Friend Friday: Daniel Humphreys On Proper Word Counts For Indie Authors

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This Friday I’m happy to be joined by my good friend, Dan Humphreys. He’s best known for his Dragon Award nominated zombie series, but he also does really cool urban fantasy work with Fade, his recent book out by Silver Empire Press. He stops by to talk about word counts for indie authors, and how long your book should ideally be.

For regular readers of Jon’s blog, it should come as no surprise that he has strongly held opinions, and that he’ll stick to his guns.

On one particular issue, he and I don’t agree, and as much as he’s tried, he’s never been able to change my mind.

Lest you think this is something serious, I’m talking about word counts.

Not too long after we met, Jon was absolutely flabbergasted when I offered him a copy of my first book, A Place Outside The Wild. At just shy of 180,000 words, Wild weighs in, literally, at over 600 pages in trade paperback.†”Dude. Write shorter books,” Jon said. As I recall, the larger conversation was about publication speeds. Since Wild came out in September of 2016, I’ve put out three novels, with a fourth due next month. All in all, that works out to two books a year, which is pretty solid if I do say so myself. In the release aspect, obviously, writing shorter books is the way to go if you want to go quarterly or more frequently.

I grew up reading Tom Clancy and Stephen King. If a book wasn’t a doorstop, more often than not, I didn’t regard it as worth reading. That more than anything probably informs my predilection for epic tales, but for me, at least, I usually feel like the story demands what it demands in terms of space. Could I have trimmed a bit from Wild? Possibly. Being honest, probably. As a reader, long books always struck me as a better value proposition. And growing up in Phoenix, I wanted to make those trips to the library on my mountain bike†count. There was less opportunity to melt into the pavement if I got enough big books to tide me over for a week or two.

The funniest part, of course, is that I’ve gotten better. My novel Warhawks, will never be for sale because I have no desire to go back and put in the work that it needs. It’s the first book in what I always planned to be a space opera trilogy, written over twenty years ago. It’s also almost a thousand pages wrong. I’ve been serializing it and poking fun at myself with the moniker #FreeAwfulNovel over at my own blog. On the bright side, scanning it to PDF is letting me recycle a†lot†of paper.

So in that regard, darn it, Jon is correct. Writer shorter books. The sequel to Wild, A Place Called Hope, is a mere 130,000 words for a total of over a quarter-million words of zombies, explosions, and heroic deeds. My urban fantasy series is a hiccup in comparison–the first two books in the series combined are only a bit larger than Hope. Somewhere, Jon pumps his fist and declares victory.

The real question is what you, the audience, thinks. Do you prefer shorter, more frequent works, or waiting a bit longer for something hefty? The tradpub model has long been one release a year for established authors. The indie revolution has turned that notion on its ear, and writing teams like Nick Cole and Jason Anspach, or Chris Kennedy, Mark Wandrey, and their crew, are pumping out new releases every other month if not more. I’d love to hear your takes in the comments.

–The first book in Daniel Humphreys’ Paxton Locke urban fantasy series, Fade, is available now from Amazon. Book two, Night’s Black Agents releases June 19, and the third book, Come, Seeling Night, will be available early 2019. (Sooner, if Jon can keep pushing Dan to ‘write shorter books.’)


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10 thoughts on “Friend Friday: Daniel Humphreys On Proper Word Counts For Indie Authors

  1. I have a few thoughts about this. First, if a series is gripping … I don’t mind it split over multiple novels, but I want the novels to keep coming. So shorter&faster is better than longer&2yrs.

    Second, if a series is gripping .. . I want to read more of it. I’m sure glad Correia is getting help in the Monster Hunters universe from other authors because if I had to wait as long for the next Monster Hunter book as I’m apparently going to have to wait for the next Hard Magic book … I’d be seriously upset. (But not upset enough to threaten him, or anything, ’cause I’m not stupid. I don’t want to get fisked by him …) And where’s the next Harry Dresden adventure anyway?

