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I've been reading a lot of posts on here where a writer got a bad review because the reader, even though he/she liked the story very much, thought it wasn't long enough. For the life of me, I can't figure out what that's supposed to mean. As writers, we have more insight into craft and can maybe give better (more helpful) reviews than someone writing one based entirely on their feelings. What do you think they're trying to say?

1) They wish, physically, the story was longer. This can't be it, can it? That they wish there were more words? That something that was described in 20 words was instead described in 200?
2) They wish there was more story. Like, they wanted there to be a sub-plot that wasn't there. If so, then how did they know they wanted it? Did they want more stuff to happen in the story that they already liked.
3) The story ended abruptly. This one is (often) legitimate. If a writer doesn't resolve their story or plot threads, I can see how it can be frustrating for a reader that wants closure. Of course, sometimes abrupt endings can be intentional, but I think if that is your intention, it is a big risk as to how it is interpreted. But there's a difference between saying that something wasn't long enough and saying something didn't have an ending.
4) They actually mean it as a compliment. What the reader is saying is "I enjoyed it so much, I'm sad that it ended." I bet most of us have felt this way before. This one is unfortunate, though. The reader doesn't know that rating something poorly for this reason actually hurts the author instead of complimenting them.

I was just wondering what your opinion on this was. What do they mean and how can we get them to better tell us what they wanted/expected? I've got thirteen shorts up (between 3,000 and 20,000 words and always labeled as short stories) and don't have this problem (no sales and no reviews means no one can tell me that they wish they were longer - ha!). But to me, a good story is a good story, no matter length.

I would never say that I wish "A Rose for Emily" or "The Tell-Tale Heart" was longer. They are what they are and complete. I got just as much pleasure from reading them as I did "The Stand" or "Cloud Atlas" because they're good stories. Why does shorter length turn folks off of reading something?
 

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I'd go for #4, final answer :) Unless there were reasons to believe otherwise, I'd think the reader enjoyed the story and wanted more.
 
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Generally, what they say is that while the story was good, the author didn't do enough to flesh the story out to its full potential. Casual readers aren't professional book critics and don't always know how to articulate what is wrong with a book. So they use shorthand like "too short" or "not edited." So allow me to take off my reader hat and translate this for you in editor-speak ;D

They wish, physically, the story was longer.
Ever read the Cliff Notes of a novel? Or a synopsis on Wikipedia? You "get" the entire story, but you don't "get the entire story. It's a similar issue with some novels. The author gives a good framework for the story, but missed opportunities to flesh out characters more or develop the setting. Saying that they wish the story was longer is code for saying that the author missed chances to develop characters more and make the story meatier.

They wish there was more story.
Do you play video games? Are you familiar with the terms "linear" versus "sandbox"? This is generally what readers mean, even if they aren't articulating it. The primary plot moves along, but there is nothing else going on. Again, this is often a worldbuilding issue. The main story seems to be happening in a void where there is NOTHING ELSE HAPPENING in the universe. Sometimes authors focus so specifically on only those things directly related to the plot that they forget that their plot is happening somewhere and that more people exist in the world besides the main character.
 

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Not to be a cynic, but I disagree with number 4. A reader must realise that rating something badly for that reason would be construed as a negative. It's something I'd rate highly and then put that the bad bit was that it ended!

I have to say that I've read books where I've wished they'd been developed more. More sub-plots, more character development, more characters even, to see the ways in which they're interacting with a main character I like or the response they'd command.

A lot of people, like myself, just seem to dislike the short story. I don't want something to end the moment I've become invested in it. I want to become more than invested, I want to become immersed. I think that's the problem - good writers are writing good stories, but at the point where the reader is on the precipice, ready to plunge into the world you're creating, it seems to end. It might be a satisfactory end, but you'll still be left with a little 'oh, is that it then?'

I guess it's a lose-lose situation. You write a short story, people will want a novella. You write a novella, people will want a novel. You write a novel... well. What more can they ask for, short of War and Peace?
 

