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Worldcon rumblings about book length

rco-2
Back to word-count or novel length again.

One of the interesting -- and heated -- things I heard frequently on and off the convention floor was in reference to a major genre publisher's decision to go for shorter books. Yes, I know I've beat this drum before, but there was an urgency to much of the discussion that causes me to bring it up again. This wasn't theoretical; this was writers being told to cut their books in half, or to cut them down from the length they were submitted at. Not because the story is padded; not because the length is wrong for the story itself -- but for other reasons.

Part of the reason this has become such a heated topic is this: published authors, people with longer books already in print, are now being asked to write them much shorter.

This carries some negatives. If an author is perceived to be somehow slumming -- and in the case of BFF writers, this is an almost gut instinct when the next novel is significantly shorter -- people will often get tired of the work they're doing. Which isn't fair, no. But perception is part of the publishing business, and it's a perception they'll be saddled with.

Shorter in this case means two things. The first and most obvious is the acquisition of shorter books -- in this case, the number floating around was a maximum of 120,000 words, or, in manuscript pages, about 480. For the record, my shortest submission was 510 pages, in the early Del Rey years (which, at 250 words a page was just over 125K. This would also include that category in which you receive something and ask the author to cut it down to that length.

The second: cut the book into two (or possibly more) parts. The reasoning given for this goes as follows: The author can still write a complicated and complex world with multiple viewpoints -- it just takes place over more books, the idea being that the author will have a mid-point someplace in that volume that they can use as an endpoint. In this fashion, it's reasoned, the publisher will still make money and the author will make money and the readers will have a long story -- just in more books.

Ummm, okay.

The real reason for this is bottom line. While the chains are being blamed -- they want price to remain at a certain level for mid-list books -- it's really beancounters saying, in effect, we need to raise our profit margins on these books. But in talking with one editor, one very interesting point was raised: It's not even so much that the books themselves are prohibitively costly up front, when the initial print run is done -- it's that they're very hard to keep in print because the print runs for midlist books, or perhaps I should say the re-print runs, are much smaller. The economics of scale apply here: It's cheaper to print a 900 page book when you're printing 20,000 of them than it is to print that same book, per unit, at 4,000, which is what small reprint runs often are.

Which means that while the publisher could in theory afford the first printing, it would be hard for them to support the subsequent books in a series, because it's much harder to justify the cost of the reprint on a per unit basis. Which just... sucks rocks. This is often why the first printing of a novel will be 6.99, and all subsequent printings, 7.99. (These are US dollars). I would personally rather see the books be reprinted at 8.99 (which is a bestseller price, rather than a genre price) than see the various books in a series go out of print, and I'm curious to know how people feel about this in general. It's part of the reason that trade paperbacks have become so much more prominent -- it's easier to justify the cost of the printing on small runs.

But in the case of many of these authors, that isn't an option that's being offered.

I won't do the death of fill-in-the-blank here. More books printed, fewer of each title sold yada yada yada. If the cost is low enough, it still makes more sense for the publisher to print more titles -- because cutting your line by one book can merely mean cutting your inflowing cash, as there's no guarantee the buyers will then buy more of your titles for the lack of your book.

On paper, this all looks good. And -- have I mentioned this lately? -- there are a lot of people who are very vocal and who want shorter books. But there's a reason that Martin or Jordan or Goodkind sell; a reason that Carey or Haydon sell. And sell in greater numbers than most of the shorter books -- less vocal readers buy them.

I will be the first to say that there are some books that simply don't lend themselves to 300K words. They are often books I enjoy greatly, so I'm not complaining -- I'm just pointing it out. But there are some books that do. And epic fantasy is a form that doesn't in any way lend itself to 120K words. Why? Because it often takes about that long to get everything in motion; to introduce the multiple viewpoints, to hint at the size of the conflict, to foreshadow, etc. Readers expect different things from books of different lengths. From a long book, they don't expect a huge rush out of the gate, or a single viewpoint, or Stephen Brust. They expect that there will be a slow introduction of world and character and complications, and they'll read the 300 pages of that build-up to get to the 300 pages of consequence that marks the beginning of a series.

