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Does Length Matter?

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I was being equal parts careless and provocative, when, the other day on Twitter, I tweeted the following:

1088 pages is just too long a book no matter how skilled a writer you are. Agree or disagree?

Quite honestly, I was bored and looking for something to liven up my afternoon, feeling a bit mischievous, as well as, from a writerly and readerly perspective, interested in hearing opinions on the topic. But I really should to have put the first sentence in quotes, because it isn’t and never was my literal opinion.

So before anyone else takes issue, let me clarify that I don’t think book length is a factor that trumps all others – that would be a ridiculous assertion. Nor do I think that 1088 pages is some kind of magic number, below which quality and skill count and above which they cease to matter. That would be even more absurd.

So what do I actually think on the matter of length? Mostly that each book should, in an ideal world, be exactly the length that best serves its author’s vision, whether that length is two hundred pages or two thousand.

Skill does count; it counts a great deal. Nonetheless, book length is a factor in my reading decisions. Although I have enjoyed long books, unless I’ve gotten a strong recommendation from a trusted source or have read the author in the past, I tend to shy away from them when I make my purchasing decisions. Here are some of the reasons why.

Attention span is a factor, but not the only factor.

In high school and college I had a higher tolerance for long books and my attention span isn’t what it used to be. This makes me sad because I wish I could concentrate as easily as I once did.

In my case, I suspect this shortening attention span is primarily due to web browsing, but I also think a contributing factor is the shortening of the average romance in the early 2000s, which was one of the things that conditioned me to expect to spend less time with books. Back in the 1990s, I loved many longer books, so I have no beef whatsoever with readers who prefer them.

This type of conditioning is one of several reasons I think it’s good that longer romances are showing themselves to be viable in the marketplace now.

But while the change in my attention span has had an effect on my interest in reading longer books, I think that to equate a preference for shorter books solely with an inability to concentrate is a fallacy.

Reading speed is also a factor.

My reading speed isn’t super fast. It took a significant dive when I switched primary languages. I regret it more than I can say, although there is a silver lining in that a side effect of is that as I read, I’m more conscious of the sound and rhythm of words now than I was when I read faster.

Still, this means I’m typically lucky to finish a book a week, and even a two hundred page book doesn’t get read in one sitting.

Why am I bringing this up? Because I don’t think the ability to concentrate or deal well with the boring parts of a book is the only factor in why longer books feel like a greater investment for some of us than for others. Time is an additional constraint, because we all have a finite amount of it.

I also think reading speed and attention span can affect each other. Before you pride yourself on your ability to stick with a relatively slow feeling book and assume it’s all due to your attention span, you may want to consider how much slower that same book may feel to someone who only reads at half your speed.

Flab?

One of the more controversial statements I made in this same Twitter conversation was that longer books mean a greater likelihood of flab. I’ll get to what I mean by this in a moment, but first, let me say that I do understand that each reader is going to define flab differently. Given the subjective nature of reading, it is impossible for what each of us considers flab not to also be subjective.

So let me give one example of what I consider flab. Take the following two sentences.

(A)  William rose up.

(B) William rose.

Personally, I think the word “up” in the first sentence is flab, because it’s not like William could rise except other than up, not do I think the word “up” adds anything to the style of the sentence. Others may differ, and that’s okay.

By my statement that longer books are more likely to contain flab, I don’t mean that any longer book is going to be flabbier than any shorter book. This would be a completely ludicrous statement.

Here’s the point I was trying to make though.  Even many of the best writers will sometimes overlook what given more time they would choose to delete: words they consider superfluous. And I have long thought that all other things being equal, the longer a work is, the more often this is likely to happen, which means that on average this holds true. I could very well be wrong on this point, though.

If a book takes three times longer than most books to read, I want it to be as good as three average-length books put together.

This too proved to be a controversial statement, which surprised me even more. All I meant to say by this was that in the same way that I have to consider whether I’m going to get my money’s worth out of a book, I also have to consider whether I will get my time’s worth. I will generally only put in three times more time (or money) if I expect to get three times more out of the reading experience.

Does this mean I shouldn’t read long books?

Someone suggested so to me, but I don’t agree. Why? Because as Jane’s post about the reader’s ever-changing hard limits suggests, most readers have dislikes that can be overcome.

Just about every reader I know has some kind of strong preference, whether it be for genre, setting, heat level, character types, tropes, style of language, and length is just one of these.

And maybe I’m wrong, but I would venture to guess that just about every reader has had a reading experience which persuaded him or her to suspend at least one of these preferences and enjoy doing so.

It’s certainly true of me. Those books that overcome a preference to the contrary of mine often end up among my very favorites.

So authors, I hope you write books of the length that best serves your vision. And readers, I hope you weigh in below. Do you have any preferences when it comes to the length of your reading material? If so, what are they, and how do they influence your purchasing and reading decisions?

Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character driven novels in historical romance, fantasy, YA, and the occasional outlier genre. Recent examples include novels by Katherine Addison, Meljean Brook, Kristin Cashore, Cecilia Grant, Rachel Hartman, Ann Leckie, Jeannie Lin, Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, Miranda Neville, and Nalini Singh. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, “Kiss of Life,” appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

75 Comments

  1. KarenH
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 05:22:17

    I enjoy long books, but as you say, the writing’s got to stand up to it. However, having read on this and the Smart Bitches blog for a while, I think my standards are somewhat lower than a lot of people’s :)

    But I could illustrate it with my experiences with Gabaldon’s Outlander series. The first three (and maybe even the fourth) books were long and so worth my time (and the weight of the volumes). But from there it was a fairly fast slide to “Someone buy her an editor!!” “A Breath of Snow and Ashes” was essentially, “What I did on My Winter Vacation in Colonial North Carolina”–first draft. That one took me more than a month to finish.

    Contrast that with the last few Harry Potter volumes, where I ditched virtually everything in my life but the potty, the shower and work and read each book for the first time in less than 24 hours (and then reread them all again, just to savor the story).

  2. Ros
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 05:51:17

    I read because I love reading. I love reading because I love words. So in general I am predisposed to prefer books which offer me more words and more reading. I don’t think words are the enemy, to be disposed of if at all possible. In your example, I can think of many reasons why ‘William rose up’ might work better in context than ‘William rose’. I think many of the greatest writers include a lot of words that could be considered superfluous by that sort of definition. But if you chop all of them out you end up with a particular style and a particular reading experience – one which I, personally, find very hard work. It’s a much more intense experience to read a book where every word carries as much weight as you might expect in a poem.

    I’m also very cheap when it comes to book purchasing. I like value for money and often my brain will compute that in price per page. I do sometimes feel shortchanged when I’ve paid what I consider full price for a book and then discover it’s only half as long as I was expecting. Even if it’s brilliant.

    I also wonder a little bit whether this preference is to do with the kind of reader. If, like me, you’re an immersive reader, living within the world of the book for as long as you’re reading, then maybe you’re more predisposed to want more. It’s what made me a fanficcer – I wanted more time with the characters I’d come to love and more time in the world I’d been inhabiting. Long books give me more of that experience and therefore they tend to be more deeply embedded within me than short ones. Thinking about it now, the books I most commonly re-read are all either long books or part of a series. I find short books easier to let go.

