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.