Format Advice: Wordcount per episode

Hero Historia currently runs on a weekly schedule of ~3,000 word episodes. Each arc is 12 episodes long, and covers a different historical era, gradually crawling towards the future. We started with neolithic Jericho, we're now in ancient Sumeria.

Lately though I've been thinking about optimal episode sizes. Wildbow aside ( :) ) are 2,000 word chapters easier to digest than 3,000? Maybe I should switch to a 16-chapter 2k word format instead of a 12-chapter 3k word format (~30k words per arc either way).

Does anyone have any opinions on ideal wordcount targets per episode?

I'd say the ideal wordcount is however much you can handle. If readers enjoy the story, they won't mind having more to digest. Personally, I like long chapters - and even then, I prefer to read a few chapters in a row. It takes time to ease back into a story after a break.

My opinion is basically to do the size that works best for you and the story.

If it's taking too much time out of your life, write shorter episodes. If you want to move the story along, write longer ones. I've never had a reader complain that an update was too long. I have had them complain that they were too short. Granted, I tend to write shorter updates than many (900-1200 words), but my observation is that readers are looking for immersion.

For that, longer is better.

My opinion is basically to do the size that works best for you and the story.

If it's taking too much time out of your life, write shorter episodes. If you want to move the story along, write longer ones. I've never had a reader complain that an update was too long. I have had them complain that they were too short. Granted, I tend to write shorter updates than many (900-1200 words), but my observation is that readers are looking for immersion.

For that, longer is better. With that in mind, I've started to slowly increase the size of my posts. They used to be 800-1000 words.

As far web traffic is concerned you will pull in a lot more idle people in general if you write around 2000-3000 words per chapter 2-3 times a week and can deliver that consistently. Most people on the internet respond best to shorter content delivered more frequently. Not only that but if each of those chapters is properly tagged for searching you'll be easier to find on search engines and on the search functions of your platform of choice (wordpress for example has very effective tagging and searching), because you'll have a larger volume of posts floating around.

But ultimately it depends on what's comfortable for you. Select a schedule where you can deliver *consistently*. It's no good to promise 2-3 short updates a week if it would stress you out a lot and make you miss dates. You gotta think of yourself first.

I run my web serial on potentially the most horrible possible schedule for pulling in mass traffic on the web -- I write 2 chapters a month of 10-15k words. So that's a low posting volume of high word count -- it's a massive uphill battle to get new readers through search and tags, but I know I couldn't do 2-3 short updates a week. Probably not even one short update a week. My mind and my schedule simply don't work that way, so I write more and I publish fortnightly. This is a schedule I can keep consistently and that keeps me healthy and happy and keeps my writing from becoming a chore to me. In the end, you have to make it work for you. Despite all this, I still get readers!

So whatever word count you can deliver at whatever times you can deliver it consistently; that is what ultimately matters.

When it comes to word counts, I say what I want to say in the chapter first, then look at how long it is. Unless it's excessively short (2k or less) or excessively long (5k or more), I really don't stress about its length. I do stress if something I want to get across isn't coming across, or if I hammered the point too hard. At the end of the day, as others have said, it's about what you can write. And, as a reader, I don't really notice length if the quality is good.

Thanks for all the perspectives, folks!

I had wondered about this. My web serial was originally a novel series that I repurposed to publish as an ongoing web serial. I converted the chapters into episodes, which were between 3000 and 5000 words long, but the pages views I got were a very disappointing 1.1. As an experiment I divided the first few episodes up into smaller episodes between 750 and 1250 words and the page views jumped overnight to 15.

There might have been other factors involved, but I'm now aiming for shorter episodes. I'm still in the progress of making the episodes shorter, by removing unneeded text or converting single episodes into multiple episodes.

If you split chapters up into smaller bits, you'll get more page views because readers have to click 'next' more often. Did the number of unique visitors increase as well? Maybe write a comment / post to ask readers about their preferences. :)

Hi Chrysalis. You're right, more people clicked next with the smaller episodes, the thing that changed was that very few people clicked next at all with the longer episodes. I was able to see people reading through much more of the story than they had previously. BTW, I've enjoyed what I've read of Anthema so far.

@Lee Carlon glad to hear! :D If you have a Kindle Unlimited subscription, check out the books. The writing / editing is WAY better than the web serial version, especially from arc 4 onward.

It's not a question that's easy to answer but that everyone has an opinion about. These opinions can be split up into two basic camps:

1. Readers like shorter chapters, because they lack attention span.

2. Readers like long chapters, because they make assumptions about shorter chapters being badly written. (I used to make this assumption because short chapters on fanfiction sites are usually just baaaad, but I've discovered in the world of original fiction that's not true).

The irony is both of these are true. They are just talking about different groups of readers.

There's a few possible ways of dealing with this and all are equally valid.

1. Figure out which camp you are part of and write to those lengths - what you prefer to read is probably your target demographic.