  3. Victoria Paige
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 06:12:49

    I usually like to read my books in one sitting, so the shorter the better. I prefer books to be 300-450 pages. Also, shorter books tend to have less fluff. I get bored very easily with endless descriptions and tend to skim. I would buy a short book (less than 100 pages) by established authors like Anne Calhoun because I simply love their prose. Value for money is important, but I prefer not to waste time, and if I read a 200-page book, and read every word and ended that book with a silly grin of on my face, I don’t care if I paid $5 for it, it’s money well-spent.

  4. MJones
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 06:44:06

    There’s a happy medium for me. I’m not into novellas (but I keep buying them because my fave authors keep writing them) because they’re not long enough or meaty enough for what they cost me. $2.99 for a short story makes my debit card cry. But sometimes a book can be TOO LONG. A Reliable Wife, for me, was a LONG book full of lots of ‘flab’, as the blogger put it. It was good but just droned on and on… the book would have been just as good were it half as long. I feel the same about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, et al. He often ended his story, solved all of his proposed plot devices and then blathered needlessly for another 100 pages.

    When I hear that a book is long, like 400 to 600 pages, it does make me think twice. Not because the book is long but because I wonder how much flab is in it. That’s when I do read reviews and see how people liked it. If no one mentions how frick fracken LONG the book was, I might give it a whirl. I also read more than one book at a time so I might read two or three books during breaks from the epic tome.

    It has to sound really good, I have to practically drool reading the jacket copy to consider reading anything longer than 500 pages. Any more than that I and honestly think the writer is talking to hear him/herself talk.

  5. marjorie
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 07:10:31

    I agree — there has to be a darn good reason for a book to be the size of a small cat. The first two Outlander books flirted with too-muchness for me; the others (yes, I kept reading, even as I cursed the page count) were just too sprawling and digressive for me. And I honestly think the last two Harry Potter books could have used some editing.

    One of my bugaboos: “off of.” YOU JUST HAVE TO SAY “OFF,” WRITERS.

  6. Jane
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 07:15:33

    I really am adverse to novellas. For the most part I don’t get enough story but I’ve come to love the longer stories. Like with Kristen Ashley or RL Smith, there aren’t any shortcuts. I feel like I’m exploring every avenue of the story without anything left out. It’s kind of refreshing.

  7. Sirius
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 07:30:23

    It is funny because right now I am rereading one of my favorite long books in the world – “Three musketeers” by Dumas. Well, I am reading it in English translation for the first time, but I cannot tell you how many times I read it over the years in Russian translation ( lots and lots). Books like this gave me things that novellas and short stories can never do by their nature. And I am not against novellas or short stories – I do not think many writers can do them well in m/m romance ( which is what I mostly review), but some were really good. But they are short – they cannot offer me being in the world hat story created for too long and forget about everything else, they cannot offer me to get to know characters well. In short – love long books. I mean it has to be good of course, but that’s true about any book no?

  8. Jane Davitt
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 07:45:14

    Any editor would cut the ‘up’ from ‘rose up’ and the ‘down’ from ‘sit down’ unless it was in dialogue and in character. It’s on my checklist of things to search for before I sub a book. The fact I always find some means it does come naturally to put it in though!

    I think e-readers help with longer books. I had real problems holding the later Outlander books in hardback; they were heavy! Light as a feather on my Kobo :-) And yes, they needed trimming; the story was obscured by extraneous detail, page after page of it.

  9. Ros
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 07:49:05

    @Victoria Paige: Your comment made me think of something else, because I do like books I can read in one sitting. Or at least, I have come to value them enormously in the last few years. When I was suffering badly with depression, I was unable to cope with stress of stopping reading in the middle of a book with things left unresolved. Category romances with their short word count and guaranteed HEA were a lifeline to me. So for me, my emotional state is also a factor in whether I’m looking for a long book or a shorter one.

  10. Lynne Connolly
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 07:53:02

    I read a book recently by one of my favorite authors and part way through I started thinking, “Will this book never end?” That was when I realised it was too long. There were scenes that didn’t need to be there. Not so much verbal flab, like the overuse of “up” and “down” and all that, but long, extra, self-indulgent scenes. And frankly, they didn’t need to be there. I skipped some scenes.
    But when I finished, although I enjoyed the book, it wasn’t as tight or exciting as the author’s previous books, and I think that’s down to the editing. Some authors write reams because that’s the way they need to write the book, and it’s up to a good editor to help them cut. Only when an author gets to be a big name, it gets more difficult. If the author is a big seller, then it has to be a senior editor, or the author might get upset.
    Some don’t. Some are assigned junior editors who are too timid to suggest the slash and burn the author needs. Yes, I do have personal experience, but I also have word about other authors.
    In self-publishing, the author is the boss, and very often will employ a copyeditor but not a content editor. Or will ignore the suggestions, which she’s entitled to do because she’s the boss. That can be a problem too, and I have to say that as a reader, I’ve come across a lot of self-published books which I’ve enjoyed, but which would have benefitted from some judicious pruning.
    Then there are the books that need to be long. Epics or books that encompass huge themes. “Midnight’s Children” is one of those, for me. And “Bleak House.” But you know they’re good because you just read them, and then look for more. They don’t seem too long, and sometimes they’re not long enough.

  11. Lynn M
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 07:56:42

    For me, it’s not a matter of page count that determines if a book is too long or not. If the story and characters capture my attention and the plot is well paced – keeps moving – then I’m happy to stick with it as long as it lasts. But if I find my attention wandering or I get bored, then the book is too long, no matter how short the page count. As a reviewer, it’s amazing how many times I find myself checking how many pages are left regardless of the book’s “heft”, but that happens only when I’m not loving the book. I think about how much I adored the Harry Potter books, even the ones that could have been used as a ship’s anchor, because I was so absorbed in the story, I didn’t even think about when I would reach the end.

  12. library addict
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 08:21:31

    If a book is boring or has characters I don’t care about it is always too long. And while I don’t want a never-ending story, if I am enjoying the characters and plot I always want more.

    That said I think the Silhouette (now Harlequin) Romantic Suspense line really suffered when they cut the word count.

    I read a lot of novellas. I think some authors, like Shannon Stacey, are really good at writing them. But I think I read a higher percentage of bad novellas than good ones. But that may also be because I very rarely DNF a novella whereas I would a full-length book.

  13. Kimberly James
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 08:23:38

    The Outlander series is by far my favorite series of books. Having said that, I haven’t read the last three even though they’re sitting in my TBR pile and have been for years. Victims of my ever diminishing attention span. An interesting phenomenon since I used to enjoy longer, sweeping, epics. Not so much anymore. I’ll think long and hard before I’ll purchase a book 500 pages or more.

    I find this applies to movie’s as well. My viewing has gone more the way of T.V. shows than feature films because of the time commitment involved. I’m more likely to just pick up my computer and browse.

    So, I am I product of the internet times or, in the process of getting older, am I putting a higher value on time and coming to the conclusion longer books and movies aren’t worth it?

    As a reader there’s so many choices. Here I’ve burned an hour reading this blog. :)

  14. Amanda
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 08:32:40

    I think it depends on the book and author. For example Michelle Sagara’s “Chronicles of Elantra” books are already pretty long but if she added several hundred pages I would be happy because I love being in that world she created. There are other books though that just feel like they need to end far quicker then they do.
    However I find shorter lengths bother me more. I often wish there were 25-50 more page because I dislike when stories feel like they are tied up to quickly. When I finish a book I would rather feel like I got everything out of the story I needed instead of feeling like I was left missing something.

