Sunday, August 4, 2013

Does Size Matter? (Sorry All You Sex Fiends-We're Talking #Books)

Size is a factor in my life at the moment. I'm working on book three in the Cass Elliot crime series and while not tapping at the keyboard, am stumbling upon opinions about book length.

The general consensus I've heard through authors on Twitter is that shorter is better, regardless of genre. That attention spans are shrinking and readers want shorter books. That you can churn out more books if you use fewer words and thus hit the bestseller lists faster.

I've watched these conversations with morbid fascination, but I'm not drinking the Kool-Aid.

Let's start with the premise that everyone (readers and writers) wants a well-written book. Beyond that, I think writers are looking for an absolute that doesn't exist. I also think we're asking the wrong question. Instead, I'd like to know:

Does one size fit all?


From a reader's perspective, the answer has to be "no". Otherwise, either James Patterson or Stephen King would be out of a job. Based on bookstore shelf space and bestseller lists, both authors, who write books of very different lengths and complexity, are doing a booming business. And if you think King gets away with writing huge tomes due only to his superstar status, check out bestsellers The Passage and The Twelve by Justin Cronin. They weigh in at 900 and 600 pages, respectively.

The answer also has to be "no" from an author's perspective, or the bestseller lists would be loaded with books of roughly the same length.

My two cents? I think each author has a sweet spot that works for them. I also think that sweet spot might change as the author changes genre, moves between the series they write, or as their writing matures. Readers might also have a sweet spot, or expectations, particularly as they get to know an author.

As a reader, I gravitate toward books in a series. And I'm a little Pavlovian about those books. When I open a Charlie Parker novel by John Connolly, I expect a read that's at least 450-500 pages. His plots are complex and some story lines weave through several books. I love that sense of anticipation between books, wondering if Parker will finally deal with the Travelling Man, or if the Collector will show up in the next novel.

When I read an Artemis Fowl novel by Eoin Colfer? I'm expecting 350-400 pages. These books are a lighter read, aimed for a teen or young adult audience. They're well-written, make me laugh, and I can't wait to open the next book in the series.

Regardless of book length, isn't achieving that level of engagement with our readers the reason we write?

But I'm just one voice. Reader, writer, or both: Do all the readers in your life demand books of a certain length? Do you judge a book by its heft? Do you feel cheated if you spend $20 to $30 for an anorexic hardback, or victorious if you pick up a doorstop for under a fiver?

photo credit: Smarter's photos via photopin cc photo credit: Derek K. Miller via photopin cc