Word count

For several years now, I’ve capped the upper limit on Clarkesworld’s original fiction at 8000 words. There were several good reasons for doing that, but they were mostly financial.

This past week, we passed our latest Patreon goal and secured funding for a fourth original story in every issue. Add in the translations that will be in every issue and that’s five originals, two reprints. Assuming the Patreon pledge levels hold, this puts us in a situation that provides me with some flexibility.

I’m considering raising our upper limit to 16000 words. That would take us firmly into novelette territory. (Right now, we barely scrape it.) Each issue would feature no more than one novelette. In the issues we feature a novelette, it would absorb two story slots and leave the issue with four originals, two reprints. Given how few we’d be able to publish, they’d be harder sells, but it does give us (and authors) more flexibility. We would also accompany this change with an increase in pay rate on the 4000+ side of our scale.

I’ve already talked this over with Sean and Kate. Any readers or authors have some thoughts they’d like to share?

16 thoughts on “Word count

  1. Maggie Clark says:

    I think this is a wonderful idea. There simply aren’t enough markets for this form, and while I’ve read my share of short stories that master the art of intricate world-building in compressed word-counts, my personal experience as an author is often one of frustration: the sense that I’m just getting started when I hit the 5,000-to-8,000-word limit of most e-publishing venues, but that the story in question certainly doesn’t warrant a full novel.

    One change I’d therefore suspect is aesthetic; at shorter word-counts, SF/F stories tend to favour atmosphere- over world-building, and thus adopt more lyrical, vignette-like narrative structures. By broadening your word-count range, I suspect you’ll receive a great deal more meticulous scifi and fantasy worlds–which would certainly make for an interesting complement to the shorter forms, even if it requires more effort in putting together issues where all the stories “work” together.

    My only concern is what this might do for your Forever project, since one is pay-to-read and this would offer a novelette for free. Would you be putting yourself in competition with yourself? I hope not–I hope one would just complement and aggregate interest in the other–but this is the only potential negative I can see (from the outside, looking in).

    As always, though, I thoroughly enjoy your efforts to innovate in response to market data you yourself collect, and have every confidence in your ultimate decision. Thanks for opening the floor to general feedback, too!

    Best wishes,

    Maggie Clark

    • Neil Clarke says:

      The shortage of markets at that length is certainly one of my motivating factors. I get bored when everyone is doing the same thing. 🙂

      Forever is different enough that this shouldn’t have an impact on it.

  2. Juliette Wade says:

    I think this is a fantastic idea. Length limitations used to be one of my major struggles, and while I’ve gotten better about writing short, I think there are amazing things an author can accomplish at higher wordcounts, and very few markets available to carry such stories. I’m all for it, obviously…

  3. Philip Morris says:

    This sounds like a very good idea, however instead of doing it as an irregular item I would like to see it in every issue. I think it would help Clarkesworld stand out more in the marketplace and give us the reader more variety within an issue.

    • Neil Clarke says:

      The plan would be to do it more often than not. I just won’t commit to every issue until:
      a. it’s worked well for a few months
      b. I have sufficient inventory

    • Neil Clarke says:

      I’d love to extend it to novellas, but that would absorb too many short stories or require an increase in budget. It goes on the to-do list with a bunch of other things I’d like to after we’ve increased subscriptions substantially enough.

  4. Ellis L. Knox says:

    I like it. I have fond memories of reading novelettes and even serialized novels in the old Galaxy magazine (and other mags from the 1960s and 1970s). For me, those magazines were a bit like getting a novel with side benefits!

  5. David Steffen says:

    As a writer, it doesn’t make a lot of difference to me because my usual range is less than 8000 anyway. I think that I have 1 story that I haven’t submitted due to length, so I would send that story and then probably nothing else would change.

    As a reader, I don’t know. I’ve read novelettes and novellas that are amazing, but usually if a story isn’t to my tastes that lack is clear early on in the reading and when I’m listening to a podcast (which is how I get pretty much all of my short fiction) I am often not in a situation where I want to divert my attention to skipping tracks and etc, so I usually just end up listening to the rest and zoning out. Which is fine, no magazine hits my tastes anywhere near all the time. I’ll listen, and if other people are excited then that’s good. Personally, if given the choice between one story of 16k words and two stories of 8k words, with all other factors being equal, I’d take the two shorter stories.

  6. Jonathan Strahan says:

    I have mixed feelings about this. I think there’s a certain discipline to a tightly written short story. I love novellas and novelettes, and there are markets for them, but for me one of the attractions about Clarkesworld has been its focus on tightly written stories that can be read in a single sitting. While I’m sure any novelettes published would be terrific, I’d be a little reluctant to see what I think is an asset for the magazine disappear.

    • Neil Clarke says:

      Well, we’d still be publishing more original shorts than we were a few years ago and not many online markets are publishing longer lengths, so it would be somewhat distinctive. I’m leaning heavily towards yes and will probably make the final call before I leave for the Nebulas.

  7. Mark Salzwedel says:

    I used to subscribe to Analog as a teen, and I always loved the novelettes when they were published, because, as others have pointed out, you can’t get much character development into 8,000 words (or much plot for that matter). I am one of many writers in my speculative fiction writers group who find writing short to be harder, and our novel groups are consistently busier than our short story groups. I think you will find a broader base of quality fiction by raising your limit, therefore, when your authors can focus on story rather than on word count.

  8. Robert B FInegold, M.D. says:

    This is wonderful news. There is a sad dearth of markets for novelettes. It is a length that lends itself to greater world-building and character-development, greater story. I find them a richer more fulfilling read. Yes. Please welcome novelettes into Clarkesword.

  9. Bruce Arthurs says:

    I’m in favor, both as a reader and as a writer. Since I got back into writing fiction again several years ago, I’ve found that the longer lengths come more easily than they used to. (Most recently completed story: 15,000 words.)

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