  15. Nessa
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 08:42:49

    I avoid novellas even by favourite authors because I always feel cheated at the end. There just isn’t enough space for proper character development or for plot lines to be satisfactorily tied up. I tend to avoid short books too – separate from short stories in literary fiction, which I actually quite like. I recently read Staking His Claim by Tessa Bailey, and I thought someone had arbitrarily sliced off part of the book, there were so many hanging plot lines! I barely look at book lengths now that I do more of my reading on the Kindle (size/weight of book doesn’t matter anymore) but I’d guess the sweet spot for me is in the 350-500 pages range.

    I have to say, though, that I’m more phased by series length than book length. I’ll take the plunge and read a 1000 page book if I have heard good things about it, but if it’s a long series (more than 6 books), even of regular size, I tend to pause and procrastinate. The commitment scares me a little. Still haven’t got round to the Game of Thrones books for that very reason.

  16. dick
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 09:10:14

    I dislike most short stories unless written by a master. At the same time, I think most books, unless epic or sagas should not exceed 400 pages or so, especially books that are published as say romantic suspense or romance. A case in point are the last few books by Karen Rose. Her earlier books were, IMO, really good reads, but the latest of over 500 pages lose the immediacy and thwart the suspense. Personal preference is for a style that gets the job done in the fewest words possible. In general, I love words, but as with anything, too much of even a good thing stunts appreciation.

  17. Jill Myles
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 09:36:20

    Maybe it’s that I grew up reading fantasy, but when I find a good author and an extra-thick book by him/her, I squeal with excitement. I LOVE a long, epic novel. I love that I get to experience every breakfast, every bit of weather, every EVERYTHING with the characters. Long novels let me crawl into the story and experience it with them. As for a thousand pages, if the author’s a favorite, I’ll turn every page happily and still sigh at the end that it’s over.

  18. Allison
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 09:47:24

    I believe I don’t usually think a book is “too long” because I read very quickly so no book is really a big time commitment. This may also be why I have a pretty high tolerance for not so great writing – not a lot of time invested so not a big deal. What bothers me more is paying $15-25 for a book under 300 pages and don’t get me started on novellas. I believe you have to be a very talented writer with a good editor to write a good/great novella or short story. Far too many seem to have become either an extended commercial for a series or a way to wring a few more $$’s out of the reader instead of a fully realized self contained story.

  19. Irim
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 10:03:39

    Any editor would cut the ‘up’ from ‘rose up’ and the ‘down’ from ‘sit down’ unless it was in dialogue and in character. It’s on my checklist of things to search for before I sub a book. The fact I always find some means it does come naturally to put it in though!

    Really? So blanket cutting a certain phrase every time, regardless of context/author’s intent to set the scene, makes you a good editor? You’re SO sure ‘any editor’ would do that?

    I’m less sure.

    ‘Rose’/’rose up’ and ‘sit’/’sit down’ are subtly different; they communicate a different feel, they give information about the setting – any native speaker knows that, even if not consciously. But a good writer DOES, as does a GOOD EDITOR. Your job as an editor is not to CUT, it is to help the author, IN THEIR VOICE, bring their vision, world and story to the rest of us. That you would go through, without reading the book properly, understanding what the author was trying to do, and cut out every ‘up’ and ‘down’ from those phrases, is anathema to a good editor. (Note what I did there: ‘cut out’ has a sense of tearing out something that belongs, leaving a hole behind; ‘cut’ doesn’t.)

    If I’m caught up in a world, 500 pp can leave me wanting more. If I’m not, 15 pp. is a struggle. Size doesn’t matter – it’s how you use it.

    xx

  20. Irim
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 10:05:17

    @Irim: @Irim:

    Ok, clearly the / didn’t work, the first part should be italicised or quoted, sorry about that! I.

  21. Cary Morton
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 10:06:53

    Like a few others here, I actually prefer longer books. The longer, the better! I like to sink myself into a story and not come up for air until I’m practically blue. However, I find I have little love of short stories and novellas. If a book has less than 100 pages, I won’t read it. I tend to find them rushed and lacking character development (which for me is a mainstay of my fiction). To be fair though, I do have a lot of free time and I read very quickly (I get through an average 300 page novel in 4 hours), so that may have some impact on my love of long fiction.

  22. JacquiC
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 10:12:13

    When I was younger and had more time for reading, I would just lie and read for HOURS at a time. Now, with two kids and a professional job and multiple hobbies, I just don’t have the time or energy to sit and read the way I used to. So these days, 1088 pages would probably seem too long. I have had numerous volumes of Game of Thrones on my Kindle for 2 years now and I haven’t read any.

    I remember reading “A Suitable Boy” when I was younger, though. It was 1088 pages or thereabouts. And I absolutely loved it. I barely noticed its length. I think I have read the Lord of the Rings trilogy multiple times as well, though not recently. I did try to read Wolf Hall more recently and got about 2/3 of the way through. But since I had to keep stopping and starting and could only read in small chunks of time, I just kept losing the thread of the story. That book is written in a way that makes it very difficult to read unless you can sit and focus for long stretches of time.

    So I guess I would say that 1088 pages is not necessarily too long, depending on the story. But it might be too long for my current reading habits.

  23. Moriah Jovan
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 10:23:40

    What @Irim said.

    Another thing I think is important is musicality. There’s a lilt, an ebb and flow, to language that falls flat when a word deemed “unnecessary” by a “good” editor because it’s “redundant” is cut out. It’s like a missing beat in a comedy routine or a missing note in a song that makes the singers trip up every time. A good editor will understand the author’s voice, rein it in here and there, and cut the “ups” and the “outs” where it doesn’t add flavor, nuance, or rhythm.

  24. Lynnd
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 10:25:27

    In general, I have no issues with long books provided that the author can keep the story moving – Guy Gavriel Kay, Steve Berry, Michelle West are some authors who can take me away for however long they need to and for however many books it takes. I stopped reading George R. R. Martin after Feast of Crows and Gabaldon after Breath of Snow and Ashes because I lost patience with the tangents (and in Gabaldon’s case the endless descriptions of things ancillary to the plot and characters). At some point, if the authors ever complete the series, I may go back and finish up the unread books, but it probably won’t happen before I retire. At that point, I might have some time and patience to reread the earlier books so I can get up to speed for the new ones. It seems that the test for me these days is whether any book (short or long) tries my patience with what Janine describes as “flab” – if it does, it probably is going to be a DNF.

  25. leslie
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 10:33:48

    It depends on where I am in life. I save books like A Discovery of Witches for when I have a long stretch of free time. I read novellas while commuting on public transit or if I have to wait while I’m picking up my kids. I’ve also noticed I have less of an attention span for e-books than I do paper, so while I may download a Meredith Duran book on my e-reader, I’ll buy the print copy or do a library check out of say Elizabeth George or Deborah Harkness.

    @MJones: I tried to read A Reliable Wife on several occasions and could never get past the second chapter. Way to much flab! UGH.

  26. Lostshadows
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 10:50:46

    There’s also another factor in whether 1088 pages is too long to read. If you’re dealing with a physical book, long books can be uncomfortable to hold for long periods of time.

    If the author can keep up an engaging story for over 1000 pages, I’m all for it, but it may take me a long time to read if I can’t get it digitally.

