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A Post About Novel Length

Today's post on novel length, "Turns Out, Length Really Does Matter..." can be found at http://magicalwords.net, the group blog I maintain with fellow fantasy writers Faith Hunter, Misty Massey, and C.E. Murphy.  Please visit the site and enjoy today's post.

Comments

( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
varkat
Mar. 30th, 2009 02:02 pm (UTC)
I added a link to it on my blog!
davidbcoe
Mar. 30th, 2009 04:03 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Lucienne. Hope your journey north went well.
hedwig_snowy
Mar. 30th, 2009 03:14 pm (UTC)
Ok. You know that everyone will refer to you as "Pantser" from now on... :)

Interesting. As a consumer of fantasy books, I prefer books that lean toward 900+ pages. Go figure. Also, I've taken, since I have a stack of books that I'm working through, to buying book series one at a time, as usual, but not starting them until the last one is finished. e.g. Kate Elliott's Crossroads and David Farland's final trilogy in his Isle series. I have the first two in each trilogy and will wait for the third book to read them all at once. Now, this would only happen when there is a definite and small number of books in a series and I already know the author's work. Although, for that Pantser guy I can't help getting them and reading their books right after they come out... ;)

It's not that I'm not excited to read the other series, but I've found that I like to read them all at one time.

Also, I like Omnibus books that have multiple books all together. Not for the cost, but for the enjoyment of going through it all at one time. Zelazny's Amber series pops into my head. If I had to wait a year or more in between books, there is no way I would have remembered all the detail from his previous book(s).

Curious: I wonder if booksales for books 1 & 2, in a trilogy, increase after book 3 comes out because of this or just as a natural progression of more people finding an author as they publish?

So, my long-winded point....I like books that take me more than one sitting to read. One of the draws of fantasy books over, say, John Grisham's 300-400 page summer at the beach reading. :) I get the quality over quantity point. Is it wrong to want both? ;)
davidbcoe
Mar. 30th, 2009 05:48 pm (UTC)
It's not at all wrong to want both. This is why epic fantasy tends to be longer than other subgenres. But while there are certainly readers like you out there, the buyers for the various big bookstores are the ones who have the power over trends like these. If, say, Books-A-Million turns my book face out on the shelf, they can fit three books at 200,000 words, but four at 140,000. And if they have them spine out, the rate of shelf space gained is about the same. Plus, with hardcovers price point (the book's list price) is everything. They want to see books price at $25.95 or so -- no higher than $27.95. But when hardcovers get big, their price goes up, and they can't sell as many Pantser B. Coe books at $29.95. Just a fact of the market.

Another list I'm on has just been talking about sales of later volumes in series, and there is definitely anecdotal evidence of increased sales for all books in a series after the final book has been released. Particularly in trilogies. Book 1 will sell pretty well, there might be some dropoff for book 2, but then book 3 comes out and sales of all three benefit.

And for the record, I've been called a lot worse...
sizztheseed
Mar. 30th, 2009 03:31 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the post. I love it when you inject a little reality into the mix.

I'm really struggling with this one myself. The WIP is very tightly on course to be wrapped up at around 185,000 words and although I can see some places to trim and make more concise, such changes would just be cosmetic. The fundamental problem is that the book has six main characters who are weaving back and forth between each other and the politics of the central conflict are just too complex. Or at least that's how I feel now. Maybe after a month or two of sitting on it when it's finished I'll be able to go back and cut away the fat.

One thing's for sure, though--I'm not going to be able to write anything else until this one is finished, so salable or not, it's going to have to be done!
davidbcoe
Mar. 30th, 2009 05:51 pm (UTC)
If you find that you really can't cut, that there really is simply enough material to justify 185,000, you might want to consider whether the book has a natural dividing point and make it into two books. If you manage to sell the first book, the first question a publisher will ask is "What else you got?" Well, if you have a natural duology, that might be a good thing. Something to consider. Good luck finishing it up!
sizztheseed
Mar. 31st, 2009 05:18 pm (UTC)
Sadly, it's already conceived of as a duology. Perhaps a tetrology after a fold and cut? Hard to find a place where you can simply stop the book in the middle and tell people to wait for the end. The action's just beginning by then.

Still, this is all just musing aloud. Thanks for the suggestion. I suspect it's inevitable if it's ever going to appear in print.
jamietr
Mar. 30th, 2009 08:18 pm (UTC)
Apropos to this subject, did you see that Brandon Sanderson announcedthat the last book of the Wheel of Time series is now being split into three books totaling nearly 800,000 words. ;-)
davidbcoe
Mar. 30th, 2009 08:49 pm (UTC)
All the Wheel of Time books have been pretty long -- I'd have been surprised if he came in with shorter ones. But three more, eh?
jamietr
Mar. 30th, 2009 09:21 pm (UTC)
What I find interesting about this--especially in the context of your article--is what Tom Doherty says about length. Apparently, this book kept growing and growing (and Brandon has good reasons for why). Brandon writes:

By this point, I'd already warned Tom and Harriet that I saw the length being very large, but I hadn't told Tom the 700-800k number. When I'd mentioned 400k to him once, he'd been wary. He explained to me that he felt 400k was unprintably large in today's publishing market. Things have changed since the 90's, and booksellers are increasingly frustrated with the fantasy genre, which tends to take up a lot of shelf space with very few books. There is constant pressure from the big chain bookstores to keep things smaller and thinner. When I'd turned in Mistborn 2 (revised and already trimmed) at 250k, production and marketing had nearly had a fit, complaining that the book would cost more to print than it would make. Tom approved the publication of the book anyway. (And fortunately we managed to fit it into enough pages--and sell enough copies--that it was still profitable.)
davidbcoe
Mar. 30th, 2009 10:57 pm (UTC)
This is completely in keeping with what I'm seeing as well. The market is changing, and big fat fantasies are becoming relics. Except for a few big names, that is.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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