To end the book just as things are getting started is, to my reader way of thinking, to almost guarantee that a reader will be frustrated by a short book of this type. Many readers will continue reading those hundreds of slower pages as things build toward an end -- but if the build kind of just stops mid-way, so will they.

I've taken my own informal polls at the store; I've asked people the relevant questions about what they're reading, about what they expect from books of varying length. Market research, which is anecdotal and not, therefore, statistically significant. Except in the sense that the books that sell in large numbers in fantasy are the BFFs (Big Fat Fantasy) in the larger chain/non-chain context.

It's easy to point at short books that -sell-. As I've said, most romances are that length. And for romances, that's fine. And it's also easy to argue that books in series with known track records -- i.e. those who have large numbers -- will, of course, continue to be published at a greater length than those without. But… I can almost guarantee that neither Jacqueline Carey nor Elizabeth Haydon would have sold the way they did if their first books had been forced into 120K words. That, in fact, launching an epic fantasy series by cutting the books into smaller chunks goes against reader expectation; that the readers who do want the longer reads will pass over the shorter books because of built-in assumptions about what that length means, and that the readers who pick up short books will also be disappointed by the pacing and the lack of resolution.

It doesn't mean shorter books don't sell. But, to repeat myself, what a reader expects from a short book and what they expect from a long one is not the same experience.

So… what does this mean?

One of two things. If you're writing now, think of shorter stories, or shorter arcs in which to tell them, if you can. If you can't? Look at what's being published, take note of who's publishing works that are longer, and submit your finished novels to those companies. Not every company is taking this definitive a stand, and it will be interesting to see what happens in the years to follow, when the harshness of this particular publishing dictate begins to bear fruit. Things change; they always do.

Comments

( 64 comments — Leave a comment )
shanrina
Sep. 9th, 2004 10:25 pm (UTC)
FWIW, I always start with the beginning of a series. No matter how good the second or third or fourth book looks, if I can't find the first one then I won't keep going. I'm not sure if I'm just weird like that, but I really like starting things in order and there have been books I haven't bought because I can't find the prequels.

(And btw, I love the Sun Sword books.)
msagara
Sep. 9th, 2004 10:34 pm (UTC)
FWIW, I always start with the beginning of a series. No matter how good the second or third or fourth book looks, if I can't find the first one then I won't keep going. I'm not sure if I'm just weird like that, but I really like starting things in order and there have been books I haven't bought because I can't find the prequels.

This would be some of the difficulty in keeping a very long book in print over a shorter one -- and if the publisher can't keep, say, the first book in print, they'll lose readers (you are certainly not weird; most readers won't start something in the middle. I find the opposite -- the willingness to start something in the middle -- to be far rarer <g>.)

(And btw, I love the Sun Sword books.)

Thank you! Appropos of starting a series in the middle, I did have one reader write to me to tell me that she started with the third book because she liked the cover so much; after she finished SHINING COURT, she went back and red the previous novels. I wouldn't have thought it was possible to get through it that way, but she apparently had no problems <g>.
(no subject) - tamsandstedt - Sep. 10th, 2004 12:27 am (UTC) - Expand
devilwrites
Sep. 10th, 2004 04:26 am (UTC)
I don't like reading things out of order either. There's something to be said for the experience of reading, for discovering things as they go rather than knowing ahead of time and then being spoiled, so to speak, for earlier books. It's like watching a television series, especially one that hinges on drama and plot. If you see season two before season one, then you've successfully ruined your chances of being surprised for season one, yes?

Though, it does bring up the interesting question of how to write a series: should books be completely stand alone, but part of the same world? Or should you take a risk and make each book interconnected to where a reader CAN'T pick up in the middle? I can see what publishers would want writers to do, yet I'm a stickler for paying your dues, so to speak, and starting from the beginning and going through. Also, I just hate having to read writers recapping events in novels. I have a strange ability to remember random sorts of details and am insulted when the writer's like, "Oh, and if you don't remember, THIS happened in the last novel." and then continues to hold your hand to make sure you haven't forgotten anything.

