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I understand this can and probably will be shut down for many reasons, but how long is too long for a short story?

I want to write a short story, but tend to write novels if I write anything (Even though I have yet to finish one).

My current guidelines are 3 pages and under, too short. 20 pages and up, too long. Is this good? Again, I know this will probably be shut down, but I'm asking anyway.

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The trick is to measure your story in words, rather than pages. Your page count depends on arbritrary things like font size, page size and line spacing. You'll find that, when it comes to publishing opportunities, length is nearly always expressed in words.

The first story I sold was 71 words (here). The publisher wanted stories of no more than 75. This competition is for stories of up to 6,000 words. This one accepts stories up to 15,000.

The short answer is that every publisher wants something different, and there's a home for nearly any length of story somewhere, if it's good enough. But of course, in the real world, some lengths are easier to sell.

Flash

Definitions vary, but up to around 1,000 words is generally called 'flash' or 'short-short' fiction. The piece I mentioned above is a fairly extreme example — paid opportunities for a piece that tiny are rare, in my experience. But in general, there's an established market for pieces in this bracket.

Short

Up to about 10,000 words is generally still called a short story. As a rule, if you're a novice author, the closer you stick to the bottom and middle of the spectrum, the easier it'll be to sell your work. This makes sense if you consider the publisher's perspective — longer stories take up more of the available space in a paper magazine, or, since authors are usually paid per word, simply cost more. When you're an unknown author, your name won't necessarily be selling copies of the magazine, so it's easier for them to justify making a little investment in you than a big one.

Novella

Again, definitions vary. But in my experience, above 10,000 words is the territory in which some people will start to call your story a novella (a mini-novel). I've heard it said that this is a 'difficult' length, or that it's the province of well-established authors who can bank on writing within the universe of an already-successful series. Of course, there's no reason in theory you couldn't write one, but if you're a novice author, the same warnings apply as from the section above.


So after all that, practically, how should you approach length in your stories? My advice would be this:

  1. Write the story you want. It will help to have a length in mind, but at this stage, don't overthink it.
  2. When you're finished, edit it. Cut as much length as you can. It will make the story better.
  3. When you're finished, you've found out how long that story was. If you think it's ready to shop around, now you know what markets you can aim for.
  4. If you start writing your story and it turns into a novel, that's okay! As you repeat the process, you'll develop your sense of what stories you can tell in 1,000 words, and what stories you'll tell best with 50,000. With experience, you'll find the accuracy of the guess you make at step 1 gets better and better.

Hope that helps.

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  • If you're using 12-pt Times, double spaced, with 1-inch margins (like some readers and editors prefer), an 8.5"x11" page will translate to roughly 300 words. – Ken Mohnkern Jun 19 '16 at 13:17
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In my opinion, a short story is a very precise, succinct set of plot points which outlines and resolves the situation in quick movements. How quickly can you get the story out without compromising the feeling of each movement. How quickly can you create suspense without it feeling akward. The length is a good balance between good movement and quick realisation. There is no definitive length.

How long is a poem?

With that said, if you wish to publish keep the publisher and the audience in mind. Some publishers will offer guidelines to what they require and what their readers enjoy.

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One remark up-front, length is measured in words instead of pages.

Usually publishers have their own policy on this and will buy offerings only when they comply. There are short story, novella and novel formats, maybe others.

There are general guidelines for each literary category: Short stories range anywhere from 1,500 to 30,000 words; Novellas run from 30,000 to 50,000; Novels range from 55,000 to 300,000 words with emphasis on the range of 80,000-100,000.

Reference: (just a random one)
http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/questions-and-quandaries/marketing/novel-and-short-story-word-counts

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