Recently, on Twitter, I randomly asked a question of curiosity to my fellow serial writers. What’s your word count per chapter? It led to quite an interesting discussion, and I ended up inspired to write a post about the subject.
Word count is one of those things you don’t really think about. But after experiencing with writing serial novels on JukePop, and with my first try at self-publishing, I realized how important it is a thing to think about, especially during the editing process. Of course, different writers are bound to have different opinions on the issue, but it’s still something to really consider, not just from a writing point, but also readability and marketing point as well.
So I decided to share my thoughts on it. Of course, there will be plugs of the authors who contributed to the conversation. So yeah, read on!
I’ve always had a little thing against high word count per chapter. This is something that works for short stories because you are telling a complete tale. For something like a chapter-by-chapter book or serial, 5k is hard to grasp for attention.
Longer chapters are harder to build up, and easier to lose interest in before the next break. And it doesn’t allow as well pack a storytelling tool for a long novel. Even if one is confident in their story’s ability to hook, it’s not something for everyone.
Laurie stated that his reading speed is about 5k per 15 minute. Mine is around 2k. If you’re looking at publishing a book that is average in chapter length, you’re looking at about 200,000 words for 40 chapters if 5k is your average. That’s 25 hours of reading for me. Say I read 1 hour a day. That’s 25 days to finish 1 book, and I find that way too long. Of course, if you were reading at the speed of Laurie, you’d finished it in 10 hours, which is reasonable. But not everyone will read at that speed or length, and not everyone wants to.
On the plus side, whoever reads 5k worth of a chapter is definitely hardcore, and you won’t have to worry about losing them as a reader any time soon.
This is the average of a regular, non-serialized novel chapter length. You’re able to read it in a binge sitting, where you clear multiple chapters in one go. It’s in the length of being long enough that each chapter holds its own story, but short enough where you could still see the end of the chapter before you get off the bus.
The only downside to this is that your readers will usually be limited to the avid ones. Those who have been reading their whole lives and are capable of eating up a novel within a week. There’s the chance to alienate newer readers, people who go at a reading speed lower than even I.
Personally, I feel that if someone takes more than 30 minutes to finish 1 chapter of your story, that person would likely not become part of your permanent readership. I do however, get the love for this length. It gives an author sufficient time to explore while reaching the majority audience, and quite a few authors I know also write in this range.
This is the length in which I work with for most of my chapters, and my personal preference when it comes to writing serialized stories. I treat serial fiction like I do with mangas, in that if I take more than 10 minutes to go through 1 chapter, I am doing something terribly wrong.
Many of JP’s Top 30 writers (excluding me, cause I suck) seems to take this as their length of choice as well.
M. Howalt of Aconitum (@)
Kevin Boyer of Dread Lord Bob (@)
K R Williams of Freedom’s Gate (@)
N.C. Gossner of Arthur (@)
Jennifer Flath of The Black Pearl (@)
Kathy Joy of The Brotherhood (@)
Ryan Watt of Flocked (@)
Now, if you’ve ever read their works, you’ll notice that most of these guys did not just scratch Top 30 like 139: In Evening did. No. They went to the Top 30, sat there, and rubbed their butts all over the throne until they farted so hard they flew away.
My theory for this goes back to that manga comparison I make. Whenever I find a new manga I am interested in, and that manga has been in serialization for a long time, I would usually take out a day or two just to binge through 15 plus volumes to catch up to the present.
This works because a single chapter in a manga will take at most 10 minutes to go through. That’s 6 chapters an hour, 60 chapters a day, minimum. I can’t do that if it takes me 20-30 minutes to read a chapter.
If you can binge, you get more votes. If you get more votes, you get more readers. You get more readers, you get more binging, and the cycle goes on.
While there are merits to each length, for serial writing, I feel it is best to stick to the 1,500-2,500 range. The 3-4k range is good for traditional books and climax chapters, and decent for serials. And while 5,000 is really high, I can see it in the setting of grand epics, where the end product of the book can be used as foundation for a skyscraper, after using every single known word in the English language at least once.