Then again, I could just be elitist. :)
(no subject) - zhaneel69 - Sep. 13th, 2004 04:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - alfreda89 - Sep. 10th, 2004 08:27 am (UTC) - Expand
oldmotherchaos
Sep. 10th, 2004 01:06 am (UTC)
Interesting and informative post, as always. It sounds like a slightly worrying trend -- I can't imagine that books cut from 300k to 150k aren't going to be 50% lower price point, so the purchaser's perceived value is going to drop nastily. I hope that doesn't further erode sales -- I seem to remember quite a lot of negativity towards Steven King's "Buy a chapter a time" experiment a while ago.

Did you get any sense of whether it's just genre fiction that's seeing this pressure to shrink page count, or are other traditionally chunky areas -- thrillers, for example -- being crunched too?
msagara
Sep. 10th, 2004 09:18 am (UTC)
Did you get any sense of whether it's just genre fiction that's seeing this pressure to shrink page count, or are other traditionally chunky areas -- thrillers, for example -- being crunched too?

Other fiction as well -- or at least mysteries (I know a few mystery authors or authors who write both).

But none of these rules apply if you're Tom Clancy, Stephen King, John Grisham. No one is going to tell Robert Jordan, etc., to write shorter books. The economies of their scales work. It's purely midlist/new writers.
(no subject) - vsherbie - Sep. 10th, 2004 12:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msagara - Sep. 10th, 2004 03:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
devilwrites
Sep. 10th, 2004 04:20 am (UTC)
See, now this was one of the reasons I friended your journal, for the pure sake of learning things about the business I wouldn't have even KNOWN to ask about.

Personally, I think it's horrible that people are being asked to cut their work, and yet by the same token some writers (not necessarily BFFs) could definitely learn something from having to sit down and really evaluate what every chapter is contributing to the overall story (like Stephen King, who has a bad tendency to ramble when he doesn't need to). I guess that's where learning and refining the art of the short story comes in handy: you learn how to make every word count (figuratively) and you can still make a beautiful story.

However, I can't see how that really would help fantasy writers. You're right about the preconception of thinner novels and about bigger novels being broken up: it's reminescent of young adult books (series, no less), and while there ARE readers in the fantasy genre who are, well, young adults and/or have that mindset, there are just as many, if not more readers who are adults and want adult fiction. So, the idea of cuts is a scary one. I can think of my own novel I'm working on, how it divides, and I shudder to think of where publishers you're speaking of would cut it, and it scares me to think that I'd be overlooked on the shelf just because my book was thinner than others. And then I think about how some writers are such fast reads, and that longer books for such writers feels like a shorter book for writers who are dense and more difficult to wade through. The cuts are not a great idea.

Do you know (or have any idea) what publishers AREN'T making cuts? Granted, it's something I'll also keep an eye out on my own, but hearing from someone who's both in the industry and works in books would be lovely.
alfreda89
Sep. 10th, 2004 08:41 am (UTC)
So, the idea of cuts is a scary one. I can think of my own novel I'm working on, how it divides, and I shudder to think of where publishers you're speaking of would cut it, and it scares me to think that I'd be overlooked on the shelf just because my book was thinner than others. And then I think about how some writers are such fast reads, and that longer books for such writers feels like a shorter book for writers who are dense and more difficult to wade through. The cuts are not a great idea.

This isn't the first time this has happened--back in the late 80s, when the price of paper skyrocketed, I was actually sent the galleys, and got a phone call the SAME DAY telling me not to touch them, another set was coming. And it had smaller print, it had chapters starting on the backs of pages--in short, FIRES OF NUALA (publisher's title...uggh) is the same length, 120,000 words or so, as FIRE SANCTUARY--but it looks like it's a 70,000 word novel. Same with HIDDEN FIRES--

And a friend who was stocking D/FW airport at the time ran rows of FIRE SANCTUARY down the sides of the displays, because I was the only large SF novel that came out that month--but he could not do that with the other two books, because they would be perceived as not long enough for a plane trip.

Also--I remember Charles de Lint complaining because of the "Waldenbooks Rule" that required books be a certain spine size so a certain number would fit in a row in a Waldenbooks. Does anyone remember the size? Something odd like 11/32?

