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Harlequin limits manuscript length

In what is likely to raise a storm of comments (watch no one will comment on this despite its importance because I'm not allegedly ripping an author to shreds), Harlequin has sent out an email strongly urging that all manuscripts be kept under 100,000 words due to printing costs.  

I know what David Rothman would say about this – ebooks are the answer, no artificial word count limit.  I've actually noticed that more and more books are checking in around the 350+ mark so it'll be interesting to see if this word count limit leads to tighter editing and higher quality or books missing important scenes that advance the plot.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

50 Comments

  1. Deb Kinnard
    Dec 08, 2008 @ 22:02:36

    Maybe now they’ll rethink print-on-demand. The whole concept of returnable books is antiquated. Do other industries return merchandise that doesn’t sell? They’d laugh at the very idea.

  2. Ann Somerville
    Dec 08, 2008 @ 22:02:47

    watch no one will comment on this despite its importance because I’m not allegedly ripping an author to shreds

    Watch Jane be upset that the wrong kind of people are commenting, but whatever.

    Heather over at Galaxy Express has already used this as a plus point for sf/f romance authors to sub to Samhain (and presumably other epresses that don’t impose limits.)

    Frankly, the sooner tree books are restricted to the kinds of things that you have to have on paper, the better. Reducing paper consumption isn’t just good for business, it’s good for the environment – not just trees, but water used and polluted in making paper, fossil fuels used in transporting etc. Print publishing is enormously wasteful. Imposing limits on an author’s creativity is a cack-handed way of limited that waste, but if it drives authors and consumers to eprinting, all the better. Given a choice between cutting my beloved Kei’s Gift down from 330,000 words and keeping it free and in electronic form, it’s a no brainer. (But oops, I forgot – free fiction isn’t *real* writing, is it?)

  3. Shiloh Walker
    Dec 08, 2008 @ 22:06:50

    I’m not too familiar with Harlequin’s guidelines/word count limits, so I’ve little to comment about, other than I hope the stories don’t suffer.

    However, I’m really curious about the other thing that was mentioned in the post at Pub Rants-Penguin transferring over to tablet PCs and doing the edits directly to the file instead of the mailing thing.

    I love that idea.

  4. Meljean
    Dec 08, 2008 @ 22:09:21

    Shiloh, I’m also a fan of the no-paper copy edits (which I imagine will also cut down on massive shipping costs, not just paper — sending those manuscripts FedEx must be an enormous expense).

    I’m guessing this is primarily for the lines that are single title books (HQN, Spice)? Are there any category lines that run 100k?

  5. Gennita Low
    Dec 08, 2008 @ 22:12:20

    This has been an ongoing process for a while now, Jane. Avon started the 90,000 word limit a few years ago, and the Harlequin lines have been getting shorter in word count. One of my friends had to rewrite her book several times to get it into the new length; she’s been writing for the line for about ten years and found it quite tough since it was the second size cut.

  6. Jane
    Dec 08, 2008 @ 22:18:29

    @Gennita Low: That surprises me re: Avon because recently the Avon books I’ve gotten have been in that 350+ range, longer than usual. Maybe the white space is larger and I haven’t noticed.

  7. MoJo
    Dec 08, 2008 @ 22:20:34

    Maybe the white space is larger and I haven't noticed.

    The font they use is bigger (not point-wise) and thicker, plus the point size is creeping up.

  8. Jane
    Dec 08, 2008 @ 22:24:12

    but if the goal is to cut printing costs, why increase font size, white margins, etc.

  9. Gennita Low
    Dec 08, 2008 @ 22:31:52

    The page count remains the same but the manuscript is shorter. I know because it started with my SEAL books. I’m not sure how to explain why the number of pages remain the same but I was not the only Avon author who had to pare down their manuscripts.

    This isn’t true for EVERY author, of course. Books are bound in signatures; the bestselling authors are given higher signatures, meaning more pages. There was talk on a loop a couple of years back when publishers, through their editors, were encouraging their authors to shorten their stories to 90K. If you look at most RWA chapter contests today, they’re asking for 90K word count in the guidelines. This is not to say that there aren’t books coming out at 100,000 and over. It depends on the author and the line. Long story, but I learned this the hard way.

  10. MoJo
    Dec 08, 2008 @ 22:32:26

    You said you were noticing Avon’s books getting bigger; it’s Harlequin who’s cutting back. Or did I misunderstand?

    NM…I did misunderstand.

