Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Does Size Matter?

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Dear Romancelandia,

There is a sinister power afoot, an evil influence that is threatening to steal our enjoyment and satisfaction, a darkness that dims our reading joy. What is this evil, you may ask?

Someone is stealing words from the genre!

Although books have been getting shorter for a while now, readers are catching on more substantially now, and they are not happy. In her recent review of Loretta Chase’s new novel, Don’t Tempt Me, Smart Bitch Candy lamented that

-Chase does a lot with the decreased wordcount she’s working under. (I was anal-retentive enough to do a quick-and-dirty comparison: Lord of Scoundrels was 375 pages and 37 lines per page; Don’t Tempt Me runs 355 pages and 32 lines per page. Hmmmm.)

And in the comments of my review for Victoria Dahl’s One Week As Lovers, Growly Cub indicated that

Most importantly, this is yet another book I’ve read lately that absolutely suffered from word count constraints. Don’t know if they are self-imposed (aka considered "tight plotting’) or publisher-imposed, but there were at least 4-5 books so far this year that really needed more story and words rather than fewer. It’s really frustrating to read all these books and be left thinking at the end that they were good but could have been so much better.

I have heard various excuses for the lowered word counts, from cost of paper to printing costs to an insistence that readers today prefer shorter books. I remember reading a comment from someone on Twitter, an author, who indicated that her most recent contract called for word count < 100K, which I think many of us count as standard, especially for historical Romances, which, from authors like Jo Goodman, are still coming in at longer lengths. I don’t know how many words The Windflower is, but that sucker is looooong. As are so many of the epic historical Romances from the 80s and 90s. You can almost stack two of today’s mainstream historicals next to a book like Christine Monson’s Rangoon, which, in lush detail, crosses continents and cultures.

So are books published today suffering for being shorter? Are readers being cheated out of wonderfully detailed and leisurely-narrated books?

As much as I hate the idea that word counts for single title books are being contractually dictated (and didn’t I read somewhere a couple of years ago that Harlequin has shortened word counts for category titles, too?), I’m not convinced that shorter books are necessarily weaker books.

Take, as a counter example, Judith Ivory’s Bliss, which clocks in at a mere 373 pages. Now I do not know how many words it is, but I’m pretty sure it’s fewer than Black Silk, which clocks in at 407 pages and, at least in my original edition, has reallyreally small print and much smaller margins than Bliss. But is Bliss a lesser book than Black Silk? The latter is probably my favorite Romance novel ever, but both are mighty fine books, in my opinion.

Then think about categories, past and present. Kathleen Gilles Seidel managed to convey so much complexity in Mirrors and Mistakes than I have seen in almost any other boss/secretary Romance. LaVyrle Spencer’s Spring Fancy remains one of the most provocative and meaty Romance novels I’ve ever read, tackling class issues as well as infidelity on the part of the engaged heroine. On the whole I prefer Jennifer Crusie’s categories to her single title books, both for meat and wit.   And I’m still impressed with what Kathleen O’Reilly managed to convey in her Sex Straight Up hero, Daniel, who lost his wife in the 9/11 WTC attacks.

I have always likened genre Romance to the sonnet.   Sonnets are among the most restrictive poetic genres.   But still, within the traditional 14-line structure, some of the most powerful poetic expressions have been recorded. Not that poems and novels are literally equivalent, but I’m also not certain it’s fair to assume that if today’s Romance novels were, as a matter of course, longer, that they’d be better.

Now it may be that some authors just write longer and some write shorter, and in that case, if contracts are determining word counts, are authors negotiating those terms? Are there really editors out there who are going to turn down a beautifully-written 100K single-title novel because it’s 15K too many words? Now I believe that publishers do some really boneheaded things in the name of sales (like trying to guess reader tastes two years out), but are there editors who are truly willing to kill a brilliant book because it’s longer than 85K? Or could it be that authors are trying so hard to write more books, faster, that they’re perfectly satisfied with the shorter word lengths? How many books have any of us read – short and long – that have what seems like lots of filler? I can think of numerous books I’ve read that contain a wholly unsatisfying combination of shorthand and filler.

So let’s hash this out: are shorter books creating suffering among readers and books, or does it even matter how long or short books are?

~ Janet

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!


