Setting Expectations for Book Length

One of THE most important things you can do to avoid one-star reviews is to clearly and loudly let the reader know how long your book is. This may sound odd - but it has to do with reader expectations. Readers who have their expectations unmet can be vocally unhappy.

We'll use Amazon for the examples but this holds true on all platforms.

I'll note that I got all three of these poor reviews WITHIN TWELVE HOURS. So this was a flurry of action all based on perceptions of "too short content."

Amazon nicely tells readers exactly how long a given story is. They even "normalize" the page count across fonts, point sizes, and page sizes so readers can compare apples with apples. So, for example, I wrote a mini mystery series explicitly targeted at people who wanted short 11-14 page mysteries to read at bus stops and so on. That was the specific group I wanted to write for.

Black Cat Mini Mysteries

You'll see that the title says it's a mini mystery. The cover says it's a mini mystery. The description does, too. And the Amazon page clearly labels its length as 13 pages.

Black Cat Mini Mysteries

And with all of that, I received a review which said:

This could have been a delightful short story, but was much too short to create any real interest. I am unable to understand why the author did not expand on the story. Hopefully this author will take time to flesh out future stories.

Now, of course, it was lovely that she enjoyed my style and wanted it to be longer. But in essence she's saying "it was too short." She wanted more plot and more details. If I added more details it would have gotten longer. Which she would have liked, but would have gone against my aim here.

Next comes an example where I did NOT set expectations well. This is my Scottish romance novella trilogy.

In the beginning I did NOT hammer home the idea that this was a novella. And, while the Amazon page makes it clear that this is novella length of 66 pages, apparently readers don't always read that.

Here were the first two reviews that came in.

WHAT WAS WRITTEN OF THE BOOK WAS VERY WELL DONE! But it was not really a full story it was more like a FREE preview.I was very disappointed. I'm just glad it was free.

this book was sooooo short. more or less a come on for the next books in the series. story was good, but barely started. i was quite disappointed.

So these readers were expecting a full length novel, even though the full length novels in this genre go for $6 or $7 each and mine were listed for FREE for the first one and 99 cents for the second one. They were actually getting cheaper-than-usual content, but were complaining because they expected an epic novel and got a novella. They didn't rate it based on the bargain they got, and the fact that buying all three books would get them a full experience for less money. They rated it primarily on their expectation that they thought they were settling in for an epic story and it ended after ten chapters.

So I clearly had to do better branding on this trilogy to make it clear it IS three novellas - and perhaps offer the boxed set for those who prefer a sit-down-and-read experience.

It's all about making sure they know what they're getting, and trying to provide them with what makes them happy.

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