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momilp said:
I'd go for #4, final answer :) Unless there were reasons to believe otherwise, I'd think the reader enjoyed the story and wanted more.
I'd agree but it depends on the stars. Too short and five stars is a good thing, one star is a bad thing.
 

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Andrea Harding said:
I guess it's a lose-lose situation. You write a short story, people will want a novella. You write a novella, people will want a novel. You write a novel... well. What more can they ask for, short of War and Peace?
They ask for sequels. :)
 

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I feel like the influx of short stories and serials has sort of caught readers unawares, and many self-published novels tend to run on the shorter side because of the pressure authors feel to continually put out new material. I think a lot of self-published authors would take a 500 page book and split it up into two 250 page books because it can make more money for them. Not saying it's good or bad, but that's the strategy a lot of indies follow.  
 

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I think #3 is often one of the main ones. Some authors just don't know how to close out a story in a satisfying way, or raise questions that absolutely demand answers and then disappoint readers by not answering them. For instance, William Gibson is one of my favorite authors, but he can't end a book to save his life; he's often had me completely engrossed in a story, only to end it on an abrupt anticlimax that left me scratching my head. David Brin's uplift trilogies are both maddeningly riddled with unresolved plot lines.

However I think #1 is more legitimate than it sounds. It's not so much that a reader wants something to feel drawn out, but a story that's written to a shorter length may end up feeling unintentionally rushed. Awhile back I wrote a short story that ended up turning into a novella as I went along, because there was more to the plot than a short story could sustain. But I was never able to cap it off with an appropriate ending line, and it sat at 99.9% finished. I finally realized that the reason was that it hadn't earned an ending. The story was okay, but it was jumping from plot point to plot point in a manner that, looking back, felt too abrupt. So I rewrote the entire thing as a novel instead, using the original for guidance, and the result was much more satisfying. It also gave me room to explore things that the novella space did not.

The lesson I draw from this is that pacing is a tricky beast to master, and closure is no pushover either.

The other possibilities do come up, though. I've seen #4 in action. Tolkien said it about the Lord of the Rings, in agreement with many readers, but clearly it's only too short in the sense that those who get thoroughly immersed want to stay that way. For #2, that might be legitimate if you give your characters depth that they can't act on, or suggest more is going on behind the scenes without ever showing any of it. If you hint at something that could have, perhaps should have, been explored within the story, readers could be disappointed.
 

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I think the list is incomplete.

I've read a short book because the author lost interest in the middle of act 2. You can tell, from the sentences and lack of detail, that they were rushing a deadline and cut the story short.

I've read short books that promised to be an epic, but ended up being two brothers fighting over a girl. This is a big issue with cross genre books. You must meet expectations of each genre. It's a thriller-epic-romance-fantasy, but act 3 is nothing but a lame love triangle. The thriller and epic parts were dropped, and the result is unsatisfying.

I don't think the problem is one of word counts or details. The author unintentionally made some promises to the reader, and didn't deliver.

If I think things are being foreshadowed, and then it turns out it was just filler, I feel ripped off.

It's usually lazy writing, to meet deadlines, like the sophomore slump.

One of my favorite writers put together an awesome trilogy for his debute, but his sequels were obviously written fast and on deadline. They aren't nearly as good, and he has acknowledged that in a couple of interviews. He spent ten years planning his first 3 books. The last couple of books he just slapped together in a couple months.

I've read shorts that weren't labeled as shorts, and novellas that weren't labeled as novellas. If your story is 100 pages long, and you market it as a novel, you will piss people off.

If it's labeled and marketed correctly, and people still complain, then its usually lazy writing.
 

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I think a lot of self-published authors would take a 500 page book and split it up into two 250 page books because it can make more money for them. Not saying it's good or bad, but that's the strategy a lot of indies follow.
This isn't entirely an indie strategy either. I read buckets of YA books and last year there were several trade-pubbed books I read that were super short (~200 pages) that ended on an unsatisfying cliff-hanger. Whether it's true or not, those books tend to feel like they were 500 pages but the publishers/editors/authors/whomever maybe all together as a group decided it should be a series so they cut it in half.