  27. Darlynne
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 11:02:02

    Flab! Yes, yes, yes, it is so annoying. “Up” and “down” are perfect examples that drop me right out of the story and take up space (kind of like my three yeses). Now I have a word for this affliction. Thank you.

  28. DS
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 11:04:28

    Because I listen to a lot of audio books these days I tend to think of books in terms of hours and minutes rather than pages. I don’t bother with anything under 7 hours in length and I generally pick books that are 9 hours or more unless I trust the author. Audible has had a lot of shorter works appearing on it which is a bit annoying because I can’t figure a way to sort by “Just added” then “length”. If searching by subject it’s possible to search by length but I read a lot of different types of fiction an nonfiction so this gets tedious when a lot of books have been added.

    I am also starting to suspect that some audio books have been artificially slowed down because I find myself most comfortable listening to them at 1.25x or 1.50x speed.

  29. Brie
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 11:13:10

    I love books in all lengths, which includes really long books as well as shorts and novellas. Long books give me the rush of holding them in my hands (or more like the rush of seeing the length of the progress bar) and knowing that if the book works for me, I’ll have many hours of pleasure ahead, and that it will take me a bit longer to reach the ending.

    Frankly, when it comes to Romance, what I dread are the novellas, and not because I don’t like them –a talented novella writer can deliver the most satisfying story *cough* Meljean Brook and Courtney Milan *cough*– but because the genre frequently fails to do them justice and to recognize that writing short formats takes a particular set of skills that not every author has. Romance seems to be fond of using novellas as cheap samples and previews of the author’s writing or an upcoming series, which usually ends up backfiring, because a bad sample is a bad sample regardless of the price or the time invested in reading them.

    Finally, what @Irim said!

  30. Cynthia Sax
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 11:25:13

    IMHO… length is as defining as genre. I submit only shorter works (200 pages and less) for publishing because there are readers who like shorter works and there are readers who like longer works. Marketing a longer work to a reader who prefers short works is like marketing a vampire romance to a reader who prefers contemporary romances.

    Can a (well told) story be too long or too short? No, but it could mean that the potential readership for that story is small.

  31. Evangeline
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 11:45:33

    I punted this topic into a Facebook group for historical romance, but when I look at the topic of length, I focus on what the author aspires to achieve with the work–and my personal preferences, mood, etcera. For the past few years, I’ve been at a point in my reading life where I want more. Not necessarily more pages, but more to the story than every plot point narrowly focused on building the romance (by this I mean growth from h/h both inside and outside the romantic relationship). This can occur in a 250-300 page category romance–and indeed it does in the Superromance line!–and in a 500+ page novel. But to focus on length vs brevity…I’ve been reading Ford Madox Ford’s ultra-modern, incredibly stylistic magnum opus, Parade’s End, for over a year. The book is difficult because it requires close attention, but I adore it for its length. I don’t think FMF could tell the story that best suited these characters in less than 900-1000 pages.

  32. Janine
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 12:19:41

    @Ros:

    In your example, I can think of many reasons why ‘William rose up’ might work better in context than ‘William rose’.

    In context, it’s entirely possible that I would agree with you. My point was that with these sentences by themselves, I prefer to the one to the other. Context could change that. I listed the sentences by themselves purposefully.

    I also agree completely with you and Moriah that musicality and rhythm matter a great deal. I’ve even written “rose to her feet” in my own novel and it was a very deliberate and conscious choice that I would not change to “rose” by itself because that would change the sentence rhythm.

  33. Tina
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 12:27:57

    I think length does matter insofar as the author needs to use as many words as is necessary to make the story feel full. Not bloated, not anemic, but full.

    I tend to dislike novellas because it is rare for me to come away from a novella feeling like I got a good, full story. Some authors can really work the length well. But most really, really can’t.

    I also think length needs can depend on genre as well. For instance a good fantasy novel needs word-space to build a world in addition to character development and plot considerations. So it stands to reason that most of the conventions of fantasy (which have often included long quests) would require a lot more pages than, say, a contemporary romance. However I would also argue that a good romance needs a fair amount of word-space to actually build a believable romance in addition to character development and plot. For me the romantic relationship build in a romance novel is analogous to a world-build in a fantasy novel. This is why I think sometimes I come away from shorter length books not as convinced by the romance as I should be.

  34. Nicole M
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 13:05:23

    I love a good short story. I love a good epic. And I can love anything in between. I think there is often a mismatch between what form would serve the story and what form is expected by readers, authors, publishers, et al. I’ve read novellas that feel like a chopped novel. And I’ve read epic novels that should have been gone over with an ax. It sometimes seems that X number of pages/words were expected and that is what we got whether it was a good idea or not. Or sometimes I feel like I am being tangented to death.

  35. Lindsay
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 13:26:21

    I like reading books of different lengths and have different expectations of them, but it’s more along the lines of character development than a page count. I really like big, beefy epic fantasy and am on a third re-read of a 10-book series, each over 1k pages. It’s better every time I read it because there’s just so MUCH going on that gets enough attention to warrant having it in, in the first place. Then again, I also pause every so often and read a few more books in-between because it is a pretty massive commitment and sometimes I’m not in the mood for a story that won’t end today or tomorrow.

    Something I’ve noticed is that I will leave books unfinished if I’ve reached a place where I think they should stop. If the emotional arc is over and there’s still plot left… I probably won’t finish it. If I’m halfway through and the tension buildup has been released, but I know another 150 pages means there will be a Big Misunderstanding coming? I may not be emotionally invested enough in the characters to care to see how they resolve it. This doesn’t always mean marriage — in fact I prefer books to not conclude that (marriage + epilogue baby) = HEA — and I really enjoy books that go into making a relationship work.

    I guess that’s a big part of it — emotional investment. If I pick up a many-paged novel I don’t want to trudge through an extra 6 chapters of “I’m on a boat!” or “We’re still camping!” or for gosh sakes, a sex scene in the middle of being chased by someone because the word count needed to go up. Heh.

  36. Janine
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 14:22:13

    @Nicole M:

    I think there is often a mismatch between what form would serve the story and what form is expected by readers, authors, publishers, et al. I’ve read novellas that feel like a chopped novel. And I’ve read epic novels that should have been gone over with an ax.

    I think you’ve put your finger on it. Novellas that read like chopped novels are the other side of the same coin. But I find I’m more likely to finish a novel squeezed into novella length than I am to finish a short novel padded into long novel length. More pages mean a greater investment of time (and sometimes a greater investment of dollars as well) so I feel more is being demanded of me in exchange.

    @Lostshadows: Before I got my first ebook reader, that was a factor for me as well. I have a repetitive strain wrist injury that makes reading heavy or otherwise uncomfortable to hold books difficult. I also don’t like squinting at tiny print. Luckily, e-reading has solved these problems for me.

  37. Ros
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 14:27:47

    @Janine: I guess I just don’t ever think of that sort of word choice as flab. There are badly written sentences, and sometimes these are longer than they need to be, of course. But if I’m thinking about whether a long book – or indeed any book – has flab, it’s much more likely to be in terms of storylines that don’t go anywhere, repetitive scenes, extraneous secondary characters and so on. It’s rare, for me, that individual word choices or turns of phrase slow down the reading in a significant way. I think this is partly because that’s how normal spoken language works. There is a lot of repetition and redundancy in every day speech patterns, so I have no fundamental objection to it in literature. Which is not to say that writers ought to strive for complete naturalism. I’m happy for them to cut out the ums and ers from dialogue, for instance. I just don’t look for the prose I read to be as spare as it possibly can be. For me, that sort of brevity is not a virtue.