  1. katiebabs
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 05:36:39

    You better believe size matters, especially if I am paying $14-35 dollars for a book. I picked up a very popular paranormal author’s book that cost me $14 and the book only came to 250 pages! And it looks like hardcover books are getting slimmer. Some hc are under 300 pages. I am expected to pay over $20 for that? Sorry, no thanks.

    A book under 250 pages should be a category read and be priced as so.

  2. Tee
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 06:08:28

    First off, I get my books from the library, so price doesn’t factor into this for me. So then, my really first reaction to this question of book/story length is that it depends on the author. Some authors can’t tell a story in 500 pages; others can do it handily in 250-300. Theresa Weir’s books were never very long; but every word counted and she gave you the “best bang for your buck” for sure. Her stories were filled with everything that makes for a good book and then some–and were definitely not long.

    Others can go on for 500 pages and all I’m thinking at the end is that it could have been cut by 150 pages and still get the point across. Then there are other books that I wish never ended. They could have gone on and on because the author did his/her thing so well.

    If I had to just answer quickly and generically on this question, I would repeat that popular quote, “Less is more.” I don’t need filler; and if I recognize it as that, I just skim over it anyway. I want the meat to the story and the necessary side stuff and the rest can disappear. I don’t need to know how a table was set for dinner nor the color of the candles, etc. But that’s me!

  3. Maggie Robinson/Margaret Rowe
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 06:15:47

    The 10s and 12s I used to wear would now be sized 4s and 6s. I’m still wearing 12s, but after 4 kids, believe me, I do not have my old body. Institutional sized cans are falling on my feet at the grocery store. Food served in restaurants could feed 3 people. Everything is getting bigger (despite the false labeling) but books. And airplane seats.

    I think whatever the word count limitations, authors try to write the best books they can. I’ve read my share of rushed endings, but I’m not sure the culprit is adherence to word count—it might be deadline pressures or a whole host of things. Most writers would tweak a story even after publication. But I agree, it’s disappointing to fork out so much money for something you can read in a couple of hours. When a book is good, you never want to get to the end.

  4. MicheleKS
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 06:17:24

    I was never a big reader of the doorstop-size historical romances of yesteryear because for the most part, I felt like I had to plod through huge sections of them to get to the heart of the story. Yet I’ve also read shorter category books that weren’t all that well put together too. So for me I think it’s not only a matter of making every word count but also making sure the whole book flows well. And that can be done at any length.

  5. Jane O
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 06:18:44

    I agree completely with Tee. I have read too many historicals of late that reached their 100,000 word count via endless repetitive padding. On the other hand, I’ve read categories -‘ Carla Kelly comes to mind -‘ that pack one helluva story into a small package.

    I have no objection to long books -‘ in fact, I love them. However, when the reader comes away from a book thinking it needed more words, sometimes the problem is that the author spent too much time on the wrong stuff.

  6. Shiloh Walker
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 06:21:59

    If the story suffers from constricted word count, then it’s going to matter to me, as both a reader and a writer. If the story works, then I’m fine.

    @katiebabs: mentioned the price thing and that’s definitely going to affect whether I buy a HB or not. If it’s 250 pages, and priced at HB prices, I’m not very likely to buy, unless I really, REALLY like the author.

  7. KMont
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 06:32:29

    People have less and less time to read these days, or, at least I’m one of those. So if a book IS going to be longer, please with cherries on top make sure the plot IS tight and the pace is non-stop. Or the book is getting DNFed. I just put aside one that was dragging, and I’d been looking forward to it for months.

    Maybe the possibility that some readers don’t have a lot of time to read is one factor in some word counts getting shorter. While I dearly love a book that is termed “lush” in prose and other details, that’s only when I have that precious time to sink into them – this is why I haven’t picked up a book like Kushiel’s Dart yet. I want to be able to really give it my attention and who knows when that will be. (And really, shorter books can be just as lush, all depends on talents of the author.) But I’m actually more inclined to believe the whole money-saving factor for the publisher.

    On padding or “filler” as I usually call it – yet another book I’d dearly been looking forward to now for almost a year is suffering a little from the filler factor. Not amused by this. Why the need to constantly repeat some details, ones that have been repeated for the past several books too?

  8. Courtney Milan
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 06:38:30

    I think size matters, not because size inherently matters and longer books are inherently better, but because not every author writes stories that are the same length (or even writes stories that are all the same length). If an author can write a story in 50,000 words, her stories aren’t too short. Conversely, if she needs 120,000 words to do it–well, that’s her choice, too. I don’t assume that length is correlated with quality.