We've been here before. I am VERY glad you brought this up, because I have been trying to figure out how to expand an idea to fit the larger formatting, as opposed to writing multiple 150,000 word books interconnected in a world.

When the day comes that we go totally electronic, I imagine larger books will return to the fore.

But still another problem remains--twice as many books are being published as twenty years ago. Less books are being reviewed. How to find what you want?

There was a great free review newspaper BookStop carried, before B&N bought them. I'd literally go through it, read all the reviews on ALL mysteries coming out that month, and decide what I wanted. What a great selling device! Long gone, of course...

How will readers find us? We can write, or we can promote--but it's not easy to do both well....
(no subject) - msagara - Sep. 10th, 2004 03:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
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twiegand
Sep. 10th, 2004 04:24 am (UTC)
I find from my consumer's point of view, and you know how much I consume, that it is a matter of appetite and source. I will by anything you or serveral other authors produce. If it is longer or shorter the source, and thereby quality of the work, matter to me. I will invest a long period of time to read a novel by an author that I can trust to entertain me. Authors with whom I'm unfamiliar tend to need strong recommendations from someone I trust (you or Chris, etc.). However, all that being said, I prefer a story that finishes cleanly. The story may be long and come to me in parts like yours, which end in clear stages or shorter like Tanya's that also are complete in their arc. What I find most annoying about some authors is that the work feels incomplete and then there is a vastly long (years) wait to get the next installment. (Should I mention Martin and the Game of Thrones?)

There are readers I know that will reread every prior book in a series when a new one comes out to ensure that they know who is who and what the plot lines are. I find that too consuming and trust that the author will make it clear early in the new book what recently happened in the story from the last installment.

All that said, currently don't look at price too much because I am fortunate enough that my budget allows me to buy (within reason) books that I want when I want. Or in other words, every time I come to see you, Chris and the store. Fortunately I read about as fast I need to to make that three plus hour trip to TO and to buy the amount of books that I do when I get there. If we were closer together, I'm sure that I would buy more frequently and in less quantity. However, since geography won't change, I am resigned to visits that are farther apart but longer in duration and putting a small spike (or large if Jean is along) in your sales figures for the day.

As to reading out of order, I don't normally do that. I will by backlist to catch up when necessary. Mostly, I trust you and Chris to keep me informed as to what is available and when. Now, when is House War due to the publisher?
msagara
Sep. 10th, 2004 05:44 pm (UTC)
As to reading out of order, I don't normally do that. I will by backlist to catch up when necessary. Mostly, I trust you and Chris to keep me informed as to what is available and when. Now, when is House War due to the publisher?

<mumble mumble>.

But it's going really well <wry g>.
nonnycat
Sep. 10th, 2004 05:11 am (UTC)
Hmm.
At the writer's community I used to be a member of, the published SFF authors, who mentored me, often said that publishers would not take anything longer than 120k by new authors, except for rare cases. So, I've always aimed my work for the 90-120k range.

I have to wonder, though, if that's a word processor 90-120k wordcount or printer's count? Because, times I've done printer's count on a properly formatted MS, it's put the length up significantly. (From 75k to 90k in one case, I believe, but that was a couple years back and I may have had the margin size a bit off at the time, but I think I was using what was recc'd by my mentors.)

The current book I'm working at is aimed around 120k or so, and is turning out to be deeper and more political than I'd planned, somewhat in the style of Jacqueline Carey, only a bit more fast-paced. The novel I'm planning to write for Nanowrimo is an epic fantasy novel, or rather, epic fantasy turned on its head. It's supposed to be the first in a trilogy, and I'm aiming for 120k or therabouts. I do an outline of all scenes based on scene length, so, hopefully it shouldn't go over. *crossing fingers*

Now ... I've heard that it's just B&N who's doing the "No books from midlist authors over this length" thing. Is it other booksellers, too? I haven't seen anything official, just rumors so far...
msagara
Sep. 10th, 2004 09:28 am (UTC)
Re: Hmm.
I have to wonder, though, if that's a word processor 90-120k wordcount or printer's count? Because, times I've done printer's count on a properly formatted MS, it's put the length up significantly. (From 75k to 90k in one case, I believe, but that was a couple years back and I may have had the margin size a bit off at the time, but I think I was using what was recc'd by my mentors.)