  38. Jane Davitt
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 15:16:28

    @Irim:
    Um, I was speaking as an author whose editors do that to me :-) For one of my four publishers, it’s actually on their style guide. And for the most part, I agree it’s redundant; the direction is implied in the verb. If I had stylistic reasons for it or, as I said, it worked within dialogue, I’d fight for it, but really, it’s padding.

  39. Renda
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 15:27:10

    Skill matters as much as length.
    I shy away from the novella. I just checked my Goodreads novella shelf and I only have 18 novellas out of 1000 plus books.
    The shelf holds the Theresa Weir Cat books, Shannon Stacey’s novellas, the latest (I think) Tamara Morgan, Ainslie Paton, and Courtney Milan.
    I will read anything these women write (with the exception of Morgan — had I realized who it was, I would never have read it based on reading her novels). They give me a full story at any length. They show character development, they show passage of time, they don’t make me feel like it is a tease. I have the story. I am happy.

    I adore Jill Mansell. Yes, her books are way too long, but I love the people, I love whatever town she plops them in, and I love the gentle humor.

    So for me, it is the writer, not the length. It is the world I am given, it is the character I am to believe in.

    There are exceptions to all “requirements,” of course. But the thing that will make me put a book down and walk away no matter how much I am enjoying the people and their world is bad editing. Shallow, not really; petty, not at all. If I am counting your misspellings, how long your run-on sentences go, and how many different homonyms you can butcher, I am out of the book and my reading time can be better spent.

  40. Jae Lee
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 15:32:50

    I grew up reading reading fantasy, so I’m accustomed to longer novels. In fact, I initially picked up Robert Jordan’s work because his books were so long. I’m a pretty speedy reader and having a book that would take longer than 2 days to read appealed to me, since I was 12 and had virtually no pocket money. But I’d rather a book be slightly long and take the time to really develop the story than be chopped in order to fit genre expectations.

    And to take the example of word bloat above, I notice that paranormals often use lots of short, choppy sentences, and I loathe them. Like, a lot. I know it’s meant to convey a sense of immediacy and urgency, but they feel incomplete to me.

    I get what you mean about wanting your time’s worth, though. It’s why I find when I re-read Jordan’s work now, I feel a little cheated because he rehashes so much, telling the same scene from every character’s view, plus the horse. But when I’m reading Neal Stephenson, who also writes mammoth books, they are so intricately plotted and twisty that it doesn’t feel like a chore. Sometimes he drops the ball at the end, but that’s another issue entirely. I’m working my way through Reamde now and that’s 1044 pages of tiny, tiny type. I’m having to do it in chunks, because it’s just too big to take on my short commute and is total hell on my RSI. I have an e-reader, but I find certain books (ahem, lit fic) to be easier to read on paper.

  41. Rachel
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 16:33:24

    I’ve only started looking at short works since I fell over reviews here at DA. Generally I find them frustratingly short. Sometimes I don’t realise they are short stories from the review, so have got really careful about checking page numbers against price (even if it’s a favourite author). The only good thing about short works is being able to go to bed with a story I know will not keep me up too late. I much prefer books at least 200 pages; I’m a fast reader and a DNF reader so if it’s no good I will check pages left and toss, but with long books that I’m really enjoying, I will check how much is left to try to slow down, to keep in the world of the characters longer. Comfort/distraction re-reads for me are the entire ‘Daughter of the Empire’, Miles Vorkosigan, ‘Cut and Run’ series’ and Georgette Heyer, so I can stay in the world over a decent page length. My biggest problem these days is figuring out my reading speed to % left in e-books; I haven’t quite worked out my ‘reading satisfaction’ level to my long history with paper books.

  42. Nicole M
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 16:42:29

    I admit that it makes me a little sad to see people who do not appreciate short fiction. I cut my reading teeth on sf magazine stories, as well as novels, and came to appreciate those forms. Jame Tiptree Jr. in particular wrote marvelous short fiction. It is really unfortunate that there is not a better market for short fiction outside of sf and that the sf market is shrinking.

  43. Robin/Janet
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 16:43:23

    Re. “rose up”: rise up is an idiom, and as such, has its legitimate uses. In response to Jane Davitt’s comment about how editors would treat that phrase, I would certainly hope that an editor would consider whether the idiom is appropriately and/or purposefully used. Whether that be in dialogue or in narrative, I think it’s difficult to talk about what constitutes “flab” outside of very specific examples. Which of course, will vary from reader to reader, because style is a function of voice, and voice is uniquely expressive.

    One of my problems with the original formulation of the question about length is that it seemed to roll out like this: long books are inferior in quality, because I get bored reading them. The “I” may well have been hypothetical, so I’m not making this an accusation – just noting how it came across to me. And that construction elides a bunch of stuff and aligns length with some objective measure of quality, even though the judgment is dependent on reader reaction (boredom, value for money, etc.).

    But whether a book is “too long” depends on so very many things, and on so very many different reader experiences, I think it’s untenable as a measure of quality.

    For example, once I’m immersed in the reading experience, I have no concern about the length of a book, because all of my attention is focused on the present moment with that book. I tend not to think of it in terms of value or price, either, because I could easy see spending, say, $8 on either The Stranger by Camus, North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, or T.H. White’s Once and Future King. For me, the quality of the reading experience across those three books is equal (or at least equivalent), with length an incidental consideration.

    I also don’t think “too long” or “too short” have to be killing traits for a book. Sometimes a book can feel too short to me if I read the last page wanting more. Conversely, a book can feel too long if I have to break up reading it into many blocks of time because I’m occupied with other things, etc. Or because I’ve hit what feels like a slow patch, which turns around in the next scene or chapter or whatever.

    Certainly length can be tied to genre or category/line. Novellas are, by definition, shorter. Epics, are, by definition longer. But that’s about form, not quality.

    More and more, I feel like we readers are substituting actual rules with our own tastes, and applying them as if they were universal imperatives. What Romance “can” or “can’t” do, whether heroes and heroines need to be heroic in X sense (take your pick: Sentimental, Classical, Calvinist, etc.), whether writing is “good,” what tropes should and should not be allowed in the genre, etc. Maybe this is a natural expression of taste, but it sure can feel pre/proscriptive.

  44. Janine
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 18:20:07

    @Ros:

    if I’m thinking about whether a long book – or indeed any book – has flab, it’s much more likely to be in terms of storylines that don’t go anywhere, repetitive scenes, extraneous secondary characters and so on.

    That happens to me too sometimes. With books of all lengths in my case as well– but as I said above, when it happens with a longer book, I feel that more is being demanded of me, so I am more likely to feel resentful when that’s the case. Others seem more frustrated by too-short novellas, and I understand that too. I have been there as well.

    I just don’t look for the prose I read to be as spare as it possibly can be.

    I don’t either. But I do look for it not to be spare enough that I don’t feel there’s a good sentence lost somewhere in there. Of course that is a personal judgement and opinion and only that.