    This becomes problematic is with people who cannot write under a publisher’s word count (if they are with a publisher who enforces a word count). I don’t think word length correlates with meat–I’ve read some very meaty short stories, and some 200,000 word epic fantasies that are entirely fluff. But I do think that every author has a natural story length, give or take 20,000 words, and she will suffer if she has to write much longer or much shorter because of publisher constraints.

  9. Mezza
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 06:44:15

    I do think I am reading more books that are not long enough to do the story arc justice. My concern is that in books that are too short the relationship story becomes much less believable because the rush to the end pushes the relationship along to the HEA before it is ready, before their is a believable level of trust or resolution. We can complain of flat middles and books that needed to be tightened but you can always skip the lumpy bits. In novels which are too short we end up skimming over a story.

  10. Kat
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 06:48:11

    I love long, meaty, well-written romances. It’s not really the length that’s the problem for me. If word count is a constraint that authors have to work with, then they should write and edit with that constraint in mind. Don’t start impossibly elaborate plots and subplots and characters if you can’t give them the pages they need for the story. Of course, part of this responsibility falls on the editor, too. Or maybe publishing deadlines in romance aren’t conducive to polishing longer works (I speculate).

    And can I just say, I’m hoping the new Kinsale will be loooong (and good)!

  11. GrowlyCub
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 06:48:53

    I want to say that when I remark on books being too short, I’m not bemoaning lack of filler or saying that books have to be 500 pages to be complete. What I’m talking about is when crucial scenes are missing that would round out or explain a character or make the story flow better.

    In several instances where the authors remarked on the fact that a book went through many revisions or rewrites, I honestly think it’s because they and the beta readers, editors, agents, etc. know things from earlier drafts that don’t make it into the final version, so they do not realize that something is missing for the reader who hasn’t seen the earlier/cut pieces.

    One book where I suspect that to be especially the case is ‘Scandal’ by Carolyn Jewel. I loved that book, but I really felt that Banallt’s earlier life needed more explanation especially the bit about loving his wife while tom-catting his way through society, knowing how much he hurt her with it. That was a major hole in characterization.

    I do not need lush prose (matter of fact all the books that are getting lauded for their prose don’t seem to be doing anything at all for me). What seemed to be missing in so many of the books I’ve read lately are crucial bits of character or story background that leave you thinking ‘this was a good book, but I just know it could have been a great book if it had provided better explanation/background of X’s behavior or addressed these issues Y had’.

    I’ve also noticed dangling threads that are not sequel bait, but just things that were started but never followed through.

    I’ve read tightly plotted books that were fabulous and lavish books that were boring (mostly those with that lauded prose, btw); that said, lately I really feel readers are getting short-changed. I tend to think it’s publisher-imposed, but maybe I’m naive.

  12. Tami
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 06:48:57

    As a fantasy reader, I might have a different take from what I’m reading in the comments here.

    Although I believe books can suffer from authors going on and on and on (hint : if it takes more than a paragraph to describe the sunset, I start skimming)…I also feel that constantly tweaking and retweaking to make the “tightest” book possible loses some of the magic. The “tightest” romance book is “Girl meets boy. They marry. The end.”

    I’ve read books where it was obvious the author said “one big, action thing has to happen in every chapter, and no chapter can be more than 3k words”.

    I felt like I was on a roller coaster ride, barely able to slow down and really absorb or enjoy the story. It was thrust at me, constantly, like a carnival salesman, and I found myself utterly turned off by it.

    I don’t like the long, rambling stories that seem to take forever to get to the meat of the story, but neither do I like it when books are arbitrarily forced to be under a certain length if it takes more words than that to properly do the book justice.

    As Maggie Robinson above commented – some authors have the ability to make you ache with the knowledge that the book is almost over, you want it to continue!

    So many reviewers nowadays are complaining about the seeming inability of the paranormal romance in particular to finish a book. I can absolutely see where the gripe is coming from, but I can also understand how frustrating it must be for an author who has grand plans (easy to do in a fantasy, where worldbuilding is not only encouraged, it’s required) to have an editor say “sorry, you only have 100k words to work with. You’ll have to cut out the entire story arc fighting the mid-level demons and get on to the big demon. Or you could make it a trilogy and add in another story arc that the readers are going to hate to make it fit THAT word count.”