The big houses use page count, and I believe they assume roughly 250 words a page, depending on the pitch of your mono-spaced font.

Small publishing houses and on-line venues don't care, and I've seen the whackiest: Word-count by page is DEAD and NO ONE USES it posts from editors at those houses. Whacky because it's not true. They don't use them. Figure that the word count affects typesetting; if the typesetting is done out of house, by-page word count using a mono-space font is the way to go.
Re: Hmm. - rachelmanija - Sep. 10th, 2004 10:32 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Hmm. - lnhammer - Sep. 10th, 2004 10:41 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Hmm. - nonnycat - Sep. 10th, 2004 10:47 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Hmm. - msagara - Sep. 10th, 2004 03:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Hmm. - nonnycat - Sep. 10th, 2004 05:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Hmm. - janni - Sep. 10th, 2004 11:26 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Hmm. - msagara - Sep. 10th, 2004 03:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Hmm. - msagara - Sep. 10th, 2004 03:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Hmm. - lnhammer - Sep. 10th, 2004 05:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Hmm. - msagara - Sep. 10th, 2004 05:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Hmm. - nonnycat - Sep. 10th, 2004 06:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Hmm. - msagara - Sep. 10th, 2004 06:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
jodimuse
Sep. 10th, 2004 06:04 am (UTC)
A very interesting topic and certainly something I wasn't aware of from the publisher's or from the writer's point of view.

I just got finished reading Hunter's Oath (quite enjoyed it, by the way. I like your style.) and I see what you mean about how awful it would be to have to end half way through with only build up and none of the "pay off". ;)

I also see what you mean about publishers not reprinting because it's been *hard* for me to find a copy of Hunter's Death (I had to get the first one from the library). It's looking like I'll have to go to Amazon.ca and use their Marketplace sales because it's no longer apparently in print (even the library here doesn't have it, though I could probably ask them to order it...) - or not that Amazon.ca can get a hold of, or that I've seen in stores. And I've looked. EXTREMELY frustrating to read the first of a series - even if it's just a two book series - and not be able to find the next one. I'm like the first person who commented there and prefer to read things in order.

I can see how this trend with the publishers is going to get mightily annoying for readers - especially if we're paying tons more for books that are already pretty darned expensive. (You don't want to know how much money I spend on books every month. )

Anyway, thanks for the education. :) -- Jodi
msagara
Sep. 10th, 2004 09:06 am (UTC)
find a copy of Hunter's Death (I had to get the first one from the library). ... It's looking like I'll have to go to Amazon.ca and use their Marketplace sales because it's no longer apparently in print (even the library here doesn't have it, though I could probably ask them to order it...) - or not that Amazon.ca can get a hold of, or that I've seen in stores.

It's in print. We just got it back in at the store -- but it took about 6 weeks, and I think it was reprinted (printing number changed), so that might be part of the problem. And yes, people came here looking for it as well... it's one of those awkward things, when someone asks why we don't have it <wry g>.
(no subject) - jodimuse - Sep. 10th, 2004 10:14 am (UTC) - Expand
mmarques
Sep. 10th, 2004 06:33 am (UTC)
I find that my expectations are a lot higher with long works. It better be brilliant for me to take the time to read the entire book. I'm a lot less critical with shorter works.

For example, I read the first book of Tad William's "Otherland" series and it was only at the end realized it was part of a series (the other books weren't out yet). It was an interesting story, but I just didn't think it was worth the effort to read the other books. On the other hand, I have series with many volumes... if the books are all short.
msagara
Sep. 10th, 2004 03:22 pm (UTC)
 For example, I read the first book of Tad William's "Otherland" series and it was only at the end realized it was part of a series (the other books weren't out yet). It was an interesting story, but I just didn't think it was worth the effort to read the other books. On the other hand, I have series with many volumes... if the books are all short.