  11. Robin
    Dec 08, 2008 @ 22:33:31

    I have noticed the Avon books getting shorter, and while I love the idea of tighter editing, I’m not convinced that’s going to be the outcome over time. I kind of see the shorter books and more shorthand as correlating pretty strongly over the past couple of years.

    Was there a conversation about Harlequin shrinking word counts at the SBs at least a year ago, or am I dreaming that?

  12. Rain
    Dec 08, 2008 @ 23:12:35

    Ugh. I love reading Harlequin/Silhouette and would love to write for them, but those word counts kill me.

  13. Ann Somerville
    Dec 08, 2008 @ 23:13:09

    The page count remains the same but the manuscript is shorter.

    So, is the aim saving costs in the editing then, not just the printing?

    I don’t know much about how modern printing works, but is there some value in producing books of identical footprint/thickness? Does it make transporting/storage easier?

  14. JulieLeto
    Dec 08, 2008 @ 23:29:34

    Am I the only one who doesn’t think this is any big deal?

    First, my contracts with both Pocket and NAL were for books of 90K. Pocket was originally 100K, but they went down to 90K before I turned in my book…and that was four years ago. I had no trouble trimming the book down and never heard any complaints about the book being too short.

    If authors need more to tell the story, then they’ll get more. If the book is padded, it’ll be cut. This letter is just to let the authors know this so they can make the cuts themselves rather than having an editor do it for them. I’d rather do my own cutting, thanks.

    Blaze went down in word count over a year and a half ago and no one asked me to cut anything. If you write a lot of dialogue, your word count is really different from an author who writes a lot of narrative.

    I don’t think this is any big deal. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with economy of language. Readers should not be concerned, IMO. I think they’d be surprised at the word counts of some of their favorite books.

  15. Robin
    Dec 08, 2008 @ 23:58:38

    The reason I think it’s a big deal (and have been complaining about shorter word counts for a couple of years now) is that we have pretty much been forced to say goodbye to those wonderful epic Romances of yore — the Susan Johnson tomes, for example, full of wonderful description and narrative and high drama and generous scope (with a couple notable exceptions). Oooh, how I miss that type of book! And when I see how Judith James’s Broken Wing, for example, was received by bloggers, I know I’m not alone in my long-book longing.

  16. Karen Templeton
    Dec 09, 2008 @ 00:00:32

    Yeah, H/S has been cutting word counts across the board for some time — categories now run, depending on line, between 45K and 70K (Supers might run up around 75K, I’m not sure). Some lines were cut by as much as 20-25% within the last few years — the old Intimate Moments, now Silhouette Romantic Suspense, used to run 80-85K ten years ago; now it’s 55-60K. Which is a much harder mindset switch for the author than cutting by 10 percent, from 100K to 90K.

    In any case, I’ve noticed many single titles over the years, often by authors who didn’t start out in category, that were — IMO — unnecessarily wordy: too much mundane detail that added neither to character nor story; too repetitive; a general “loose” rambling feel that a few snips here and there wouldn’t have hurt. Whether a story feels rich and full or not is less dependent on number of words used than it is the author’s judicious use of those words. So I wouldn’t worry about word count cuts per se — a good storyteller will find a way. ;-)

  17. Anthea Lawson
    Dec 09, 2008 @ 00:29:50

    There is a drawback to longer word counts vs. publishers trying to cut costs/striving for uniformity. Though it may not be true for Avon, with my publisher more words = smaller font. My debut novel, clocking in at about 102k, has a noticeably smaller font than other books released during the same month, in the same line. (Page count is 316 with the last page butting up against the back cover.) Hurts the readability, and really makes me wish PASSIONATE was available in some kind of e-format so that readers could adjust. The current novel, in the editing stages, is more like 95k and my editor is happy with that.

  18. Robin
    Dec 09, 2008 @ 00:33:17

    So I wouldn't worry about word count cuts per se -‘ a good storyteller will find a way. ;-)

    My objection is not to shorter books, per se; it’s to *limiting* books and therefore inherently shaping the story right up front. Some storytellers use few words to tell big stories; some storytellers use many words to tell small stories. But some storytellers use many words to tell big stories, and that option is basically being curtailed by the pre-cut word count limits. Why should storytellers that need to tell big stories in a big way be disallowed that option, and why should readers not have the opportunity to have those stories told in genre Romance?

  19. Anion
    Dec 09, 2008 @ 04:43:05

    Nope, Julie, I don’t think it’s a big deal either. They’re not forcing anyone to keep the story under 100k, just encouraging it; I’m sure if you and your editor both can’t figure out anywhere to cut 2k or 5k, they’ll let it stand.