2. Find the sweet spot that appeals to both. Updates somewhere between 1k and 1.5k tend to be short enough for most of group 1 not to lose interest but long enough to placate group 2.

3. Split longer chapters up into more managable chunks (and make it clear they are sub-chapters).

4. Just do whatever you feel like. Pick a length that won't burn you out and go with that.

There are successful serials at both end of the installment length spectrum so I think it's actually less important than people think. My serials have different installment length:

Dragon Wars (well strictly the side story Caredale at the moment): 500-1500 words an installment tending towards the lower end of that spectrum because I need a new desk and writing on my lap is harder for some reason. I wrrite much more when I sit at a desk.)

Haventon (currently sporadic due to writers block but around 2k an installment when posted)

Whisper (about 1k an installment but also blocked at moment)

Tales of the First (This is an experiment. I'm updating it daily by about one mass market paperback page (250-300 words), and the actual chapters are 4-5k long. I have shedloads of buffer on this but need to get working on chapter five so I can maintain the pace).


The 'shorter chapters are more poorly written' assumption is news to me. :O

I always assumed some readers prefer longer chapters because it's more 'worthwhile' to stop by weekly / twice weekly when there is about 10 minutes of new material to read. Then again, many readers prefer to binge (I'm one of those!) so maybe it doesn't matter.

A chapter should only be as long as it needs to be, and there is no law saying you have to post the entire chapter on a single page. Or, indeed, that you can only release one page at a time.

I've always operated under the assumption that longer is better, but that's likely because my readers mostly demand more chapters faster. I also feel like you shouldn't aim for a particular word count but end chapters where it makes sense, thus the chapters at the end of my arcs have been 8k-10k+ words.

I don't have much of a reader feedback.

Personally I like middle length chapters. They allow more space for thoughts, for slowness and a change of pace. Shorter ones tend to be more...rough around the edges. Or at least faster paced which is only okay for so long. Which isn't to say they are bad. They just need a quite different pacing from a novel-chapter-length installment with about 8000 words. Most I've read don't understand that and get hectic, keep just throwing stuff at you...which makes them bad.

The long ones on the other hand have maybe too much stuff going on. They exhaust my quite a bit sometimes and if I miss an installment or two I am more like to wait for a binge to read up. That is: I stop reading it until I have a weekend on which I do nothing but read.

The length of later worm chapters did put me off quite a bit for example. And even solstice war gets only sporadic visits from me because of that.

My own chapters started out at 2000 words min and at my best are about 3500-4000 words long. Which is fine and right in the middle. That's about 5 to 8 pages, half a chapter. Long enough for pacing, changes, a bit of stuff happening, short enough to still constrain me and keep me from meandering in the heads of my characters.

Seeing everyone's chosen wordcounts for their installments makes me want to wring my hands in panic.

I used to get a bit of grief from some early readers about how big my chapters are. Right now, the shortest installment (a prologue) is around 6,000 words, and the average chapter is about 12,000 words or so. The largest thus far is the first trailer fiction (meant to be a novelette) at around 17,400 words. If I know a chapter is going to be large, lately, I try to cut it in half to make it more manageable. Although that means I get grief from some readers for cutting up the chapter. Seems I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't. For the most part, my readers seem to be getting used to the long chapters I throw up. It means my uploads are really slow-going, which I think really starts to hurt my readership in the short term. In the last two months I've seen, through the miracle of analytics, more readers coming back and taking their time with the fiction.

I thought about trying the 'Frost Method' and just uploading a single page to keep the update schedule fast. I... I can't write like that though. I lose momentum unless I follow a scene to completion, and I'm not good at having a single page be it's own mini-story. I'm more of a novel writer type, and the shortest stories I can manage tend to be above 8k words. Working on trying some flash fiction to be more flexible.

For me personally... I like longer chapters. I like to feel that I'm reading a printed old-school book. I like getting lost in a story for hours at a time and don't mind having to scroll through immense pages on my phone, netbook, tablet or computer. I can also remember where I was if I need to leave the writing for a bit and come back later. So, I am biased to larger chapters. Small chapters really tend to grate on my nerves. I like watching movies and full seasons of a TV series. I don't find Vines amusing. That's just me though, I know most other people here prefer other things.

I'm still trying to find the middle-ground that balances things out for the maximum number of readers, and constraints that I can still function within.

Anyone have any advice on how they came to their middle ground?

Realise that there are no hard rules and chapters are what you want them to be. Some stories start a new chapter every scene change, others every time the viewpoint switches. Some only have a handful of chapters, effectively treating them as acts. Others don't have chapters at all.

I think I'm with the majority on this one. My chapters average around 3k, although they sometimes spike as high 4.5k if it's a particular busy chapter. Only on very rare occasions do I let a chapter carry from one scene to the next and I really only do that if the two parts are still thematically linked.

Generally speaking, though, I try to make certain that each chapter accomplishes something for the story. Either it's explaining something, or it's developing characters, or it's moving the plot. As soon as it's fully accomplished its job, I end the chapter and start another one.