“He told me how long it was, but honestly it didn’t feel half as long as he’d claimed.”
“Too much of a good thing can drive you crazy.”
“There’s no such thing as too much.”
Perhaps the last is true of chocolate. Or bacon. These are experiments I am willing (for science, of course) to try. Too much money, is at least for me, an impossible paradox. Give me as much as the whole US national debt this morning and I could still ride a camel through the eye of a needle by tonight. Or at least, by next week. I am a sort anti-financial genius. I have volunteered my services (for a fee, natch) to various financial institutions. But no, instead of paying me a mere pittance and profiting and growing rich by doing the opposite of what I tell ‘em, they continue blindly on their disastrous course.
But of course, what I am talking about is books. How could you possibly have thought otherwise?
Now, I am not the only reader out there who has read the appendix and checked earnestly to see if perhaps one page at the end has stuck to another.
I’m probably not the only reader here who has read till 4 AM to finish a book he just couldn’t put down (if I am, what the hell are you all doing here? This is a writer’s site. If you’ve never loved a book that much, you shouldn’t be wanting to write one.).
The issue, from, a writer’s perspective, is just how long should a book be?
The length of itself, naturally (and the tears of it are wet). Seriously, that actually is the right answer: different stories take… as long as they take to tell, well. They are what they are. Stretching them or shrinking them is always at a cost. Sometimes that is a price the writer has to pay (there are better and worse ways of doing both but that’s a topic for another post. There’s a definite connection between the skill of the author and their ability to sustain an audience for very long books. Aside from anthing else, they get confusing. Very short, on the other hand, requires even more skill if anything. That’s why short stories are hard – you’re often trying to do what would be done across a whole novel, setting, character development, plot, action in a few thousand words. Most shorts don’t really succeed that well at all of the above, because it is a tough task. If the author has a choice, I’d plump for somewhere in the middle, myself. The sweet spot… from 40K to around 120K (as the actress said to the bishop, I have big sweet spot).
Historically, of course, things were considerably more constrained, in paper, than they are as e-books. Firstly, there was literally the cost of the paper, and shipping. On a 1500 page goat-gagger that could add up. And secondly… which I know all too well about, the mental toll for a 300K book is far higher than for three 100K books. They are harder to write well. That’s a lot of time, and lot of focus and a lot to keep in the little furry monkey’s wooly pate at the same time. And, to add insult to injury, they pay pretty much what one 100K book does.
Still: some stories demand a long book – or series of books. They have their fans. Many of us, myself included, like going back to a universe and story that we loved. This may be very different as a writer. The reader spends days, at most, in the books – the writer may well have spent years. I’m pretty sure there are a lot of polite authors out there when asked when they’ll be writing the next XYZ… will manage not to say ‘when hell freezes over’ (is hell exothermic or endothermic?) – but you can judge by the non-appearance of the sequel…
However, there is something which needs be seriously considered here: and that is the price. With a big fat book, or series telling the same story, in paper, well, there was something of a perception of value, especially for voracious readers. A _little_ extra could be got away with. Too short and too thin would be ‘punished’ by buyers. For some time quick buck artists made some extra on e-books – particularly scamming the KU system, by basically publishing chapters as serial-books, but now that that has been fixed – it’s kind of back down to perceived value.
It’s quite hard for the reader to perceive a difference in value of a download… be it 1000K or 50K. Yes, on reading it, they may discover that was great value for money (or berate you because they think it wasn’t. I’ve had that for $2.99 novella.) Yes, there is a size estimate. But in real terms, buyers don’t notice this.
So how much price elasticity is there on size? Is it: (as the bishop said to the actress) worth more if is a bit bigger. Or (as actress said to the bishop) are they all pretty much the same? Is there a ‘sweet spot’ for readers? Does it intersect with the one for writers? Do readers even consider length when looking at price?
Numbers I wish someone would do. Perhaps Natalie Luhrs – who seems to have ample free time — could do it. She’s copped some stick for doing a spreadsheet on their annual Hugo slate…. Sorry, recommended reading list from Locust… uh Locus. Personally I think doing numbers is a great idea, but then, I am biased. I’m not interested enough to comment, or comment on ‘all the usual suspects’ on Locus, but I will point out that she is missing the crucial data – what is the actual make-up of the readership? Without knowing that, the writers may realistically represent the demographic of readers – or may be far more skewed.
Now, there is no reason why the demographics of English sf/fantasy readers (and therefore writers, and therefore recommended books in a fair listing) in the US should not broadly reflect the demographics of literate English reading Americans. That would apply to race AND religion AND sex AND politics AND orientation (not just what was convenient to your argument). It would logically be different in smaller ‘specialist’ sub-genres – you would expect a different demographic from say Military sf or Gay Paranormal Romance (and yes, such sub-genre ID is valuable if it helps match readers to books.) Of course we have no real idea if it does, which renders her work rather futile.
I suspect that there are historical factors and perceptions to be dealt with, and the key is building additional readership in underserved areas, instead of losing it in successful areas, in the hope of gaining something else. FWIW, I would guess that women buy more traditionally published fantasy (which outsells sf) and men more sf. On current readership, my feeling is that yes, women are probably under-represented in the Locus list. I’m not sure why, although one cannot rule out historical cohorts or the Bumiputera effect, as well as simple bias. Last time I looked there were substantively more new female entrants to the traditional publishing fold, than male.
Both sf and fantasy, in traditional publishing, are in a steep decline and have been on a downhill curve for quite some time. One of the sensible measures (if I was in Traditional publishing) I would to start looking at is who buys what – and who doesn’t (which I think would be a cheap survey to run, really), and who in that English reading, literate demographic, and is missing across all the fields that I mentioned above.
But I don’t think they – or Natalie, would enjoy the answer.
However, if not asked, it’s one of those questions that will answer itself in Indy.
It’s not always the medicine that tastes great that’s good for you. Facts are worth exploring even if they don’t appeal.