    Personally, I’d rather read one 200k word book than three 100k word books, and that’s not just because of the cost issue. And I’d definitely prefer to read the entire story – I buy director’s cut copies of movies for the same reason. Just because some Poindexter behind a chair says movie audiences hate movies longer than two hours, that doesn’t make him right about ME, and I relish the three hour movies more because they feel complete.

    I also realize there are a lot of readers who would prefer to skip past “unnecessary” plot points. Me? I’ll skip the unnecessary description and take an extra helping of plot and characterization any day. Even if it is illegal, immoral, or fattening. =]

  13. Suzanne Allain
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 06:59:12

    Unless things have radically changed, I doubt publishers are requiring their authors to write shorter books. It’s fairly common to have a book rejected because of its shorter length. Those shorter books that are being published must be by established authors who can get away with it.

    I wish the romance publishers would do away with their arbitrary word count requirements. It seems to me like some romance writers fill the word count by giving you unnecessary internal dialogue or too much description, or by adding even more obstacles to True Love’s Path. I would much rather read a book where the writing is tight and the story keeps your interest until the end.

    Then again, I write shorter books, so I might be biased. :)

  14. mdegraffen
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 07:01:52

    I’ve noticed this trend as well and do not like it. I want to sink my teeth into something juicy and it takes an extraordinary writer to satisfy me with less than 350 pages. I diet enough when it comes to food! I’m not a fan of romance “lite”.

  15. Terry Odell
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 07:02:49

    I’ve checked guidelines for submissions to several publishers: 70-90K for single title. That seems too short, at least for what I write. But it appears there are definitely publisher imposed limits on word count, at least for first-timers.

    When I go to the bookstore, I look for the fatter books, because it’s more story for my dollar, and I want to fall in love with the characters and not have to be finished in a single afternoon. Yes, I expect quality. Yes, sometimes I gloss over description, but I do that whether or not it seems to be ‘filler.’ I’d rather spend a week with a book. If readers have less time to read, why does the book have to be shorter? Why can’t they enjoy the longer visits with the characters.

    I expect it’s all the $$ bottom line. Trees, paper, ink.

  16. Elise Logan
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 07:06:48

    I don’t know. I recently read Jacqueline Carey’s Naamah’s Kiss, and it’s a hefty tome. But, I have noticed recently that a lot of my happy-place authors are stinting me. And since I’m paying hardback or trade paper prices, that does not make me happy.

    I look at some of these books and I feel like I’m looking at my students’ term papers: they’ve mucked with the margins and the type to try to make page count (sadly for my students, I make them use TNR 12 and 1 inch margins all around, so their efforts are for naught). It looks like they’re trying to pull a fast one and I don’t like it.

    If you think that I like the author enough to pay full price for 2/3 of a book, you might be right. But if you think I’m going to ignore the fact that you’re trying to jerk my chain, you’d be wrong about that. Some authors/books I’ll pay full price for shorter books. I think the writing and the story are worth it. But most? Nope. Which is why I haven’t been buying as many new releases lately.

  17. Alyssa Day
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 07:13:00

    Actually the problem for me wasn’t a shorter book, it was that the font in the longer book suddenly became miniscule. My June book, Atlantis Unleashed, was 104K words, my longest book yet! But if you tried to compare by page length/number of lines, you wouldn’t realize that, because the font was shrunk to a teensy tiny size. I was so worried at the time that readers would just put it back on the shelf since they’d be afraid they’d need a magnifying glass to read it.

  18. KeriM
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 07:21:05

    For me, it really depends on the author. Case in point, just finished Betina Krahn’s luscious little jewel of a book, Make Me Yours. Now since it was in the Blaze category format I was questioning whether she could actually pull the book off, since she was used to longer word count to work with. But by golly she did and in a really refreshing way. Now I wanted a longer book, not because the book wasn’t complete, but because I wasn’t ready to let Mariah and Jack go.

    I can’t think of any romances right off my head that I feel is filled with filler, but two suspense/thriller books that come to mind for me is William Dietrich’s Napoleon’s Pyramids and Ted Bell’s Pirate. NP, the historical data input alone made my eye’s glaze over, it took me almost a week to finish that book. It was a good book, but too much darn detail. Pirate, I think it was Bell’s writing style or something, but too much word count for both books, to me.

    I 2nd the long book by Kinsale…oh I can’t wait for that one!

  19. Ann Bruce
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 07:23:12

    (Damn. I have a draft of a post on the same topic. Now I can’t post it without looking like a copy cat.)