    And if memory serves (which it very well may not, so don’t kill me if I’m wrong here) HQ didn’t really publish those huge long epic romances anyway. If your story is 250k, and it can’t possibly be less, you’re probably not targeting HQN anyway, and even if the other houses jump in I still think there will always be exceptions.

  20. JulieLeto
    Dec 09, 2008 @ 06:02:14

    Why should storytellers that need to tell big stories in a big way be disallowed that option, and why should readers not have the opportunity to have those stories told in genre Romance?

    Because publishing is a business and business has a bottom line. And paper costs money and woe be it to readers and author if the publisher decides to up the price point!

    And that could be what happens…writers who can’t slim down their storytelling might have more expensive books. And while some readers might not balk at paying an extra buck or two to get “more story” there are a lot of readers who will look at Book A selling for $6.99 and Book B selling for $7.50 or even $8.99 and guess which one they’ll choose?

    I just finished a “big romantic suspense” that could easily have lost 10K with good editing. The story would not have suffered one iota and readers wouldn’t have noticed. Category writers have been writing really rich, really spectacular stories with less word count for years. More words does NOT equal more story. And neither does more words=better story. Heck, ask Anne Rice.

    And I believe the sweeping saga has simply been replaced by the sweeping series. Look at CL Wilson. Her first book was simply split into two books and then she added two more at the end. But that’s a fantasy epic if ever I’ve seen one, selling very well and to the delight of many readers.

  21. GrowlyCub
    Dec 09, 2008 @ 06:14:36

    From a reader perspective cutting word counts is a big thing.

    It supposes that I have the attention span of a gnat while at the same time prices for the lower count manuscripts have gone up. That makes me feel disrespected and taken advantage of.

    Sure, some single titles would have been even better if they’d been trimmed, but bunches of stories suffer from low word count because there is just not room for a satisfying and believable story development and conclusion.

    I have seen readers saying time and time again on this and other blogs that they do not read categories because those titles feel rushed/too short. Many, many reviews (and not just for categories either) comment on the fact that the author attempted too much and had to either employ deus ex machina or other unsatisfactory ploys to get the story wrapped up. And the scope of the story is not the issue, but that authors are forced into cutting/shortening to the point where the story suffers.

    I can’t tell you how many times stories feel like they were going at a good pace and then the author realized, oops, only 5k words left and then scrambles to tie a bow around a story that’s just not finished.

    I’m not looking on this trend with favor at all.

  22. GrowlyCub
    Dec 09, 2008 @ 06:17:17

    Julie,

    but the assumption is that the prices aren’t being raised for the shorter books, which they are. And as mentioned above, the majority of the shorter books don’t actually have fewer pages, so the less paper argument is a fallacy.

  23. Courtney Milan
    Dec 09, 2008 @ 06:54:27

    From talking to other authors, I think that HQN is just doing now what the vast majority of houses did long ago. I know people all over who have very strict word count guidelines, which are much less than 100K. I’m not going to point fingers, because authors from those houses can pipe up. Let me just say that I’ve seen conversations on the Beaumonde about this. There are some houses that care, a lot, enough to put the word count in contracts. There are some houses that care not at all.

    The e-mail I got wasn’t, “We will lay waste to you and your contracts if you write a book that cannot be edited down to 100K words.” It was, “try to edit it down to 100K words, because most of the time, it can be edited, and it will improve the manuscript.” I think this puts HQN/Mira in the middle of caring about word count among houses. It’s not a strict guideline; I think if you really did write an awesome epic romance and they loved it and couldn’t get it below 100K words, they’d find a way to make it work. But it’s not a “turn in whatever you have, we don’t care” thing either.

    It’s just not a big deal in my mind–but perhaps this is because my books tend to come in around 90-95K, and so this has basically no effect on me.

  24. Gennita Low
    Dec 09, 2008 @ 08:13:07

    If it hadn’t happened to you, it’s hard to explain it. Let’s say you turned your manuscript in and your editor liked it and there were some minor edits. Let’s say the length of this story was the same as your previous book. Then let’s say your editor called/emailed you that Production had told her that because of new fonts and spacing styles and because of a signature (number of folded pages in the making of a book) change, you had to cut 70 pages of your manuscript and oh, you had only three days because Production was waiting. Let’s say also that you’d already spent your advance on a house downpayment, so withdrawing your book wasn’t an option. So now you had to do this even though you’d previously been told that the story was fine as it was. So now it wasn’t because Production said so. In my case, because of I couldn’t do all that cutting in three days, my editor cut the rest, without my ever reading the end product.

