Thursday, January 24, 2013

Self-Publishing: Avoiding, "It's too short!" Bad Reviews

A common reason for a bad review is the criticism that a short story or novella is "Too short." Whenever I hear authors complain about this type of review, they also are grinding their teeth because they mention in the product description and/or the cover that the book is a novella or short story. Thus the readers didn't read (or notice) that a book is a novella or short story, or they forgot by the time they got around to reading the story on their ereader.

When I self-published my first collection of short stories, Montana Sky Christmas, I worried about receiving these kinds of negative reviews. To prevent these type of reviews as much as possible, I took four proactive steps to avoid reader confusion.

1. I made "short stories" part of the title. The whole title is, Montana Sky Christmas: A Short Story Collection.

2. I made sure the subtitle was on the cover and as visible as the main title. I did this by changing the font and making the color "pop."

3. I put "Short Stories" in all caps in the product description:  In Montana Sky Christmas, USA Today bestselling author Debra Holland offers seven SHORT STORIES set in the small town of Sweetwater Springs, Montana in 1894.

4. In my email blast to my fans, I made sure to communicate the book was short stories.

In a lucky stroke that I didn't anticipates, when the reviews started coming in, the reviewers often mentioned that the book was composed of short stories. Some even mentioned which stories they liked the best.

To date, a little over four and a half months after publication and with 55 reviews, I don't have any reviews dinging me because Montana Sky Christmas was short stories, instead of one long story. I do have one or two who wistfully mention that they wish there were more.

For my novella, Painted Montana Sky, I did the same thing. I put in the subtitle that the story was a novella--Painted Montana Sky: A Montana Sky Series Novella. The subtitle also identified the novella as part of the series.

The only difficulty I encountered before publication was people asking me what a "novella" was. So when I sent out the fan email announcement, I used novella/novelette as a descriptor.

The first line of the product description reads: In Painted Montana Sky, a NOVELLA from the acclaimed Montana Sky Series, USA Today bestselling author Debra Holland brings together two people who have turned their backs on love and relationships.

I self-published Painted Montana Sky on December 22, and in slightly over a month it has acquired 21 reviews, none of which complain about the length.

So while I might not have forewarned every potential reader about the type and length of these stories, I did everything I think is possible to give them the knowledge, thus preventing future disappointment.


  1. Great post Debra. Thanks for the good ideas.

  2. Hum, I do put novella or short story on the cover. I guess I need to look at my product descriptions.

  3. It might also help readers to put your blurb or product description somewhere in the actual book itself--that way, months later, when your book is pulled out of the TBR file-pile, the reader can remember why they downloaded it in the first place. :)

  4. That's really smart thinking. Since it's in the title, short stories would also show up when the reader gets around to opening the ebook as well and seeing it inside there, since as you say, most readers take awhile to open ebooks up and may forget by then what they actually bought.

  5. This is wonderful information. Thank you for sharing your process and publication style with us. Giving the reader information upfront like you have, and the way you did it, is perfect.

  6. Great advice, Debra! It is definitely a problem when readers don't understand what they are getting. Hopefully they'll become more accustomed to short content as we publish more of it, and are clear about what it is.

  7. Thank you for the advice, Debra.

  8. Informative Post Debra. I had this happen in a review for my first ever released SHORT story. Which was published through Momentum Publishing. And the fact that the stories were sold separately & marketed as SHORT STORIES, I still got a review saying " should have been longer!" ????
    I do love the idea of putting it in ACTUAL WORDS on the Bookcover, which maybe the publishers could have done. BUT oh well I took heart that at least they didn't say ...."The writing was crap and the story a load of Rubbish." lol lol

  9. Excellent advice, Dr. Debra. Advice that I plan to heed with my short prequel soon to be released. Maybe it will save me from bad reviews because of length.
    Now if only there were an easy, surefire way to eliminate all bad reviews. But since readers have different tastes and reviewing is subjective, I don't think that's possible.

  10. Very useful post. I shall adopt these principles for my next short

  11. Here's something for the next time someone asks you what a novella is. The Hugos and the Nebulas both define a novella as a story with a word length between 17,500 and 40,000 words.