Friday, October 28, 2011

Length Matters

(Cue the uproarious laughter and unwanted traffic.)

I'm reaching the logical end of Flash 2 and it's "short".  Which made me think about length so that's what we're going to talk about today.

There are a couple reasons for the length of books as far as legacy publishing is concerned.  How many books fit into a box.  Is the book the same approx physical size as everything else--will they fit on the shelf, will they get lost, too big, too heavy, too small, too insignificant in appearance.  Is the length appropriate for the physical needs of the printer.  Can you charge more for a longer book than a shorter one ie do customers think they're getting value for their money?

Quite a few years ago I wanted to do an illustrated history of the soda fountain.  I thought this would be a great coffee table book.  No one else did.  My agent sent it around and around.  Finally it got to Chronicle and the editors liked it.  It had become more of a recipe book than history but still it was close.  Then they sent it to the cost analysis team and it was decided that if the book was the size of a paperback and cost $11 maybe that would work for them.  I shrieked my disapproval to my agent.  It didn't matter, the bean counters quickly decided it was too expensive to produce for its size no matter how small they made it.  (You can see it to the right as The Soda Fountain Book and it does contain photos, images and recipes.)

Readers have been spoiled by this length thing as a leftover from legacy publishing.  They expect 60,000-100,000 words for everything and priced at 99 cents.

I go back to what my first editor told me "A book is as long as it takes to tell the story."  I would add the word well.  Because you can say it takes 100,000 words to tell a story but if you cut 250 pages, and no one would miss it, was the story told well?

I have hostility to this demand for artificial length.

Now I have to get back to Flash 2.

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