No One Looks at Kindles Sideways
I recently read an interesting post by Joe Wikert where he talked about book length and sales in a digital world. As an author, it got me thinking about the nature of novel writing and how we deliver content to our readers.
One of Joe’s points was that every written work does not need to be a couple hundred pages long. On the surface, and perhaps in general, this makes sense. The physical bookshelf, while quaint, is becoming less of a commercial factor every day as more and more content is purchased online and/or consumed digitally. But “books” means a lot of things. Certainly, nonfiction books of every sort should not be a page longer than they need to be. Bloating a book so it takes up more shelf space has to be a thing of the past. And, in my opinion, the price should be adjusted accordingly.
Novels, on the other hand, need to be a certain length to be considered novels. While there may be no official word count for full-length, it is hard to consider anything below 50,000 words more than a novella. I would not want to see consumers charged full novel price for a novella. Disappointment in such a purchase can undermine the whole business model. However, with so many self published books out there of various lengths, some offered for $.99 or even free, it is not possible to strictly associate price and length.
People have no length expectations for a self-help guide beyond a length long enough to give them the help they desire. However novels are an experience. While movies have averaged shorter over the decades, they are still a certain length to satisfy the purchase price. There would be no commercial success for a theater release movie of thirty minutes, likely even if price reduced. A patron making an effort to go to a theater and buy a ticket wants to enjoy the fullness of their fantasy respite. As entertaining as thirty minutes can be made to be, it probably wouldn’t justify an evening out at the movies. (That’s what TV is for.)
Joe and I agree that selling books by the chapter is a dubious option. It may work for songs, which historically have been written and enjoyed individually. Albums are a relatively recent invention after all (outside of opera), and the success of iTunes shows that their basis was not necessary.
But Joe had high hopes for tailoring works to shorter length. An okay concept for information, but storytelling follows a less flexible path. If a person is into short stories, and that number may be increasing, short is fine. But the experience of getting to know a novel’s universe, and following along on an adventure of some length is as old as Shakespeare, and may be as old as some of the earliest hero’s journey epics. Every reader has an invisible ratio graph in their head of time invested versus literary payback. It has been culturally set by hundreds of years of tradition, and it’s not going to be upended because E-readers have become popular in the last five.
Tethered Worlds: Unwelcome Star is a full length adventure, one that will give you hours of fantastical enjoyment and respite beyond the distant colony world of Adams Rush. Go with Jordahk and experiences his challenges, victories, and penchant for getting into jams that may just save his planet.