You would be the ideal target market in some ways for the shorter books with smaller arcs in bigger universe theory.

In the readers differ category, I adored Otherland. I adored the first book, and think it's possibly the best of the four, and what he accomplished in characterization and texture -- for me -- in that first book he couldn't have done in less space. It's easily my favourite of his works.
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moontyger
Sep. 10th, 2004 06:36 am (UTC)
I also found this interesting and honestly somewhat puzzling. Aren't most of the bestselling fantasy series BFFs? What about the phenomenon that is Harry Potter - each subsequent book gets longer, but you don't hear people complaining. I have always gotten the general impression that most fantasy readers prefer longer books - if nothing else, it slows down our book consumption so our finances can keep up!

I also have a kind of off-topic question: do you have any idea how one would go about getting into the publishing industry; in particular, an entry-level editing position? I have been trying and it seems every position wants experience I don't have. Not asking for favors and it's ok if you don't know, just thought you might know and have some advice/insights.

Lastly, I really do love your work and think it would be a terrible disservice to it and any works like it were they cut down merely to fit some standard shorter length.

alfreda89
Sep. 10th, 2004 08:49 am (UTC)
I also found this interesting and honestly somewhat puzzling. Aren't most of the bestselling fantasy series BFFs? What about the phenomenon that is Harry Potter - each subsequent book gets longer, but you don't hear people complaining.

Actually, talking with parents and teachers, the youngest HP fans are having trouble making it through the last volume. I think her YA readers may have hit the wall for length. I even confess to skimming the end of that one....

I have the burden of reading fast--and very little time. If the book is good, I want to fall into it and not come out until I'm finished. So I don't pick up the big ones--I would never have read HP if Volumes 1, 2 & 3 had been the length of 4 and 5.

(no subject) - veejane - Sep. 10th, 2004 09:06 am (UTC) - Expand
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kristine_smith
Sep. 10th, 2004 06:43 am (UTC)
The economics of scale apply here: It's cheaper to print a 900 page book when you're printing 20,000 of them than it is to print that same book, per unit, at 4,000, which is what small reprint runs often are.

As recently as, oh, sometime last week, my understanding was that one way to justify smaller initial print runs was because it was easier to just go back and reprint the book when copies sold out. An initial printing of 20K and three subsequent 2500 or 5000 copy reprints was better than sales of 35K out of a 50K print run because there was no wastage (numbers simplified for the sake of discussion).

CODE came in at about 125K as the result of ruthless cutting on my part. Looking back, I probably should not have done that, both for the sake of the book itself as well as my future word counts--for subsequent books, I struggled to bring in 145-150K word counts, which in my case came out to about 625 manuscript pages. I have a 125K limit (give or take some wiggle room) written into my contract. Obviously, I wiggle quite a bit.

But now it seems as though fewer and fewer books will be reprinted, even though the demand may be there. I don't know what to say to that, except that maybe I should hope that rumblings come to pass and Jani 5 does indeed come out in trade paper format.

msagara
Sep. 10th, 2004 09:15 am (UTC)
As recently as, oh, sometime last week, my understanding was that one way to justify smaller initial print runs was because it was easier to just go back and reprint the book when copies sold out. An initial printing of 20K and three subsequent 2500 or 5000 copy reprints was better than sales of 35K out of a 50K print run because there was no wastage (numbers simplified for the sake of discussion).

This is absolutely true, and there's no conflict with the length dictate; if the books are short enough, the cost of reprinting a small run will still net money for the publisher; it's when they're long that it's more costly, and sometimes too costly.

So in the case of 120K words (or, I should think, 150K, because they can -- as alfreda89 pointed out, fiddle with margins, fonts, etc.), the book is easier to keep in print than a monstrous 300K words.
veejane
Sep. 10th, 2004 09:20 am (UTC)
Greetings! I'm not a regular consumer of doorstop fiction, but having wandered the Noreascon dealers' room rather a lot, I thought I'd put in my $0.02. The funny thing was, I avidly purchase trade PBs, and actively avoid mass market editions (I find they fall apart much more easily, doubly so as the page count increases), and the dealers' room was All Mass Market Alla Time. (And some HCs.)