    The older I get, the more impatient I get. For instance, I haven’t been able to finish Black Hills in THREE weeks (during this time, I finished about two dozen other shorter books) and returned it to the library yesterday.

    I want a story to get to the action. I never enjoyed those stories back in the 80s where the prologue is a half the book or the stories start with the main characters as children. Sagas were never my cuppa. Or worse, those massive word counts were met with long-winded descriptions of the wallpaper in the drawing room or conversations that went nowhere. Bleh.

    However, my enjoyment of shorter stories comes with the caveat that the story has to be complete. If it feels like the author met the word count and stopped or the author skipped scenes because she got bored with it and wanted to work on something else just to get more books out there, then I want my money back.

  20. RStewie
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 07:24:20

    I read very quickly, to the point that I choose not to read categories generally because they aren’t worth the price and just don’t satisfy my need to sit down a read a book.

    The last book I read that took me longer than a day was Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series. Each one took me about 3 days to read–my schedule impacted that as well, otherwise it would have been 2.

    So for me, it’s frustrating when a story is cut short, because I’m looking for a story to last me a couple hours. If I set aside 4-5 hours to read (I know, I know…one of the lucky people who can do this) and then I finish the book in 3.5…I’m disappointed.

    Some books, I admit, do not need to be long. And I am certainly not championing books with intense landscape and environment monologues. (Gah I hate those) But what I DO want to see is a story of some length, tightly plotted and engaging, but with a meaty enough story to last for 400-500 pages.

    Meljean Brook, Laura Kinsale—I can’t really think of another author offhand that writes with the density that I love to read.

  21. joanne
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 07:36:10

    Book Publishers are responsible for all the ills of the world including global warming and the blister I have on my thumb from weeding the garden.

    BUT: can they force an author to submit a book that is lacking whatever it takes to make it a good story? Nah, probably not, in most cases. Your name on the cover? Your responsibility for the story within the covers. Wordcount is an excuse for not having the best story you’re able to submit.

    I also think that perhaps the trend of the two and three book arc has been the reason that what could be one superb story turns into two or three not-so-hot books. Just my opinion, I’m sure many will disagree. But not about the blister.

  22. Ann Bruce
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 07:37:09

    some Poindexter behind a chair says movie audiences hate movies longer than two hours


  23. DS
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 07:54:27

    I was going to say “No”, but when it comes to buying a book, I don’t usually pick out short books. I particularly dislike books that have large print and thick margins– especially if the book is hardback, overpriced and from some very popular author. I would make a comment about Janet Evanovich here, but I recently saw from a friend’s copy of Evanovich’s last book that the regular titles she is putting out now look about the same as her “Plum” Christmas titles.

    However, I also used to hate it when a romance would be all but resolved and the author would pad it out with one last Big Mis AND an epilogue.

  24. Stephanie
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 08:16:59

    I’ve read on various author blogs that the prescribed word count for romance has shrunk from 100,000 to 90,000 or even 80,000K, though not every publisher holds to that limit. I have mixed feelings about it, having read my share of bloated, filler-laden books and sketchy, underdeveloped ones.

    As a reader, I find that the ideal book length for me tends to fall anywhere between 350-500 pages. Beyond 500 pages, the author has to be pretty spectacular–or an old tried-and-true favorite–to keep me hooked. Significantly under 350 or, worse, under 300, pages and I feel gypped, especially if the ending seems rushed or inconclusive.

    It’s true that I’m less patient than I was 20 years ago when I was happy to devour doorstoppers in all genres. (Did the last Harry Potter book really need to be that long? I think at least 20K could have been trimmed by shortening the long camping passages in the middle.) But, overall, I think I’d rather have my patience tested with a longer book than my expectations frustrated with a shorter one.

  25. Kalen Hughes
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 08:23:43

    Actually the problem for me wasn't a shorter book, it was that the font in the longer book suddenly became miniscule. My June book, Atlantis Unleashed, was 104K words, my longest book yet! But if you tried to compare by page length/number of lines, you wouldn't realize that, because the font was shrunk to a teensy tiny size.

    Point size (the size of the type) and leading (the size of the space between lines) are both things that publishers can play with to adjust the size of the book (margins too; I hate it when the type goes nearly to the edge so that my fingers smudge it as I’m holding the book open!).