    So yeah, there are many sides to the 90K word guideline. It depends on who you are, maybe even who your editor is, the font and spacing used, your contract, the “signature” count they give your book, etc. etc. Mind you, it’s been a few years since this incident, so I suspect many new writers and editors have adjusted to the change and 90K is the new 100K. Or, like someone said higher up, there is now the serial epic/saga.

    Edited to add: 70 pages = approx. 3 chapters of your written story, maybe more.

  25. JulieLeto
    Dec 09, 2008 @ 09:22:42

    on the fact that the author attempted too much and had to either employ deus ex machina or other unsatisfactory ploys to get the story wrapped up.

    Then that’s the author’s fault for not plotting a book that fit the guidelines of their house/line.

    I’m not saying that every book works or doesn’t work–I’m saying that the success of a book should not depend on the number of words in the manuscript. Longer does not equal better!

    I write long. I know this. I also know that I can usually cut 10% of my manuscript at the end because I can trim and tighten without affecting characterization or story. I’m not saying that I’m a perfect writer and that my books are perfect, but I am saying that being a category writer and now a single title writer with 90K limits (and btw, I turned my last one in over 90K and my editor never said a word…though I ended up cutting 5K in the revisions just to tighten up my prose) I’ve never felt limited by word count.

    Gennita, I’m sorry that happened to you…cutting 70 pages is the equivalent of 14,000 words, yes? That’s significant. Had you known ahead of time that they needed a tighter word count, I’m betting you would have found a way to make it work. To do it after the fact, once the story has been told, is what HQN is trying to avoid by sending out this letter.

    Sorry, still not convinced that it is a big deal.

    Growly, I know that prices are going up, but prices are going up on everything. If publishers can’t cut down on paper costs, prices are going to skyrocket.

  26. Courtney Milan
    Dec 09, 2008 @ 09:33:47

    Good heavens, Gennita. That sounds . . . awful. Absolutely awful. Three days? 70 pages?

    I think it would be very hard to cut that many words from a story that was already written–at that point, you’re removing subplots or plot points–but doing it in three days sounds miserable.

    Edited to add: I agree with Julie that the point of the HQN letter was to put authors on notice, so that this kind of thing wouldn’t happen. The letter specifically grandfathered in works that had gone through as much of the process as Gennita had, IIRC.

  27. GrowlyCub
    Dec 09, 2008 @ 09:35:16

    Julie,

    I would grant the paper point if the single titles under discussion actually had fewer pages, but from all I’ve seen and other readers have reported, the books have the same number of pages, just with larger print, so you theoretically don’t even have much of a savings on ink.

    [Side note: I kind of like the larger print since my eyes aren’t all that great.]

    You are certainly correct that longer does not necessarily equal a better book, but as I mentioned, I’ve seen an explosion of books over the last 18 months where shorter definitely equaled worse book.

    Btw, most single titles I’ve looked at lately come in at $7.99; very few were less, with the exception of the Zebra Debut line.

  28. JulieLeto
    Dec 09, 2008 @ 09:53:45

    I’m very thankful that my books are still only $6.99.

    I can only look at Signet, my current single title publisher. My books are $6.99 and the first one was 327 pages, the second 327 pages. The first book came in at 92,900 and the second at 87,300. The word count choices in both cases were mine–that’s how many words I needed to tell the story. Honestly, I might have been able to trim 2,900 words from the first manuscript if I’d had the time to do one last edit. I’m one of those “kill your darlings” authors once I have distance from the manuscript (hence the second book coming in under!)

    I have another Signet book beside me, a mainstream thriller that sold for $7.99. It’s 386 pages, plus advertisements. And her font size is smaller. Obviously a bigger book.

    So there may just be a correlation between size and cost at my publisher. I don’t know.

    I do know that I saw a book about a year ago that I could tell was no longer than 70K, selling for $7.99 and with a huge font and a lot of white space. I didn’t buy it because I thought I was getting ripped off. That’s a reader’s prerogative. If I want to read a romance for under 70K, I’ll pick up a category, which sell for $4.99 or less last time I checked.

  29. Michelle
    Dec 09, 2008 @ 10:09:12

    As a reader, I do miss those longer historical romances from the ’90s. I have no idea how many words the Laura Kinsale or Mary Jo Putney romances from the 90’s were, but they feel longer than the stories printed today. It is true that the first cuts in word length were made years ago.

    I’m also a long time category reader. The stories for my favorite lines now (SIM, Superromance, historical) have changed a lot with the successive word cuts. I actually complained to Harlequin in the tell harlequin web site. Yes, some seem more focused on the romance now, but others feel very rushed or much lighter in terms of character development. I personally get very annoyed by how big the fonts are and how much white space there is. I’d like more story.