    @Robin/Janet: I’m sorry if this blog post came across as pre/proscriptive. Perhaps that has its root in how the Twitter conversation began? I own up to the fact that some of my initial tweets weren’t very thoughtful–it’s very easy to speak off the cuff in that venue. I wasn’t very thoughtful there, but I made an effort to be more so when I wrote this blog piece. Quite possibly I failed in that too. Regardless, it wasn’t my intention to prescribe to everyone else.

  45. Moriah Jovan
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 18:55:52

    Janine, I appreciate that this is something that you’ve struggled for a long time, because I’ve been reading DA for years now and you’ve always maintained that long books aren’t your thing because you’re a slow reader. I get that. I see that you addressed my (Twitter) question of why choose long books if you know this about yourself. I also see that this opinion piece was offered to clarify your position on the original 1,088-page tweet.

    But your assertion continues to be that the author/book doesn’t respect your time if you find it full of flab, tedious, or otherwise a chore. How is that the fault of the author/book? Obviously you can’t know this when you pick it up, but if your default approach to books is “more pages = flab = waste of time,” why pick it up? Why go into a long book–it’s an easy thing to see, unlike triggers–with dread? Further, if you find it flabby, why can it not be DNFd?

    It sounds pre/proscriptive because you *seem* to be saying “long” = “this book/author has no respect for the reader’s time full stop”

    I simply don’t see how this is the book/author’s problem when the reader is fully in charge of her reading decisions and experience.

  46. Janine
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 19:38:56

    @Moriah Jovan:

    It sounds pre/proscriptive because you *seem* to be saying “long” = “this book/author has no respect for the reader’s time full stop”

    Thanks for pointing that out. I can see better now why it comes across as pre/proscriptive., though that’s not how I meant it.

    Let me explain upfront that although I DNF books, the decision to DNF is often a struggle for me. It means giving up on time I’ve already put in and can’t get back, and it sometimes means giving up on money I’ve put down too. If I know other people love the book then I also interrogate myself about whether I’m making the right decision in DNF’ing. Am I being fair to the book and its author? Will my fellow readers understand my decision not to finish? Reviewing hasn’t made that easier because my reading habits are now more public, plus I feel internal pressure to read enough to generate some content every month, but I went through this emotional struggle long before I started reviewing (in fact in my twenties I forced myself to finish everything), so I suspect I’m not the only one who feels this way about DNF’ing.

    So I feel pressure to continue reading, and it is this pressure/conflict that makes me resentful–the more so if the book is long because then I feel the author has gotten my money and some of my time but the book has not yet delivered, and beyond that I have to contend with uncomfortable emotions around the decision of whether to DNF, and in that moment when I look at how much I have left to read, I think “the author expects me to read all that?” And of course being a slow reader amplifies that feeling too.

    With regard to the equation you posted earlier, what I’m trying to communicate is this:

    long + poorly written (*in my subjective judgment*)= makes me *feel* I am being expected to read a lot of poorly written pages, and therefore makes me *feel* that a lot of my time is being asked for in return for little of value = makes me *feel* resentful and *feel* the value of my time isn’t being respected = makes me more leery of purchasing longer books than short ones when it comes time to decide whether to pick them up

    Maybe this isn’t rational, but a lot of decision making processes are emotional rather than logical. They still end up affecting how we spend our money and time.

    My purpose in writing the post above was to explain where I’m coming from better than I did on Twitter (I was pretty flippant there, it was the mood I was in, and I regret it) but also, to ask if these kinds of considerations impact on others’ purchasing and reading decisions the way they do on mine.

  47. txvoodoo
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 20:57:14

    Big, meaty, well-written books are my joy. Especially historicals! Not even romance – nothing makes me happier than big historical epics.

  48. Kaetrin
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 21:17:00

    I like books of all lengths and it often depends on my mood which kind of book I will pick up. I think it takes tremendous talent to write a short story or novella which is complete and engaging and it takes a different type of talent to write longer.

    I tend to avoid longish books these days but not because I don’t like them. I have commitments here and at AudioGals as well as my own blog. If I read a really long book, that’s going to take me extra time and that might mean there’s no blog post ready to go up every 2 or 3 days. It’s silly because it’s my own blog (and it’s very small) and if I don’t post for a week or two well, it’s really no big deal. But I have certain expectation of myself to post regularly and I’m aware that taking the time to read a really long book will inhibit that as I have limited time to read. I have Last Hour of Gann on my tbr and that’s pretty much the reason I haven’t read it yet. Also, I am easily distracted by the shiny so a book that landed on my TBR a few months ago is often edged out by what’s landing there today.

  49. Anu
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 21:46:42

    Janine – The words with which you describe your reading life – “struggle,” “giving up money,” “pressure,” “generate content” – are frankly joyless and transactional. Spending finite resources (time and money) means that we all have transactional relationships with books at some level, but at some point after we’ve chosen to buy/borrow/read a book, that relationship should evolve into something more meaningful – that’s what makes us readers. If it doesn’t, then what’s the point?

    It’s abundantly clear from your other posts how much you love reading, so I don’t at all mean to suggest otherwise. It just seems like you’re putting a ton of pressure on yourself, which then colors your views of the book(s) in front of you. Why not make buying and reading choices that allow you to enjoy yourself, instead?

    If that means you miss out on thick and pricey books that others are buzzing about…who cares? They’ll still be there if/when you can be really open to them.

  50. Anu
    Feb 11, 2014 @ 22:11:24

    On topic – I’m holding out to get into the right headspace to read Rebecca West’s 1200-page Black Lamb and Grey Falcon and Dorothy Dunnett’s 700-page King Hereafter. In both of these cases, I want to give the books the time and attention they deserve. And it does feel like a relationship: I want to the book and I to have the best chance with each other.

    Money is definitely also a factor. I broke up with Shannon McKenna a couple of years ago, because I hated myself too much for paying exorbitant prices for such craptastic books. Every page increased my self-loathing. It was a toxic relationship.

  51. Janine
    Feb 12, 2014 @ 00:41:38

    @Anu:

    It just seems like you’re putting a ton of pressure on yourself, which then colors your views of the book(s) in front of you. Why not make buying and reading choices that allow you to enjoy yourself, instead?

    If that means you miss out on thick and pricey books that others are buzzing about…who cares? They’ll still be there if/when you can be really open to them.

    Thanks. For the most part I do do this and I succeed much of the time, but it isn’t a perfect system. It’s easy for me to get swayed by recommendations, deals, buzz, etc. And sometimes a long book hits me just right. I was describing the experience of those I’ve DNF’d, but those aren’t all of them.

    I put too much pressure on myself in many areas of my life, and you’re right, it’s a good habit to break! I don’t want to make this discussion all about me, though. Moriah asked so I answered but I want to hear from readers about their own reading experiences and preferences.

  52. Robin/Janet
    Feb 12, 2014 @ 01:16:00

    @Janine: I was actually making more of a general comment about what I think has become a common tendency to conflate taste and preference with formal definitions and requirements. I appreciate that you explained your position here and why you feel the way you do. In the end, I feel like you construe length as a problem that somehow needs to be solved, but at least I understand better why you feel that way.

    @Anu: I gave up Shannon McKenna when she started victimizing her own heroines. That, and all the Russian mob nonsense (talk about ethnic and cultural stereotypes!!) were just too much for me.

  53. Janine
    Feb 12, 2014 @ 01:23:33

    @Robin/Janet:

    In the end, I feel like you construe length as a problem that somehow needs to be solved, but at least I understand better why you feel that way.

