This article in The Economist surprised me a lot, for when they analysed the ratings given to books by readers on Goodreads, there was a bias towards long tomes.
It could be argued, that in a recession people go for items that appear to offer greater value. Perhaps, when the economy is prospering, there’s an upsurge in consumption of highly priced ‘fun-sized’ disposable items, including short books. Remember the Penguin Mini Modern Classics?
A couple of years ago, writing gurus predicted that there’d be an increase in sales of flash fiction, short stories and novellas, as so many readers consumed writing on handheld devices while commuting or on work breaks. In the last few months, publishing industry experts have noted a decline in the sale of novellas. This explains why so many novella-length books are being called novels—hoodwinking readers into thinking they’ve achieved something worthy.
The worst example of this I’ve read is the highly-praised The End We Start From by Megan Hunter, which at 160 widely spaced pages and 48,800 words is hardly long enough to be described as a novel.
Having said that, recently, I’ve been re-reading old favourites not looked at for decades, which have through time been labelled as classics. I borrowed a copy of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row from my local library, surprised that the Penguin paperback edition is only 163 pages long. Looking on the Reading Length website, it’s 46,110 words, which is little more than novella length.
This article on book-length offers some useful advice.
I’ve been targetting my Cornish Detective novels at about 80,000 words, based on widespread advice that this is a sensible compromise between content and length for a debut author. I chafe at the bit a little, for I’d be able to do more characterisation with 100,000 words.
I’m not sure what it means, but in my recent campaign of querying literary agents—88, so far, and counting—three of them stipulated that the finished novel should be at least 60,000 words long. Perhaps they’ve received lots of undersized manuscripts.
When looking at long books for reading matter, I tend to be influenced more by subject matter and whether I’ve read the author before, than by the thought that it might take me several weeks to finish. I’ve read several very long novels in recent years, including Neal Stephenson’s Reamde at 1,056 pages and 322,080 words and at a bit more than half that length, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History which clocks in at 576 pages and 192,705 words.
If readers see long books as better value for money than normal length offerings of 300-350 pages, then they’d be delighted to acquire Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea Quartet for 25p, as I just did in my local charity shop. I haven’t read it before, so I’m looking forward to getting lost in another world. At 691 pages long, it will keep me occupied for a while.
How long are the books you write?
What’s the longest book you’ve read?
If you favour audiobooks, do you listen to long books that way?