Your Audience Doesn’t Care About Your Feelings

In addition to being a great, fun author, Brian Niemeier offers some of the best analysis of the state of the publishing industry on his blog Kairos. And one thing he’s pointed out is the market’s general turn away from really long books.

Generally, I’m not a fan of long, epic series. Three books is a sweet spot for me when it comes to a series . . . three 100K-plus books. Although if done right, like Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, I can live with, oh, fourteen books or so.

I’m hoping to be in the business of trying to sell books, though. I’ve got to change my thinking. And that’s where Brian comes in.His recent post, Sanderson’s Law, provides a good life lesson in addition to expostulating with the view that longer = better. In a business, you go where the market is. This doesn’t mean you “sell your soul,” but you have to be smart and serious about it if you actually want to earn enough money to make it worth your while:

That tweet is not a statement of personal preference or opinion. It is based on objective market data. As of this writing, the top three books in Science Fiction > Adventure: The Gender Game, Artemis, and Ready Player One are 418 pages, 322 pages, and 386 pages, respectively.

On the indie side, which is more relevant to our purposes, the longest Galaxy’s Edge book is 424 pages, and the most recent weighs in at a mere 277.

This is just one reason why I love Brian. Now, his three (soon to be four) Soul Cycle books are pretty long; I think the longest, Nethereal, is a little over 600 pages. But these are hardly “doorstops.” What Brian is doing is dealing with the world as it is for indie authors, not how he wishes it would be.

If you’re a Brandon Sanderson or a George R. R. Martin, by all means, write those doorstops. You already have a name. But for the rest of us? I’ll let Brian put it in his own words:

Do some readers prefer longer novels? Certainly, but the particular is not the general.

As for genre, the effects of book length on story are beside the point. My goal is to help new indie authors succeed. A major contributing factor to an author’s success is writing to market. Fantasy might be even more tarnished than science fiction. The thriller genre is thriving, and as the commenter above noted, thrillers tend to be short.

Also vital to indie publishing success is releasing new content regularly and frequently. Basic math dictates that it’s much harder to release a 300,000 word cube every month than a lean 50,000 word short novel–which happened to be the pulp standard.

In other words, it’s not about you. Nothing is. You can’t make reality conform to your feelings. That’s not how it works, in business or in life. You like 150K word books? No one cares. Adapt or die.

Big publishing is dying, especially in the sci-fi and fantasy markets. It might already be dead and it just doesn’t know it yet.

Speed is of the essence, and content is king. Books have to compete with on-line video, 140 (or 280) character missives, and episodic television shows for people’s attention. So hit them fast, hit them hard, and hit them often. That’s the pulp way, after all.


  1. I think it’s already obvious that I’m a dinosaur, so I’ll add to that image by confessing: I love long novels. (Great ones, anyway!)

    Are you writing to sell, or writing as an art? That’s an important distinction to make for oneself.

    Also, is your book long because that’s the arc of your story, or because you fail to edit?

    Jean Auel (sp? She who wrote “Clan of the Cave Bear”) had a retired teacher friend editing that great epic, but kept reinserting the detail her friend edited out. It worked out that time.

    An average bit of fluff reading? For me that would be a cozy mystery or character driven sci fi story… probably ought to be shorter.

    I want a long novel because I hope it’ll be the next great epic that sweeps me into its majesty and transports me somewhere awesome for as long as possible. Long but mediocre is more like dental surgery.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Very thoughtful comment Will—thanks!

      I like to think The Rust Man needed to be this long tell a complete story. I did write it for the “art” of it, but I’d like to sell some copies eventually. Hence the marketplace focus.

      In the sci-fi/fantasy realm, as Brian has repeatedly pointed out, shorter sells, and especially in the indie world. It’s not a value judgment, it’s just the facts.

      This one, I could see dividing into two parts. Another friend suggested four, but that seems a bit much.

      Another idea I had was releasing one of my other shorter ones FIRST to build a readership before unleashing the full 850-page monster. We shall see.

      A lot to think about. Thanks for the comment!

      PS I love long books too.


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