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Can a book be too long?

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Ash
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Post by Ash » Sat February 28th, 2009, 2:02 am

[quote=""Volgadon""]Books really should only be as long as it takes to tell the story well.[/quote]

Yes, thats it in a nutshell I have no problem reading long books, as long as the story is still being told. Books that are long but that have little to say, or ones that are badly in need of an editor, are among the wallbangers in my house. On the other hand, I have read novels that stop short of 200 (actually I think these are novellas), that had me pondering and thinking about the story long after.

I like books at about 3-400 pages. These are the ones I can finish over a weekend or two. I don't generally care for short stories, because there is usually too much missing (exceptions: Ray Bradbury stories, O'Henry and Saki, and Interpreter of Maladies)
Last edited by Ash on Sat February 28th, 2009, 2:05 am, edited 1 time in total.

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favourite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Sat February 28th, 2009, 4:29 am

I like books that suck me into their storyworld and give me an emotional experience that feels real. Long books have more room to do that, but they also have more room to bore me, or to jar me out of the storyworld with things that don't match up to my experience of knowledge.

Of late, it seems that almost every long book I read has me thinking, "Hmm, that could have been cut and the story would be much the better for it." January's BOTM being a case in point.

And yes, Harry Potter #5 really needed an edit. And a stronger plot line, as long as we are at it. Somehow, figuring out an old prophecy didn't seem to be worth the risk to the Dark Lord. The happenings at Hogwarts were where the real story was, and the ending felt like a tacked-on distraction. Not to mention the long monologue by Dumbledore at the end. Way too long. In fact, almost all the books after #3 needed a serious trim, IMHO.

Economics are a factor in every art medium. Everybody knows that Television shows some in half-hour increments, with room for commercials. Nobody complains -- they just craft their art to the constraints. It's part of the challenge that drives creativity.

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juleswatson
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Post by juleswatson » Sun March 1st, 2009, 6:38 pm

[quote=""Divia""]Its hard for me to stay focused, and I wonder if thats why some publishers do it. We have so many demands on us in today's society.[/quote]

[quote=""EC2""]Agents and editors mostly require shorter books. Jules is right. I am not allowed to go above a certain number of words - otherwise mine might be as long as the Penman's. Bookshops in the English market will ask how many copies they can get in a dump bin or on the shelves. One or two authors can get away with writing massive chunksters, but they really are few and far between.[/quote]

Since I started this by grouching to Rowan, I really should post - sorry I'm tardy! I'm not surprised by your responses: a story can drag at any length, and a book "should" be as long as it needs to be. What is frustrating is that intelligent readers (all of us) would like the freedom to read long or short. BUT, as EC said, before you get that choice, publishers are deciding that READERS can only handle short, fast-moving books of any kind. Or as my agent said dolefully, "The era of the epic saga appears to be over." I'm not allowed to just write and see how long each particular story "needs" to be - I have a strict word length like EC and that's what I am bound by. And it needs to be done in a year, chop chop! My agent sold The Mists of Avalon in the 1980s and said when they found out it would come in two years late and more than 300,000 words long the publisher and agent rejoiced. He said it probably would not be accepted now. Writers who became famous during the saga era and still hold their readers today can do what they like, ie. Gabaldon. Which is understandable for dollar reasons. What I was interested in was whether this attitude on the behalf of publishers was reflected in reader tastes or another of their knee-jerk reactions like the debate on marquee names. Perhaps it does mirror average reader tastes, who knows?
Author of Celtic historical fantasy
New book "THE RAVEN QUEEN" out Feb 22 2011: The story of Maeve, the famous warrior queen of Irish mythology.
Out now, "THE SWAN MAIDEN", the ancient tale of Deirdre, the Irish 'Helen of Troy'
http://www.juleswatson.com

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juleswatson
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Post by juleswatson » Sun March 1st, 2009, 6:41 pm

[quote=""MLE""]Economics are a factor in every art medium. Everybody knows that Television shows some in half-hour increments, with room for commercials. Nobody complains -- they just craft their art to the constraints. It's part of the challenge that drives creativity.[/quote]

Oops and I forgot to say this is very true and a great point. Being challenged to say what I want in less words is pushing me creatively. Thanks for the reminder :o see not grouchy, really
Author of Celtic historical fantasy
New book "THE RAVEN QUEEN" out Feb 22 2011: The story of Maeve, the famous warrior queen of Irish mythology.
Out now, "THE SWAN MAIDEN", the ancient tale of Deirdre, the Irish 'Helen of Troy'
http://www.juleswatson.com

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Volgadon
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Post by Volgadon » Sun March 1st, 2009, 6:53 pm

Are you sure that its because of a supposed short attention span rather than economic factors?