  30. Anion
    Dec 09, 2008 @ 11:55:59

    Yes, but Gennita, with all due respect, that could have happened anyway. It could have been any sort of issue.

    I don’t mean to say it isn’t a shame or that I don’t feel for you. What I am saying is that that’s the business we’re in. It could be an editor buys the book and we don’t get a release date or edits or anything for three years–while we wait and don’t want to withdraw the ms because we need the money and the sale. It could be that five months before release Marketing realizes there’s a problem with the book and we need to make a huge change. Or another book with a very smilar plot comes out and we’re forced to make changes–or we don’t, and get called derivative. Or your editor likes your new book but the numbers for the last one aren’t great so they turn it down.

    It’s a business. That’s just the way it is. Like I said I really don’t mean to sound like I’m belittling your experience or story, that’s not it at all. I can’t imagine what I would do in that situation and how frustrated and upset I would be. But I also know that’s the way it goes sometimes, and there’s nothing you can do about it; both in publishing, and in life.

    And yeah, I think I’d rather get a memo like this so I know to do some serious work on my ms before I turn it in, rather than have what happened to you happen to me.

  31. Gennita Low
    Dec 09, 2008 @ 12:18:29

    I didn’t tell my story to complain, but to highlight how the 90K think started a few years ago and is now the norm. I treat my relationship with my publishers as a business and when they do something I don’t understand, I read my contract and try to see things from their point of view. This experience with the cut taught me about signatures and the Production dpt.’s power in the book business, and I was just giving that little bit of information to Jane.

    But to answer JulieLeto and Anion, yes, if I’d been given enough time to cut the pages, I would. Like I said, at that time, I handed in a manuscript the same length as my previous few manuscripts and it was approved at every step of the way till it reached Production. So, no, the reason for it being cut wasn’t because of quality of the book or that the sales of the previous book didn’t hold up. It was because, as my editor’s email explained, the new font and spacing made my book too long for that specific price’s “signature.” Like I also said, at that time, it was the beginning of the “change,” and there were a few other authors I know who were similarly affected.

    Finally, yes, of course I adjusted my next few books and made sure the word count was under 100K. I’m not trying to convince you of anything ;-). Just documenting one author’s experience before a Memo such as this existed.

  32. Robin
    Dec 09, 2008 @ 12:24:28

    You authors may be okay with the “it’s a business” explanation, but as a reader, I’m not and I don’t think I should have to be. IMO my interests should be limited to what kind of books I’m getting and how much I have to pay for them (and in what formats they come). That I’m willing to try to understand some of the business issues and factor them in to what I’m okay with and not is the result of my engagement in blogging, but it’s not, IMO, something I should be required to understand or accept.

    And as a reader, “it’s a business” is no comfort when I look at my bookshelves and see the way publishers galore have been shortening books over the past couple of years, and the effects that has had on the kinds of stories that are being told in genre Romance (in the main). That doesn’t mean I don’t love a lot of the shorter books, or that I don’t wish some books *would be* shorter. Authors may feel that they have to bend to the publishers’ will, but I have no such sense of resignation.

    As for the epic being replaced by the series, that’s a whole ‘nother topic, because many readers find series frustrating and expensive. Then there’s the repetition of information issue, and the time between books, especially if it feels like one book has been split in half. Although such a decision likely makes more money for the publisher and the author, so I can see why it would seem like a better option to authors and publishers. Sometimes it is for the reader, too, but again, what rankles me is that I have to adapt to changes imposed by publishers that are not, IMO, necessarily in my best interests as a reader. And so yeah, I think that’s a big deal.

  33. Anion
    Dec 09, 2008 @ 12:52:39

    Well, Robin, I suggest you start sending letters to your favorite publishers, then, and seeking out longer books wherever you find them and buying them (which I’m sure you already do). If bigger books start selling in the same kinds of numbers as shorter ones consistently do, publishers will start producing more of them.

    I totally understand the frustration of feeling like you’re spending more and getting less. And I prefer longer books as well; I’m a fast reader and would love to make a book last longer than a day or two. But as long as the majority–even if it’s only a slim majority–of readers are buying shorter, less expensive books, that’s what publishers will put out.