I think the key is to tell a satisfying story that leaves the reader feeling it was complete, even if it was short. Of course not matter how good and well done it is, you'll probably always get people who didn't read the details and complain that it's only a short story/novella.
 

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As long as you inform the reader how long it is in the blurb, there is really nothing else you can do methinks. Don't pad your book with fluff because of .01% of your readers are idiots. Honestly, the other 99 percent don't care about word count as long a you told the story to their satisfaction.

Most readers don't care about word count as long as you fulfill their entertainment needs.

(there is always the possibility that it is your competition writing those complaints as well)
 

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Soothesayer said:
As long as you inform the reader how long it is in the blurb, there is really nothing else you can do methinks. Don't pad your book with fluff because of .01% of your readers are idiots. Honestly, the other 99 percent don't care about word count as long a you told the story to their satisfaction.
By no means should a story be padded for padding's sake. Yet Julie's advice can't be ignored either: Sometimes authors have not properly fleshed out their story. There's a difference between putting meat on the bones and adding fat. Many authors fail to give their stories depth, and this is something readers often pick up on without being able to explain why.
 

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I've read books before that I thought were good but should have been longer. In most cases, the problem wasn't any of the options on your list; it was that the stories felt... the opposite of padded. They felt skeletal. Like there was a lot that should have been fleshed out that wasn't, and that it rushed to the end too quickly.

Some readers also just prefer longer works. I'm one of them, so I understand. I've read a few novellas that probably wouldn't have worked as full novels, but that didn't leave me satisfied in the way a novel would have because they were so short. A reader without a writer's insight might feel that way about a book and leave a review saying it should have been longer when the problem was actually with the reader and not the book.
 

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I think of Samuel Johnson's comment on "Paradise Lost": "None ever wished it longer than it is."

So when beta readers have commented that my (unpublished) short story should be longer, I consider that at least better than if they wished it were shorter.

 

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Depending on the genre, I think that the general expectation when you buy a book is that it will be full length (i.e. around 90,000 words or up). I know that earlier on in the e-book world I bought several books where I was taken completely unawares. I thought I was buying a full length book but got and hour or two of reading instead. It bugged me and I felt like I got taken for a ride until I learned to focus on the 'estimated page length" note so I could be sure what I was buying.

Secondarily, it could mean that they felt the book wasn't developed enough.

In conjunction with that, maybe they enjoyed it so much they wished it would keep going.

I've also read books where I wanted to see more ending and aftermath, but they ended too abruptly. Which is a matter of taste I'm sure.
 

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Reviews are simply too subjective to categorize or analyze. Writers run themselves crazy trying to figure out what the reviewer "really" means. The only way to know is to ask them and yet engaging in a conversation with a reviewer usually ends badly. I've even considered making up a questionnaire that reviewers might respond to after they have reviewed a book. It would have to consist of objective, unbiased questions that would be useful in a scientific manner. Most writers find it difficult to remain objective about their own works in the first place. Asking for an unbiased opinion and getting one is still a matter of subjectivity to some extent based on the reviewer's state of mind at the time he/she answered the questions. He/she might be having a bad hair day when they wrote the review. They might be having a worse day when they answer the questionnaire, or, as is usually the case, they will simply ignore the questionnaire altogether and feel bothered that the author would ask "so much" of them. The thinking might go something like "Hey! I bought your book, I read it and I wrote a review. What more do you want from me?"
Too many variables go into the writing of a review. Skew just one of them a little and the number of possible outcomes seems infinite.
My opinion? Take reviews with a box of sea salt and move on.
 

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I'm going to offer a stupidly simple explanation. Ebooks are pretty new. Readers still think of the "book" as the thing they used to walk into Borders and buy. They're not used to the fact that, in the context of ebooks, a "book" might = a short story. So they get to the end and are surprised. They thought they were downloading "a book"!

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