    I’m not sure what you mean by that. If you mean that I construe it as a problem for myself– well, it sometimes does present one for me. If you mean that I construe it as a problem for everyone, I don’t.

  54. Lynne Connolly
    Feb 12, 2014 @ 06:39:00

    @Anu: I think there’s a big difference between a thick book with tons of padding and a thick book.
    Authors need help to cut out the bits that don’t matter, the bits that mean the book is laid aside for a while. It’s all in how it reads. So if an author writes a scene that is just people sitting around a table chatting it can be boring, and it’s a filler scene. Watch how cleverly Tolkein handles the necessary but potentially boring meeting at Rivendell. There are lots of other things going on, Bilbo cracking up, Aragorn declaring his right to the throne, and they don’t all happen at once. A lesser writer would have them all sitting around a table declaring everything and people would miss important information, go “yeah, whatever” and skip to the next bit.

  55. Isabel C.
    Feb 12, 2014 @ 07:41:51

    It really depends on the author for me. I grew up on Tolkien and Stephen King: I like length when it involves plot, characters, or even setting to an extent. (The descriptions of characters’ lives in IT, for example: not technically necessary, but they made the book rich and immersive.) On the other hand, today’s doorstopper fantasies often lose me.

    For me, I think “bad length” is either describing every technical detail of a place or a battle or an outfit–I do not care how much you know about castle-building or martial arts, so stop showing off–or splitting the plot so much that I have to spend at least half of it with characters and arcs whose relevance is completely obscure.

  56. Christine
    Feb 12, 2014 @ 08:04:20

    Putting in my 2 cents worth :-) In agreement with others above, the Outlander series first 3 books were excellent and well worth the length, the ones after more difficult to get through with too much extraneous detail, but to paraphrase Mary Poppins with enough “spoonfuls of sugar to help the medicine go down” . That being said Gabaldon’s last one An Echo in the Bone I really enjoyed (the whole thing) and I’m looking forward to her new one in March, no matter the length. On the Fantasy side, with the Robert Jordan wheel of time series, the last 3 books written by Brandon Sanderson were awesome, the plot picked up finally and the length was great. I definitely expect a longer book from a fantasy author, such as the aforementioned Robert Jordan/Brandon Sanderson. The Wizard’s rule series by Terry Goodkind which is around 10 books of a lengthy nature was all wonderful. I never felt bored at all. For a romance, I prefer the 300-500 page variety, but that doesn’t stop me from reading shorter category romances. I confess to feeling cheated (monetarily and otherwise) if I buy a book that is less than 100 pages, that’s just not enough time for some kind of plot development. Generally I check the length before buying. I will buy the occasional novella, case in point Mary Ann Rivers “The Story Guy” which was excellent; and I don’t mind an anthology when it has stories by my favourite authors (such as Lovers Unmasked) – even if said stories are less than 100 pages each, I feel like I’m getting my money’s worth in total. So really, the moral of my story is that if the plot is good, and the story interesting, I will read (and buy) anything from 100-1000 pages!

  57. Jorrie Spencer
    Feb 12, 2014 @ 08:22:03

    Lots to think about! If I’m going to pick up a longer book, I do make a point of assessing what my week looks like, and if it seems too busy, I’ll wait on it. And, yes, that sometimes means I never get around to a particular book. I’m a slow-enough reader to need to do that.

    That said, this past year or so I have really been enjoying longer books again. It’s easy to reach for shorter books, but that’s not always what I want. Sometimes I want to enter and stay in an author’s world for quite a long time. Rifter by Ginn Hale, Captive Prince, Wolf Hall/Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel, Cold Magic series by Kate Elliott and The Secret History by Donna Tartt were all really successful reads for me last year. And I honestly think I hadn’t been reading that long for a while, and I’d forgotten just how great it can be (despite fond memories of big books). I need to remember I like to mix it up when it comes to length of story.

    So far this year I’ve been reading full-sized novels but not long-long books. But I’m just glad I’ve moved away from automatically reaching for shorter books, which I know I have done in the past. Perhaps for faster readers, this doesn’t happen!

  58. Christine
    Feb 12, 2014 @ 10:28:13

    @DS: I also prefer audiobooks of a longer length, +8 hours. Mind you my Robert Jordan ones (which I listened to while waiting for the last one) run between 50-60 hours and it took me two years to listen to 13 books (during which time I did a lot of running and house cleaning while listening!). I would like to listen to Outlander (not all the books, maybe just the first and most recent in preparation for the next one in March), and I know those will be equally lengthy. I have them, but I haven’t started them yet because I know it’s at least a month apiece. 8-12 hours is a perfect length for me, I can get through that in about 2 weeks (faster if I’m training for a half marathon!).

  59. Christine
    Feb 12, 2014 @ 10:31:45

    @Kimberly James: The most recent Outlander book, An Echo in The Bone, was worth the wait, and for me, much better than the previous 3. After Voyager, the plot really bogged down and I didn’t enjoy them nearly as much, but I wanted to continue the story. Echo was great, and left on a cliffhanger, so I am excited that Written in my own Heart’s blood is finally coming out in March. Too bad there isn’t a Coles notes for those middle books! Also, I really enjoyed the spin-off Lord John series which are shorter and more manageable.

  60. Christine
    Feb 12, 2014 @ 10:34:27

    @Cary Morton: As a rule novellas aren’t my favourite. But do yourself a favour and read The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers. It’s wonderful , and comes in at a bit over 100 pages so isn’t too short. There is a surprising amount of character development and plot that comes through. I would buy anything she writes, no matter the length.

  61. Susan
    Feb 12, 2014 @ 10:56:52

    I side with the dislikers of the novellas; I often feel that the author tries to keep a series going when he/she isn’t ready to publish a full length novel. I’d rather wait for a more fleshed out version. As for too long – no well-written book is too long, but as is frequently the case, length does NOT equal quality.

  62. marjorie
    Feb 12, 2014 @ 12:04:59

    I love a well-crafted novella! It’s just that they’re so rare — they usually feel like too-truncated novels or (more rarely) too-baggy short stories. Agree that The Story Guy wants to be the length it is. And IMHO, Courtney Milan is always clear about whether a piece feels right as a short-story, novella or novel. Bride of Larkspear by Sherry Thomas — perfect length. Patricia Briggs’s Alpha & Omega — ditto. Eudora Welty always loathed the term novella, but her uhhhhh super-duper-short novel The Robber Bridegroom is exactly the length it oughta be. I tend to be more irked by wordiness, floweriness and undisciplined (IMHO) refusal to kill one’s darlings than by something that’s consciously short and smart and disciplined. I love a good Kindle Single! With short pieces I only get huffy if I don’t think I’m getting what I’ve paid for — I resent paying more than 99 cents for something under 20K words, even if it’s good — but that’s just me. I get furious at books in which I think the author is showing off that she’s done research by spewing too much of it — Deborah Harkness, Diana Gabaldon. On the other hand, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a massively researched long book that feels exactly the right length, because it still reads like a character study and a thriller, and the science-y stuff is both clear and essential to the story the author’s telling.

  63. Robin/Janet
    Feb 12, 2014 @ 12:30:26

    @Janine: If you mean that I construe it as a problem for myself–

    That’s exactly what I mean. When I read your comments on Twitter, they came across the way I explained in my first comment (length as related to book quality). When I read your post it came across to me as more of a problem issue for you.