    And when I say the majority, I’m talking about those who buy midlisters–everyday readers or weekly readers, not people who buy two or three bestsellers or even hardcovers a year [hardcovers are dying too, for the same reason–people prefer smaller formats]. We all know Stephen King can write as many 300k word novels as he wants and people will buy them in huge numbers. But if you take books like those out of the equation, what you find are a lot of readers who shy away from books they see as “too long” and go for shorter lengths in less expensive formats. The shorter lengths came about when people stopped buying those hugely long romances and started buying shorter works, and it continues to work that way. Publishers set the word lengths where their audiences tell them to, plain and simple.

    This is where “it’s a business” works for you. Tell them what you want; they’re the ones who can change it, not writers. Get all your friends to tell them they want the same thing. Send them emails. Start a campaign. Make a fuss.

    My comment to Gennita (and thank you, Gennita, for understanding I wasn’t trying to downplay your experience) were indeed from a writer’s point of view. And as a writer, my options are these:

    1. Sell books publishers will buy, according to their guidelines and stated needs/desires

    2. Sell no more books

    All I or any other writer can do is the best we can, within the strictures set out for us. It’s all well and good for us to start writing 250k novels, until no publisher will buy them. I HAVE to accept those guidelines.

    You don’t. You don’t like what the publishers are giving you? Tell them. No, you DON’T have to accept “it’s a business”; do something about it.

    Just as they and their guidelines, needs, and desires have power over me, so YOUR guidelines, needs, and desires trump theirs. Take it to the top; make your voice be heard with email and phone calls and letters, and with your wallet.

  34. JulieLeto
    Dec 09, 2008 @ 12:54:12

    Robin, trust me that publishers wouldn’t be doing this if readers were buying big fat books in great numbers. Supply and demand and all that. The industry is hurting and if we’re to survive at all, sacrifices are going to have to be made. Besides the cost factors, there is also a lot of evidence that readers don’t buy epics or really long books in great numbers. Yes, there are exceptions–Twilight, the Potter books and many thrillers prove that, but I can bet that enough big books by midlist authors must have failed to meet expectations before publishers started to react with a call for tighter books.

    Authors have nothing to do with any of these decisions by the way–not even the decisions to turn a long book into two books. No choice at all. We just have to either adjust to what publishers think they can sell for a profit or drop out of the industry with our preferences to pay the bills. Me, I prefer to keep at my chosen career.

    If I were still a teacher and I refused to teach the new math (okay, I was an English teacher, but you get the point) I’d get fired. I’d have to relearn and retrain to the curriculum. This is really no different, IMO.

  35. Elly Soar
    Dec 09, 2008 @ 12:59:49

    I would just like to reiterate what Growly Cub said “while at the same time prices for the lower count manuscripts have gone up. That makes me feel disrespected and taken advantage of.”

    That’s key. I am definitely buying fewer books because of it – and that is even affecting authors who used to be autobuy for me, like Rachel Gibson with Avon (still haven’t bought her latest) – and several Harlequin Presents authors. I feel like publishers are trying to trick me into thinking I’m still getting the same storylength by padding my books with white space.

    Another disadvantage is all that extra white space is taking up extra room on my bookshelf, meaning I don’t have room to keep as many books as I would like anymore. I swear Avon’s whitespaced Rachel Gibson’s books to include an extra 1/4 inch of width… I would much rather buy these books in a slimmer format – if some readers need bigger fonts, that’s why they make the Large Print editions!

  36. ME
    Dec 09, 2008 @ 13:10:02

    I just signed my first ever contract with Avon and it does stipulate my books are to be between 90-100k. I’ve just handed in the first after revisions and it’s sitting at around 98k. so I’m good with that…it’s what I’m used to. I feel for Gemmita…because that would have been stressful to go through…so late in the game.

    My only other comment is that I recently purchased a book by a well known author…a favorite of mine actually, and I noticed right away the font was much larger and it seemed as if the book was just written to fufill a contractual obligation. I did indeed feel ripped off….as the price was the same as any of the others I”d purchased. I actually did a word count experiment and I think the ms was sitting at around 75-80k….category length……I don’t like that practice.

  37. MoJo
    Dec 09, 2008 @ 13:10:43

    Robin, trust me that publishers wouldn't be doing this if readers were buying big fat books in great numbers.

    There aren’t any to buy. That’s the point.

    And I’m not buying any romance novels at all now. They’re small and I don’t feel that I get much of a bang for my buck.