    And third … unmentioned by you but it is certainly on my mind … shorter books means less $$$/book (sale price) … and that’s an advantage indie author’s have over tradpub … and it should work out for you well too, because I’ll buy a $5 or under book that I know nothing about without even thinking about it if it is recommended by an author I already read (like, say, _A Place Outside The Wild_) but traditional prices (these days) make me hesitate. Ultimately that means I buy a lot more books than I used to and spend more money than I used to … but in smaller individual bites to the wallet … psychology is funny …

    So, in summary: Shorter, faster, cheaper. I want it all!

    (I’m now looking forward to _… Wild_ this weekend, and hopefully then _… Hope_ next week …)

    • The interesting competitive advantage that indie and smaller press writers have (particularly if Amazon-exclusive) is the 70% share of royalties. So we can charge significantly less on a per-unit basis but still make the same amount, if not more, than a tradpub author. Cheaper books for the consumer, better margins for the writer. Win-win.

      Enjoy Wild!

    • To be fair to Butcher, he’s undergone a few Life Upheavals in the past couple of years. Stuff happens that will completely stall your creative output–even good ones can be disruptive. However, if you haven’t checked out the Dresden graphic novels, I urge you to do so. He’s got a collection of shorts coming out soon too.

      As far as wordcount goes, as a reader, I don’t care. I will devour things by my favorite authors regardless, and regardless of how long they take between works. As a writer, well… I am not a natural novelist. My poor fans (all five of them) have had to wait three years between book one and book two. I only have a very vague idea of what book three will be about, and I have three other novels I’m planning to write before I dive back into that universe because I don’t want to get pigeonholed.

      It’s a balancing act.

  2. I put out a book a month. Been doing it for almost a year. My sales are at the same level as Nick’s. On the subject of page count, people don’t want long novels in ebooks. 60 to 80 thousand words is what they’re looking for, and they’re looking for series, long series. The longer the series, the better.

    I write under both a pen name, and my own name and my fans are all aware of both. I needed to do a bit of brand separation, and it’s worked out well for me. (Jan Stryvant is my pen name)

    • Y’all are obviously the gold standard. I look forward to the day writing becomes a hobby and I can hung up the spurs on my career.

      The series thing is very true. I had intended Wild to be standalone, and honestly just wanted to get it out of my head so I could focus on the Paxton series, but the response was just amazing. So now I’m working on completing a trilogy and plotting out a second trilogy to come at some point, heh.

    • Well – there are series that are _too_ long. _Wheel of Time_ retired the trophy there, of course, but seriously, I have recently read to the end of 2 different indie series that went on too long and the idea was dead, then beaten to death again and then I stopped. Some concepts just don’t extend past the first 5, or 4, or sometimes even 3 or 2 novels. In one sense I didn’t mind because, again, I paid less than $5 for each book in the series, but on the other hand, I have to admit, it left me feeling somewhat let down by the author.

      • Well the Valens Legacy series was originally outlined as three 6 book arcs. The response to the first arc was enough that I am now writing the middle book of the second arc. It does get harder, the longer you go, but there are a lot of people who like longer series / stories.
        Still it will be interesting to see where sales are at the end of the second arc (book 12) If they continue to be strong I’ll quite happily write the third arc.

  3. Oh here’s an off the wall comment: Each book in the series needs to be a complete book. A complete standalone book. By standalone I’m not talking about bringing the new reader up to date with the backstory. I’m talking about having a proper end. Where things come to a conclusion.

    On of my all-time favorite best authors of the kind of sci-fi I like best, Larry Niven, really turned me – and many others – off with _Bowl of Heaven_ (co-written with Benford). Which had a lot of problems – just look at the reviews on Amazon – let me repeat a _lot_ of problems but one real nasty problem that left a bad taste in the mouth of those who bought it when it came out was the combination of a) ending right in the middle of the action with no attempt whatsoever to reach any kind of finish combined with b) no indication whatsoever on the cover or back cover blurb or description or anywhere at all that indicated it was the first book of an intended series …

    Well, I’m glad I got that off my chest. Now back the more helpful comments …

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