Thursday, December 15, 2011

Size Really Does Matter

Huge stacks of books at the University of Illinois Undergraduate Library during rearranging

For a long time, the length of a book was determined by how much it cost to print. Shorter works just weren't worth the investment by publishers. As a fantasy reader, I'd begun to notice a trend in recent years--it seemed the books were getting longer. Don't get me wrong. I love a good book no matter the length. But longer books require a bigger time investment, and sometimes I just don't have the time to commit that many hours to a book, no matter how awesome it is.

With the growing e-reader market and the increasing affordability of them, I think things are beginning to change. Book length no longer matters as much. In fact, I'm noticing that the shorter books and stories seem to do better than most novel-length pieces. I'm not surprised. I like shorter novels, both to read and write. They're usually faster-paced, they develop quicker, there's less backstory to slog through (not that all backstory requires slogging, but some of it really can drag). As a writer, I can get my work out to my readers quicker, I feel more accomplished, and I don't feel I have to fluff up a book just to meet specific word count requirements.

Another reason I'm very happy about this shift in length is that it opens up the world of reading to more people. Not everyone wants to sit down and read a 400-page book. They had to do it in high school and that was enough. But most of the people I know who do not call themselves readers are quite happy to spend an hour or two with a quick, fun, easy story that doesn't require more than a couple sittings to finish.

That means that maybe all is not lost on the literature front. There is a whole slew of people out there who don't consider themselves readers, but they're discovering the joys of short fiction. And that makes me very happy.

Does the length of a book matter to you? Does it affect how you choose your books?

Top Photo courtesy of Benchilada on 
Kindle Photo courtesy of The Approximate Photographer on


  1. This makes perfect sense to me. Most of my books are longer, but the quicker reads seem to sell better. hmmm Much food for thought, perhaps an experiment is in order.
    Great post, it has made me think. Thanks.

  2. I started as a short story writer and for many years have been breaking my head to learn to write novels. After writing four, maybe I've learned something, but short stories were my first love. I agree, Samantha, that e-readers may lead to a rebirth of short fiction. That makes me very happy.

  3. I like books that are long enough to give me a complex plot and character development that's hard to find in short stories; OTOH I too shy away from super long books. I've read that novels still outsell shorts, but it's exciting that there's a viable market for them thanks to e-books!

  4. When it comes to print books, I want them to be long in order to justify the cost. With the slightly lower prices of most ebooks, I'm definitely willing to consider a shorter read.

    I think I still lean towards long-ish books simply because I like to spend as much time in a good story as possible, but I think you're right. A lot of people don't want the long, epic read. They want something they can finish in a couple of days on their lunch hour.

  5. I like both. I'm not a fast reader, so the epic novels are something I avoid, but I enjoy a long novel that I LOVE and don't want it to end. And sometimes a quick read is perfect and satisfying. I like to change things up, lots of variety.

  6. This was actually something that I and another fiction writer have been discussing. Anthologies are becoming prevalent. Even King with his Full Dark, No Stars has show us a trend here. And many authors I have noticed are releasing serial releases of a novel broken into the three acts and a mid point. Which I have read recently, makes for a tighter full sized novel because you are editing toward the four releases and giving the whole story that on-the-edge feel at each pivotal point.

    I just love it when everyone starts talking about something that I've been thinking. Makes me feel like I'm going the right direction.

  7. Thanks for the awesome comments, everyone! It's great to see how diverse everyone's reading habits are. I think e-readers are beneficial for everyone, regardless of genre or length preference.

  8. When I love a story, I prefer the book be a long one that I can get involved in. But, I have to say that I haven't had a whole lot of time for reading lately and so I much prefer a quick read to a longer novel. At least, for now. Of course that doesn't stop me from writing one.

  9. As a reader, the length of a book doesn't matter to me. The one factor that will keep me reading is that the writer must hold my attention. It is not my job to struggle through anything. the art of writing is to keep the reader interested. as soon as I lose interest in a novel, no matter how much I have read, I will put it down.

  10. Interesting post. I never knew that the publishing industry had a reason for wanting doorstops over smaller fare. Personally, as a reader (and writer) I'm more fond of shorter and mid length novels.


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