  64. Janine
    Feb 12, 2014 @ 12:51:22

    @Robin/Janet: Thanks, I can agree to that depending on what the length is. The longest novel I’ve purchased in recent months is Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, which is 784 pages long in hardcover. I very much want to read it but it will take a lot of calendar clearing to make that happen.

  65. Lexie C.
    Feb 12, 2014 @ 14:28:33

    I normally prefer certain genres to be longer then others. Fantasy (not Urban fantasy, but high/epic/dark) I prefer to be as long as the author would like. I like as much detail as you want to toss at me…as long as its not a 12page long winded accounting of every twig, blade of grass and leaf in the forest. William Goldman’s commentary in THE PRINCESS BRIDE novel when he says his “father” used “cut out” the dozens of pages of Buttercup packing is a good example of this. Unless every single blade of grass will one day help overthrow the Evil Tyrant, I don’t care if some are bent, some are green, some are brown and some are blue.

    Romances I prefer them to be somewhere between 200 and 300ish pages, depending on which sub genre we’re hitting.

    Urban Fantasy, its a case by case basis. I’ll give all the time and pages in the world to Patricia Briggs, Ilona Andrews, and Delilah S. Dawson, but by in large I’m stingy with my time for those especially with new authors and prefer them to be under 350pgs.

  66. txvoodoo
    Feb 12, 2014 @ 16:00:45

    @Christine: You said ” Sometimes I want to enter and stay in an author’s world for quite a long time. ”

    Yes! That’s exactly it. It’s like submersion.

    @Janine:

    “I very much want to read it but it will take a lot of calendar clearing to make that happen.”

    I’m having trouble wrapping my head around this. :D I read every day, and always have. When I start a new book, big or small, I read the same amount of time whether the book is short or long. If it’s a long book, I’m reading that book for a longer p;eriod of time, but I’m still reading. I don’t have something like a “I must finish 3 books this week” schedule – I just *read*.

    Can you help me with this?

  67. Rachel
    Feb 12, 2014 @ 16:03:55

    Interesting! Length matters to me as a reader, but in the opposite direction – I love diving into a long book. And I definitely disagree with the idea that a book 3x longer than an average book needs to be 3x better! For me it’s almost the opposite – a short book or novella has to be *amazing* for me to enjoy it. Otherwise I end up feeling like I just settled into the book and it’s over.

    Books seem to be shorter these days, especially in romance and urban fantasy, two genres where I read heavily. And I often end a book feeling like it was too short to really do the story justice. Not that I want authors to pad a book – I’ve definitely read books that are far too long. I just feel like there’s this rule right now that certain genres have to fit under a certain length, and I think that’s detrimental to the story in many cases.

  68. Christine
    Feb 12, 2014 @ 16:35:14

    @txvoodoo: actually I didn’t say that, it was Jorrie spencer at the top of the post I commented on, but I totally agree with the sentiment!

  69. Janine
    Feb 12, 2014 @ 17:41:41

    @txvoodoo:

    “I very much want to read it but it will take a lot of calendar clearing to make that happen.”

    I’m having trouble wrapping my head around this. :D I read every day, and always have. When I start a new book, big or small, I read the same amount of time whether the book is short or long. If it’s a long book, I’m reading that book for a longer p;eriod of time, but I’m still reading. I don’t have something like a “I must finish 3 books this week” schedule – I just *read*.

    Can you help me with this?

    Sure. Part of this is just my reading speed. Let’s say I read an 800 page book. If it’s so gripping that I can’t put it down easily and want to keep reading. I might be able to do it on a three day weekend, but it would mean letting a lot of other things go. And I don’t have many three day weekends, so if I can’t afford to drop everything, I may not even want to start it, if I’ve heard it’s page-turning and hard to stop reading.

    Now let’s say that it’s not that hard to put down (which is the case more of the time). It would likely take me between two weeks and a month to finish, and that’s if I don’t read much else during that time. Now suppose all I read were 800+ page novels. By my estimate, in a year I would read between 12 and 20 books.

    That would mean I would average 1.33 reviews a month for DA. I love writing reviews, so it’s not simply a matter of wanting to pull my oar; I also don’t want to cut back on the joy of reviewing to that little. So there’s that consideration, as well as that I want to have time to read outside of reviewing at least a little bit.

    Now, that’s all assuming I am enjoying the books. Last year I had a tough reading year and found it hard to get into books (this had to do with personal stuff, and I’m enjoying reading more now). I would guess the books I read last year averaged 300 pages in length (possibly less since I’m including some novellas) and according to my reading log I finished 33 books in the whole year (Not counting DNF’s) whereas a good reading year for me is around 50 novels read.

    The fewer books I read in a year, the less informed I am about what’s being published in the genres I read. I like to keep up with books that other readers are loving for a variety or reasons, including but not limited to being able to participate in the online conversations about books.

    Also, one of the greatest pleasures of reading for me is discovering new and unfamiliar characters and figuring out what makes them tick. As a reader I’m oriented toward character psychology, and fiction writing is the only art form I can think of that allows me to get inside other people’s thought processes. The fewer books I read in a year, the fewer characters I have a chance to get to know that year. I can read 800 pages about the same character, but they have to be pretty special for that to be as satisfying as reading two equally good books about different characters.

  70. Jorrie Spencer
    Feb 12, 2014 @ 18:07:17

    I think it’s fascinating how differently we read. Not just the what or why but the how.

    This is a bit of tangent, and all about me, but I’ve found as I’ve moved into my middle-age, I like to read under what I consider good-to-ideal circumstances. I don’t like snatching minutes while I, say, stand in line, or have 5 minutes here and there. I like to be sitting down, preferably at home, though on trains and planes work too, and I like to sink into the book for a decent chunk of time. I also like to finish a book within a certain amount of time, plus I don’t like having to not-read when that is what I want to do most because I am enthralled by a book. So, all of this leads me to make decisions about when I’ll pick up a book, and the length of book is a factor as well. I’m quite sure other readers read differently!

    (I also don’t function without sleep :)

    Anyway, I know the previous commenter was asking you, Janine, but I can certainly sympathize in terms of where you’re coming from.

  71. Anu
    Feb 13, 2014 @ 16:22:34

    @Robin/Janet: I have so many problems with McKenna’s books that to point to any one of them is to give short-shrift to them all. Suffice it to say that I think the only good thing about her writing are the relationships among her male characters. I still go back and read parts of her books.

    @Lynne Connolly:

    I think there’s a big difference between a thick book with tons of padding and a thick book.

    I agree completely. I was responding to Janine’s comments about long books in general. Considering her hesitations about them, it seems easier to set aside such books until she’s in a more open frame of mind rather than read and resent them for not sufficiently meeting her preferences.

  72. Janine
    Feb 13, 2014 @ 18:52:27

    @Anu: I do do that for the most part, as I said above.

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  75. DrZoidberg
    Feb 14, 2014 @ 09:01:47

    I can enjoy a long book, if the story is there. For example, I love most of Stephen King’s works, although my preference is for the earlier stuff. ‘Under the Dome’ just dragged! There was so much extra filler, and a plot point involving some important papers that went way longer than it should have. For me, an avid reader, it was a real chore to finish that book. On the other hand, ‘The Swarm’, by Frank Schatzing, clocks in at 918 pages in hardback. The story was so good, I wish it had gone on even longer.

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