flash fiction, which you will see later this year.  (The first of those I’ll be announcing in a few days).

One of those shorter projects was the Ptolemy Lane tales.  The series begun because I did a favor for a friend who desperately needed a story to fill his magazine, and knew I could hit the deadline.  The magazine for that month had the theme of “peacekeepers”…and a word count limit.

And so Ptolemy Lane was created. The Body in the Zero Gee Brothel was first published in the magazine and later, as a standalone indie published tale.  Shortly, a second Ptolemy Lane tale came along, which appeared in Space Opera Digest 2021: Fight or Flight.  By then, I stopped writing Lane tales for magazines and wrote them to build the series itself.  The third tale went straight to indie-published.

And so, without further ado….

It was around this time I started getting hints from reviewers, street team members and general readers that they wanted a Ptolemy Lane novel.

As it had been too long since I’d written full length SF, I wondered if I could overcome my completionist tendencies and break out of the novelette format that had been established, and write a novel.

Apparently, I can.

An early reviewer said:

Cameron’s short stories were awesome in themselves but a mind like Jovan’s has got to have an expanded adventure.

Welcome to the adventure.  🙂

——–

Serials can’t feel emotions as humans do.

Or so Ptolemy Jovan Lane has always insisted.  Yet when he learns that an old friend, Marija, might still be alive, he leaves an unsolved murder behind him in order to dash across the fringes to find her, bringing his human assistant, Ninety-Nine, with him.

His intention is purely to learn the truth, but his impetuous mission goes swiftly and spectacularly awry, leaving Ninety-Nine and him cut off and at the mercy of an enemy Jovan didn’t know he had.

The Ancient Girl in the Autopod is the fourth story and the first full novel in the Ptolemy Lane space opera science fiction series by award-winning SF author Cameron Cooper.

The Ptolemy Lane Tales:
1.0: The Body in the Zero Gee Brothel
2.0: The Captain Who Broke the Rules
3.0: The Maker of Widowmakers’ Arm
4.0: The Ancient Girl in the Autopod
____

The Ancient Girl in the Autopod was released this morning on all bookseller sites, everywhere.

It is also available at my publisher site, where you can earn reward points toward your next purchase.

Buy from your favourite bookseller

Buy directly from me.

Enjoy!