  38. Kathryn Smith
    Dec 09, 2008 @ 13:18:28

    Not trying to down play concerns here, but books aren’t the only medium where this is happening, and yet I don’t hear many people complaining about movies. Movies are more expensive now, and many don’t even make it to the 2 hour mark. With the exception of a few ‘big’ movies that run 2-3 hours (or more), you’re going to play $9 to see a film that might be 2 hours with the coming attractions. If it’s a good movie, I don’t care how long it is, and if I enjoyed it then it’s worth the money. Many production companies try to keep their movies short because we as a species don’t have the attention span we used to — too much to do. Recently I paid $12 to see an art house film that I loved — and it was maybe 1.5 hours. I paid considerably less to see ‘Twilight’, which I consider 1.5 hours of my life that I’ll never get back.

    90k is a guideline. We’re asked to be as close to that as we can. I’ve only been asked to trim once, and I think that was about 40 pages. I managed to do it by taking out needless dialogue and introspection. It wasn’t that difficult. Did I want to do it, not really. But if I couldn’t have pared it down that much without affecting the story, the publisher would have been okay with it. That fact that I could says something.

    Many of the old ‘epic’ novels that have been mentioned here would annoy most modern readers, who don’t have the patience for 8 pages of description. I find myself not having the patience I used to have either.

    It boils down to this: Is the author worth the money to you, even at the smaller page count? If not, don’t buy it. And if you’re concerned, let the publisher know. All they have to base their changes on is what they’re seeing as a trend. YOU have the power to let them know the kinds of books you want to read. And by that power, you may very well open up the length and genres of what we produce as authors. That would be lovely all around.

    And while I’m rambling, can I say that I don’t get the e-reader thing? I like a paper back, or hard cover. Sure, I’d like ‘em better if all the paper was recycled, but after spending most of my days staring at a computer screen, I don’t want to stare at a screen when I read for pleasure.

    Anyway, that’s my 2 cents for what it’s worth. I’ve either made a valid point or made an idiot of myself. Personally, I find the whole ‘return’ policy of bookstores more offensive than smaller books.

  39. Jill Sorenson
    Dec 09, 2008 @ 15:05:07

    I can’t speak for other authors at Bantam Dell (er, Random House!), but my contract says 100,000 words. If I’m under, no big deal, but my editor usually asks for more, not less.

    I prefer tight writing, not necessarily shorter books. I feel a responsibility to meet my word count, and that doesn’t mean I can keep all those stupid adverbs and dialog tags when I’m editing. I don’t agree with the assumption that longer books are edited less stringently, or contain a lot of superfluous words.

  40. DS
    Dec 09, 2008 @ 15:23:58

    If it’s not paper and ink then what is Harlequin trying to save? Because I know a lot of romance readers read their books very quickly, it may just be a desire for the books to take up less reading time so they maybe trying to sell more books.

    I listen to a lot of audible books I usually have a very good idea of how many hours I spend with a book. I don’t bother with anything less than 7 hours because it usually sounds skimpy. I’m most satisfied with a good book at 9-15 hours. I checked Audible which has a lot of Harlequins/Silhouette and it seems the current length of an unabridged Blaze can range from 4 hours to 6 1/2 hours.

    I was talking to a friend who shook her head and said Harlequin was stepping on the drug. Crude but maybe true.

  41. Anon
    Dec 09, 2008 @ 17:32:00

    DS, I think the e-mail was solely for HQN/Mira/Luna single-title imprints. It doesn’t apply to any of the Harlequin lines which have their own separate word counts.

    As to what Harlequin’s motivation is . . . I see no reason not to take them at their word and imagine it really is about paper. The e-mail just circulated last week, and it’s impossible to speculate as to whether they’re after anything else.

  42. Elly Soar
    Dec 09, 2008 @ 18:02:34

    Re: the comparison to movies, I think one crucial difference is that books come with MSRPs – so the publisher is basically dictating the price whereas movie tickets are according to your local theatre. So with a movie I might regret a decision to pay to see it at the theatre but I don’t feel like the filmmaker or screenwriter were ripping me off. With books, I do get the feeling publishers are setting whitespaces (margins, line spacing, font size) and raising prices intentionally.

    I know some publishers have played around with lower prices and didn’t see a big increase in sales, but one problem I think we have is that people like me who feel disenfranchised by the price of paperbacks do switch to used books exclusively. People like that do not notice promotions on new books very quickly and usually the publisher gives up on the promotional price pretty quickly (it seems to me anyway).

  43. Robin
    Dec 09, 2008 @ 23:39:36

    Robin, trust me that publishers wouldn't be doing this if readers were buying big fat books in great numbers. Supply and demand and all that.

