The Long and The Short of it – Short Books Examined versus Longer Works

This is a topic upon which I ponder every so often – are shorter books looked down upon compared to longer works by readers, or, do readers and writers have a special affinity for bigger books for specific reasons? There are some points which have cropped up repeatedly over time that I would like to examine, and I find these particularly interesting, and helpful, as I myself often write shorter books. I will list each of these points, and detail some of the reasons why these may be so, but also, depict the other side of the matter.

Bookshelf Image from Morguefile by Eamir

Bookshelf Image from Morguefile by Eamir

1.  Short books are haphazard, often badly written, and skim over plot details which longer works explore at a much more leisurely pace, not taking into account the emotional factor for the reader.

This is relative to the reader, and how they envision the individual book, but this can also pertain to a book of any length. Like everything, what is gold to one person may be rusty to another. I have read books which, while in the scope of a short story, novella or novelette, offered long scenes, emotional hooks, and twists and turns that were, quite simply, revelatory. I believe readers may have the preconception that they may be ‘cheated’ if they read a shorter work, but, from experience, this can be alleviated by certain factors for the writer of shorter works.

Having longer scenes interspersed with briefer ones, rather than a collection of short scenes can create the impression of length and smoothness to the reader, and that the shorter book resembles a longer work. Also, segmenting the book into chapters can also make scenes flow better and offer a greater sequence of events, instead of just one unbroken slab of story.

2. Longer books earn more than shorter works, thus the leaning towards them by readers and writers alike.

This does seem to be true from viewing the top books on the websites such as Amazon, and what is in the best-seller lists. The books which are bigger are also generally more expensive, and have more reviews, than the shorter works. The earning power of longer books is probably another attraction, specifically at Amazon, with the feature of 70% royalties for works 2.99 and above. The affinity for longer works, though, neglects the fact that there are some great works waiting to be read which are of a shorter length, and offer the power that a bigger book can, just in a shorter format. There are often shorter books which are priced in the 2.99 bracket, and which possibly earn as much as longer books in this category which is another point to consider.

3. The author who writes shorter works cannot ‘write’ bigger books, thus, they compose briefer works.

From the many short stories that I have read over time, I have found that this is not the case. There are writers who have written both short, and longer books. Stories sometimes do not need to be long, a series of events can be summarised in fewer words than going for a lengthier version, which may become repetitive if stretched out too far. This, by and large, depends upon the writer, and how many characters they wish to deal with. The multi-character narratives are often longer works as they examine/compare/contrast more characters than a shorter work, but, smaller narratives can do the same, but with less characters, and a tighter framework.

What do you think? I have outlined some of the points (probably the tip of an iceberg) which I have seen crop up often about short versus longer works, and would love to hear your viewpoint on this matter.

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4 thoughts on “The Long and The Short of it – Short Books Examined versus Longer Works

  1. Very interesting. I really never consider how long a book is. I usually try new authors out at the library; if I like the writing in the first few pages, I’ll give the book a go. If I like it a lot, I’ll buy my own copy. It’s really never occurred to me to use length as a yardstick.

    • I know what you mean. I love books of all lengths, but generally read books that fit with me time-wise, with life, writing and editing my own books. From my observations over the past few years it seems as if longer books are generally given more emphasis by readers, with longer books receiving more sales, coverage, and subsequently reviews as a result. There may be the perception that shorter works are more slapdash, and thus less ‘legitimate’, to use the term, than longer books. I have summed up some of the points I have witnessed dealing with shorter books over the while, but there are probably many more factors I have not mentioned that make readers overlook shorter books in favor of bigger format books.

  2. Hi Marcie,

    This is an interesting post regarding the length of books. For a debut author, agents and editorsdo not take a chance on books over 90,000 words. It seems for traditional publishing, the author must first establish himself/herself. Although I enjoy novels of all lengths, the longer novels provide more opportunity to go more into depth on characterization and plot.

    Thanks for sharing your insightful thoughts.

    Regards,
    Linnea

    • Hi Linnea,
      You’re welcome, thank you for your comments. It’s a very interesting arena of writing and publishing, for sure, I just skimmed the surface I think!!
      Marcia

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