Book length

JOdel at aol.com JOdel at aol.com
Fri Feb 7 15:23:51 EST 2003


This is also a matter of what the trend is at the time a book was brought 
out. And the economics.

50  years ago, a book, particularly any piece of genre fiction, was generally 
about 200-250 pages. You rarely found one under 150, and anything over, say 
350 was practically unheard of. Of course a paperback was still well under a 
dollar, too. A hardback was usually decently under $10. This was simply the 
way things were and I rather suspect that anyone trying to get a story sold 
just had to conform or else. The form factor had a lot to do with the impact 
that such things as the Balentine LOTR made. You could tell that this was a 
"major work" just by looking at it, due to the space it took up on the shelf. 
If the publishers would devite that much shelf space to one trilogy, it must 
be important.

Well, books started getting more expensive over the decades, particularly in 
the '80s. And I suspect that the publishers started dealing with longer works 
as a means of justifying the higher prices that they were demanding from the 
customer. And the customer *was* more likely to plunk down $5 for a paperback 
if that paperback was 400+ pages rather than 250. Last time I checked, an $8 
paperback of around 600 pages was not at all unusual. Think about it. If a 
paperback costs $7, and you can only afford one and you have narrowed your 
choice down to one that's 250 pages and another that is 550, and you never 
heard of *either* author, and you really *can't* see anything in either blurb 
that tips the scale, and you've skimmed the fiorst couple of pages of both 
and they both appear to be pretty well written and flow easily, which are you 
most likly to actually plunk that $7 down for? Unless you've developed an 
actual aversion for books of one length or other?  

And there is no question that computerization makes it easier for an author 
to run on.  But if the publishers put thir foot down, the authors would 
ultimately toe the line. But they won't. Publishers right now *like* doorstop 
novels. And there are some works which really *do* spill out into hundreds 
and hundreds of pages. (Rowling is a good example, here. Goblet of Fire was 
738 pages, but there isn't any specific thing in it that can be easily 
identified as padding. And while going for a smaller font and tighter 
typography might have brought the page count down a little, it would have 
made the book a bit more of a chore to actually read. And it would still have 
been a doorstop.)

And from the reader's point of view; I think DWJ's comments about writing for 
adults as opposed for children (before she discovered that the distinction 
was largely a matter of marketing on the part of the publishers) are 
appropriate here. The adults, the people who actually go out and look for a 
nice doorstop novel, (as opposed to those kids who are looking for the 
shortest book they can get away with writing their report on) are quite 
deliberately looking for something they can kick off thir shoes and unwind 
with. Like a nice long soak in a bubblebath. 

(I mean, how *else* do you explain how Mercedes Lackey manages to repeatedly 
pull off those half chapter at a stretch digressions on the fabrics and the 
plumbing arangements and the administrative minutia which underpins and 
enables her noble military and virtuous public servants' comfortable 
lifestyles?)
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