Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Does Size Matter?

by Janis Patterson

If you are old enough, you can probably remember when the average sized paperback was between a quarter of an inch and a third of an inch thick – thin little things. In writer terms, that would probably be around 40,000 to 50,000 words. At mass market dimensions these skinny little things slid easily into a pocket or purse, were easy and lightweight to hold and were available just about everywhere.

Then I don’t know what happened. Although they kept the same mass market cover sizes, the books started to grow. And grow. And grow, until some were half as thick as they were tall. The prices grew bigger even faster. There aren’t many of those ultra-thick books around anymore, but the ‘average’ paperback is still about twice as thick as the early ones.

But then the size of books has always been variable Back in the ‘30s, during the Great Depression, books began to thicken to absurd proportions – ANTHONY ADVERSE springs to mind. My father called it a doorstop that told a story. I suppose that in those parlous economic times if people were going to outlay precious cash for a book, they wanted to feel they got their money’s worth. Then during World War II everything became precious and paper was no exception. Books grew thin again and were printed on practically transparent flimsy paper; that way more books could be shipped to the fighting men overseas. The homefront just had to put up with them. After the war, in the ‘50s, books stayed thin, though they were printed on better paper.

Perhaps it was romance novels and romantic sagas that started the size bloat again. Katherine Woodiwiss, anyone? Which was fine, as long as the story justified such a size – and the corresponding prices. Too often the stories were blatantly padded with adjectives and circumlocutions, almost as if they came from the old ‘pay per word’ days. Mysteries have never been as bad as romances in the big book department, though they had almost doubled in size from the average 40-50K to 85-90K.

Now, after a decade or so of big books, the pendulum is swinging back. James Patterson has announced his intention to start doing short reads, something that can be read in one or two commutes or lunch hours. Now James Patterson has enough of a following that anything he does will be a success, even if his books were printed on tortilla chips. The question is, will this be a definite trend in the market (are people that hungry for short reads from any author except James Patterson?) or is it a one of a kind stunt that only a favorite best seller can pull off?

We’ll find out in a couple of months – so all I can say is brace yourselves, because here we go again!


Jacqueline Seewald said...

I don't know if this will be a trend or not. It'll be interesting to see. I'd love to write shorter if it suits the story.

Cheryl said...

Thought provoking post, Janis. I wonder how this will play out. Personally, I like a book I can get lost in for a good, satisfying read. (Great post title!)

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

Very interesting post!
Thanks for sharing.
Good luck and God's blessings.

Sandy Cody said...

I love being immersed in a good long book, but the key word here is good. I can think of a few I've read lately that would have benefited from some serious editing. I resent books that I know have been padded to achieve a certain word count.

Morgan Mandel said...

My attention span is shorter now. I enjoy novellas, but not short stories, because those are too short for me.

And, it's so much handier now to load tons of books onto my kindle, instead of lugging around paperbacks or hardcovers. Still, once in a while, I like to read the old fashioned way, especially in situations when I'd be afraid by kindle might get wrecked.

Radine Trees Nehring said...

I'm for shorter books. In fact, back in the day, I'd pass up the one inch plus thick mass market books simply because they took too long to read. Personal prejudice? Sure. Guess I'm the impatient type.

Linda Thorne said...

Very interesting. I remember the small paperbacks and I seemed to read more of them, but then the 300 page plus novels became the ones I remember the most. Lonesome Dove and the Prince of Tides took many more pages and were longer to read than I wanted and yet I loved every moment. Atlas Shrugged was over a 1000 pages. I loved the book, but never finished it. I prefer picking up a book between 300 and 380 pages. I'm more comfortable in that range and may miss out because of that comfort level.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Since I write short, I'm glad to see the trend changing. Though I've tried to write longer (my first two books were 500 pages, but they were historical family sagas and covered several generations) I find when I'm done, I'm done. Most of my mysteries only cover a few days times, and I suppose that's part of it.