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Monday, January 31, 2011

Book Length as Cultural Index

At the beginning of January,  Goodreads released a list of "Books of 2010," obtaining votes from users for a list of pre-selected tomes as well as a few write-in winners. And so we confirm yet again that there are too may wonderful books to ever read.

I noticed a strange trend. Most of the most voted-for books were over 500 pages long, and many of these were mere parts of a series, meaning that the entire story would run thousands of pages. For some reason, I remembered English classes in grade school, which were just one long string of students complaining about how many pages the assigned books were. When we had to read Great Expectations, only the abridged version was required. Those of us who were curious enough to read the uncut version may have received extra credit just for intrepidness.

Are these people who would read the unabridged Dickens the same ones driving the voting for Goodreads' Best Books? Maybe they consider themselves "serious readers," who have to set themselves apart by reading epic tomes just for fun.

The long book phenomenon may have something to do with publishers, whose biggest cost is actually the paper the book is printed on. A shorter book doesn't generally become cheap enough for publishers to lower the price to meet consumers' expectations. And so, publishers choose to print longer works that make the readers feel they're getting their money's worth of paper and words.

Not to mention that series become addictive, and sales of one volume in a series boosts the next volume's sales, etc.

Another trend we've seen in the last few months is the increasing popularity of e-readers and thus, e-books. Obviously, paper costs are not an issue for e-books. Publishers can cut the prices significantly while delivering less traditional lengths of quality writing. Shorter books might have a fighting chance! I think that's the logic behind Amazon's recent announcement of a new category in e-books:

"Each Kindle Single presents a compelling idea--well researched, well argued, and well illustrated--expressed at its natural length."

"Natural length" here is defined as 5,000 to 30,000 words. I've always valued economy in writing: getting the most out of each word, making extra ones unnecessary. So I welcome the advent of this new category with open arms.

Tree/House fits neatly into the Single category. I'm not too snobbish to say that I valued a fast read without excess a full two years ago, when I, a publishing pioneer, first made Tree/House available to the Kindle reading public. I've waited patiently for the novella form to again fall into favor. Thanks to you, users of e-readers, it's well on its way! 

The best-selling novella, Tree/House: Now Unveiled in Its Proper Place as a Kindle Single! Thank you so much for reading.