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juleswatson
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Post by juleswatson » Sun March 1st, 2009, 6:57 pm

It's both, I guess. Long books cost more to produce and ship and take up more space on shelves etc, yes. But I have to say, my UK publishers from 2004 to 2008 never said anything about book length affecting production costs. My agent, who reps many authors, is talking of this as a new thing, as if it is about attention spans. That's only his opinion, of course.
Author of Celtic historical fantasy
New book "THE RAVEN QUEEN" out Feb 22 2011: The story of Maeve, the famous warrior queen of Irish mythology.
Out now, "THE SWAN MAIDEN", the ancient tale of Deirdre, the Irish 'Helen of Troy'
http://www.juleswatson.com

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Misfit
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Post by Misfit » Sun March 1st, 2009, 7:46 pm

[quote=""juleswatson""]It's both, I guess. Long books cost more to produce and ship and take up more space on shelves etc, yes. But I have to say, my UK publishers from 2004 to 2008 never said anything about book length affecting production costs. My agent, who reps many authors, is talking of this as a new thing, as if it is about attention spans. That's only his opinion, of course.[/quote]


Well if its all economics and saving space and paper, why in the h*** are these newer books coming out with larger font, double spacing and extra pages between paragraphs?

As for big epic sagas, I've just rediscovered a few of those in the last year and I have to say are numbered among my favorites and I'm on the hunt for more.

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EC2
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Post by EC2 » Sun March 1st, 2009, 7:50 pm

[quote=""juleswatson""]It's both, I guess. Long books cost more to produce and ship and take up more space on shelves etc, yes. But I have to say, my UK publishers from 2004 to 2008 never said anything about book length affecting production costs. My agent, who reps many authors, is talking of this as a new thing, as if it is about attention spans. That's only his opinion, of course.[/quote]

My agent cannot sell long books in that many foreign markets because of production costs, so her brief is to keep the word count down. My editor has been the same re length for many years - and again it's production costs, not attention spans. I've never had it sold to me as an attention span problem. Apparently you can get away with the chunkies if your sales are stellar - like Follet - but otherwise (usually) you have to keep the word count down. I know I can't go over 165,000 per novel. It's not in my contract, but if I presented at 170,000 I'd be told to cut - and it would all be to do with production. Sharon Kay Penman told me her contract from days long gone but still a clause existing, allows her to write BIG. But, when you write BIG, you may well be stuffing yourself for international sales.
Les proz e les vassals
Souvent entre piez de chevals
Kar ja li coard n’I chasront

'The Brave and the valiant
Are always to be found between the hooves of horses
For never will cowards fall down there.'

Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal

www.elizabethchadwick.com

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Leyland
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Post by Leyland » Sun March 1st, 2009, 8:29 pm

I love when a chunkster (love that term!) comes together so well that I've done what others have mentioned by getting emotionally involved and swept into a past world for hours and hours. I hate when I come to The End and have to leave! That's the magic.

350 pages are really the preferred minimum amount for me and 900 or a little more is just grand. Since the editors are laying down the law to writers, I hope many of them will leave endings ripe for a sequel should the first novel prove to be successful.
We are the music makers, And we are the dreamers of dreams ~ Arthur O'Shaughnessy, Ode

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Posts: 3562
Joined: August 2008
Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favourite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Sun March 1st, 2009, 8:49 pm

forget pages -- the important thing is word count. I was looking at one of the Twilight sequels -- don't remember which one. It was 700-plus pages, but I don't think the novel could have topped 150K words. The font was 12 point, the spacing at least 18. 1" margins all around.

Publishers do pay per page. And to ship the heavy thing. But since new formats (ebooks, graphic novels, audiobooks) are proliferating and sales methods are rapidly shifting (online, direct-to-buyer POD, even point-of-sale POD), the entire publishing world is undergoing a serious and lasting transformation. I wouldn't spend any time haggling over the way things are done now. In two-four years, a whole different model will be in place.

Some factors to consider while trying to figure out where things will go:
Production cost for a long ebook is virtually the same as a short one; for print-on-demand it all depends on the number of pages, but up to a point the size doesn't change the price (so you could simply have fewer, but larger, pages), whereas for an audiobook, every additional minute means substantially higher costs of production, but the resulting digital stream product is almost free.

Music labels used to make or break artists. Now they are almost irrelevant. I would not invest in publishing company stocks right now.
Last edited by MLE (Emily Cotton) on Sun March 1st, 2009, 8:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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