    As MoJo said, there *is* no supply to speak of, so I have a hard time swallowing that argument. IMO it’s a closed circuit: publishers claim they are giving readers what we ask for (which I call BS on, since my desires are not driving the market, lol) and select books to publish, then readers have a choice among an already limited number of books, and then what we choose further limits the market in terms of what publishers continue to put out. And since genre readers are incredibly loyal, IMO the “what readers buy” model is already f’ed up in a big way. I’m wondering when the day will come that four types of books make up the entire genre circulation from this constant weeding and tightening cycle.

    And yes, I have made my wishes known, both to publishers directly and in many a blog post and comment. As have numerous other bloggers and readers I’ve seen on the sites I frequent. So I see some demand, but no correlating supply.

    If readers rule, I want my key to the kingdom, dammit!

  44. Robin
    Dec 09, 2008 @ 23:48:52

    Oh, and as for the movie analogy, IMO it’s not a fair comparison for several reasons. First, you can put a book down many times while reading it, but a movie is different, especially one viewed in a theater. So the was the time-frame of the experience is measured is much different. Also, you don’t pay more to see a longer movie than a shorter one, and frankly, I’ve seen plenty of really long movies lately (There Will be Blood was more than three hours, IIRC). And movies cost a heck of a lot more to produce than books, so I don’t know that you can compare across movies, since costs are related less to length than to actor salaries (star v. lesser-known and lesser-paid actors), production effects, locations, etc.

    The thing is that publishers aren’t making this decision to improve books; they’re implementing this as a cost-cutting measure and nothing more. If better books emerge, that’s an unintended by-product of the decision, but it’s certainly not what publishers are trying to accomplish.

    So if authors want to say, ‘well this is a business,’ that’s fine. But is that going to be the refrain when readers start complaining about the quality of some of these shorter books? Are authors going to be reassuring us that it’s just business, or are we going to be seen as under-appreciating the artistry of all this hard work authors did to get these books written?

  45. Gin
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 06:57:34

    I know this is a little off topic as it's the single title 90 – 100K books that are being affected by this memo, but it ties in with my recent dissatisfaction in the resizing of some of their series lines.

    As a lover of Harlequin series novels I know very well that many authors can pack one hell of a punch in a shorter format – sometimes it's the very reason I like the books, all that emotion pared down and just leaping off the pages. But I DO have a problem with lines being cut for an excuse like “printing costs” and then buying a book with exactly the same number of pages in it!

    It's happening all the time now in the Silhouette Romantic Suspense line, the one Karen Templeton commented on that used to be Intimate Moments at 80 – 85K when I first started reading them and that are now 55 – 60K but which still have 250 pages – and why? Because of the “free” excerpt for another book next month.

    In your recent poll here I said I read everything from the dedication to the ads at the back, I didn't mind seeing snippets of other books – although I have never bought a book based on a sneak-peek at the back of another book. It has especially galled me of late when I judge how far I am through a book only to find it galloping towards its conclusion and I wondered what would fill the last 15 pages of the book – about 1page of epilogue and 10 pages of excerpts and ads – and what really bugs me about the latest excerpts is that they are for lines unrelated to Romantic Suspense – Next or Nocturne that I had no intention of reading and will now avoid doubly hard because of the pages of my Romantic Suspense that they are robbing me of!

    If it's truly for costs and to save trees then fine, but if the books are the same size and price I feel robbed of the story I wanted to read – and annoyed for the author forced to cut pages or plot development for a “free” advert for a book that is not linked to the one she wrote and I paid for.

  46. JulieLeto
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 18:20:27

    Gin, if it makes you feel better, most authors hate the excerpts, too. Not because I mind giving up my word count to another author (I’ve never been asked by HQ to shave a manuscript down) but because there seems to be no rhyme or reason to the choices. I actually had an excerpt to a Love Inspired book in the back of one of my Blazes once. Yeah…that’s preaching to the choir.

  47. ME
    Dec 11, 2008 @ 10:34:36

    Julie…I don’t mean to laugh but that is funny…really makes you wonder if anyone with a brain is making some of these decisions….

  48. JulieLeto
    Dec 11, 2008 @ 15:05:41

    ME, no, laugh…it was funny!

  49. ME
    Dec 12, 2008 @ 09:25:31

    hahaha…I’m just picturing it the other way around and someone reading a beautiful love inspired book get a sneak peak at how the other half live….and love!!!!!

  50. What happened to the epic novel? | Moriah Jovan
    Dec 16, 2008 @ 00:33:04

    […] readers (including me) around Romancelandia longing for the long, involved, complex romance. But a Dear Author thread about the shrinking word counts of some of Harlequin’s lines (this isn’t unusual) disabused me of the notion. More readers came out of the woodwork to […]

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