Being too poor for HC, and too wary of MM (ever since I was 19, and To Green Angel Tower came out in two volumes at MM size), trades are really my best option. I'm sort of surprised more doorstops don't come out in trade size; I suppose it's related to the perception of the trade PB as being more small press/obscure/arty? Also I'm sure it would set big booksellers on their ears, having to redesign their shelving areas to accomodate more tall books.

(I don't have any idea about the per-unit costs of printing and shipping, and since taller books are slimmer, I don't even know whether there's a notable storage space difference per unit.)

Anyway. Seeing that MM is the only edition available is a great way to send me to the library.
orzelc
Sep. 10th, 2004 11:31 am (UTC)
Being too poor for HC, and too wary of MM (ever since I was 19, and To Green Angel Tower came out in two volumes at MM size), trades are really my best option. I'm sort of surprised more doorstops don't come out in trade size; I suppose it's related to the perception of the trade PB as being more small press/obscure/arty? Also I'm sure it would set big booksellers on their ears, having to redesign their shelving areas to accomodate more tall books.

There's a difference between "trade paperback" and "large-size paperback." "Trade" technically means "non-strippable," namely, a bookstore returning a trade paperback has to ship the entire book back, rather than just ripping off the cover and shipping that back. These are usually but not always the larger size paperbacks-- I think it was White Wolf who used to print books in the "mass-market" size that weren't strippable.

Anyway, I think this difference is probably at the heart of the size issue, at least on the seller's end: the extra cost and hassle of having to ship the whole large-size paperback back to the publisher make them less attractive, whatever the benefits to the reader may be.

But then, all I know about this issue comes from seeing Patrick Nielsen Hayden explain the trade/ mass-market thing about a dozen times on Usenet, back in the day...
(no subject) - msagara - Sep. 10th, 2004 03:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - orzelc - Sep. 10th, 2004 05:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msagara - Sep. 10th, 2004 05:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msagara - Sep. 10th, 2004 03:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - veejane - Sep. 12th, 2004 05:50 am (UTC) - Expand
alleypat
Sep. 10th, 2004 01:42 pm (UTC)
heard the same at ArmadilloCon, shorter means less paper, go figure
robling_t
Sep. 10th, 2004 09:56 pm (UTC)
Oh, great, something else to worry about... ;) In my case this feeds into the suspicion I've been having lately that the fact that I can feel how my current project is structured into three strong acts is going to have some theoretical Editor itching to release it as a trilogy, which I don't think the individual acts could really support if I write it the way I want it to be written. {sigh}
msagara
Sep. 10th, 2004 10:05 pm (UTC)
Having said all of this, my gut advice would still be to write the book the way you want it to be written. Trends are things that it's better to set than to follow -- and no one knows who will lead the next one. Once you've finished, you can then withdraw a bit from the story-rush and look more clearly at what you have -- but I've never found it horribly useful to try to think "business" and "writing" at the same time.
zhaneel69
Sep. 13th, 2004 04:00 pm (UTC)
I agree with you, in some cases. There are some books (GRRM/JC) that would be very bad if cut too short.

However there are some authors who would do better with shorter lengths. Robin Hobb comes to mind. I am firmly of the opinion that she writes duologies that are padded into triologies because that is the expected length. Her latest trilogy (Tawny Man: Fool's Errand) starts out at 688 pages, mm. And I would have been fine cutting about half of the opening chapters. Not the chapters in full, but shortening each of them by half. And the second book (Golden Fool) didn't even have a clear climax/resolution, IMO. She could have easily cut a lot out of that one. Not sure about the third. Her previous two series (LiveShip Traders & Farseer) had a middle book problem as well as slow starts, IIRC.

So, I can see the desire to head toward shorter books because many authors do pad and do not need the 500+ page books to tell their stories. But I agree that there are exceptions. I think I would be happier if publishers were just more willing to push the appropriate authors to cut, rather than force good authors to butcher their books.

I also think there can be stories told in short form and that those have been being under-represented due to the epic length tradition.

Zhaneel
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