    I know most houses have a rough goal they ask you to shoot for (and yes, that goal has shrunk), but my friends who are turning in 120K words aren’t being show the door . . .

  26. Tami Moore » Blog Archive » Novel Length
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 08:35:51

    […] inspired left and right by blogs recently! Today’s inspiration comes from Dear Author, where Janet asks whether size matters in a book. Great article, I recommend you go read it and come […]

  27. Jennifer Estep
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 08:37:51

    I generally shoot for between 90K to 100K when I’m writing. If I can’t get my story across in that amount of words, 10K or 20K or 50K more words probably isn’t going to help me.

    And as a reader, that’s the book length that I prefer. Unless I’m absolutely in love with a book, there’s only so much world building that I want to read — especially when it comes to epic fantasy. As much as I love the genre, I think so many of them could be trimmed back. Robert Jordan’s books come to mind.

    I also agree with Alyssa Day — the font and formatting used make a big difference in the page count. My next book is about 100,000, the same length as my first three books. But the page count for the new book is 394, which is a little longer than the other books. Why? I don’t know.

    If we’re talking about specific book publishers, it seems to me like a lot of the Ace urban fantasy books that I’ve picked up lately have seemed short — well under 350 pages. But again, that could just be because of the font/formatting used. I didn’t feel like I was missing any of the story.

  28. Terisa Wilcox
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 08:50:33

    I think size definitely matters. I’m a fast reader too and would like to see longer books. But as an author, I know not to fill up the word count with useless, repetitive words or scenes, which I’ve seen a lot of recently. My publisher accepted my first book even though it was longer than what they usually accept because she understood that historicals need more time and words to develop and tell the story thoroughly.
    Timeless Mist

  29. Christine Rimmer
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 08:53:15

    As has been said here, it’s about the author and her voice and style. Some need more space. Some are amazing in less. Often, when an author who needs space suddenly writes short, the book is unsatisfying.

    I do think publishers are happier now if an author writes short. Paper’s a big deal, expensive. And trees die. And also shipping weight. And price point, too. To keep from having to raise the price of a book, a lot of publishers are cutting signatures. A signature, in book binding, bering the group of folded papers, always in multiples of four, that are bound together to create a portion of the complete book. My Silhouette Special Editions were 300 manuscript pages double spaced in a 12-point font when I started. I write short. And once, early on, when I turned in a manuscript of 270 pages, I was reprimanded. Now they want 250 pages, double spaced in 12-point font for the same series line.

    In mainstream, it’s not so constrained. You can write it as long as you want it. And they’ll just make the font smaller.

    In future, once we get more fully away from printed books, things could be different. Then again, publishers will probably still be dealing with the shortened attention span of the reading public.

  30. charlotte
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 08:59:40

    I find it hard and almost resentful to read anything less than 250 pages. To me the more the better. It feels as if the author is lazy and did not do any more research than is necessary, and was in a great hurry. So as a result, I have no interest in rewarding their work.

  31. Keishon
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 09:07:55

    “Less is more.” I don't need filler; and if I recognize it as that, I just skim over it anyway. I want the meat to the story and the necessary side stuff and the rest can disappear. I don't need to know how a table was set for dinner nor the color of the candles, etc. But that's me!

    That’s me too and a lot of books have a lot of subterfuge in them that I think we can all do without. So, no, Robin, I don’t think we’re being robbed. We just need better written stories.

  32. MB
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 09:21:34

    Thanks Janet! This issue has been really bothering me lately to the point where I’m starting to avoid reading the newly published romances.

    I like long complicated intriguing books. I like short books too, if they’re well-written. If not, then they’re not worth my time since I finish them too fast.

    It depends on the book and the author’s ability to handle her story within the frame/page count. I’ve found Loretta Chase’s last 2 books to be really frustrating. I’ve found Julia Quinn’s last 3 to be the same. All of those books were too short for their stories. They were cotton candy when they should have been a full meal.

    Any book that doesn’t set up the character’s back stories enough to explain why they are who they are is annoying. Any book that just shoves everything into a contrived happy ending in the last 2-3 chapters that really doesn’t make sense to the plot is also annoying to me.

    My favorite author is Robin McKinley. I can take complicated. What I can’t take is lazy, speedy writing that feels like it’s been shoved out the door so fast that it hasn’t developed fully or cohere. I want polished, complete, and whole!

    Janet’s mention of LaVyrle Spencer is a great example and her books are on my keeper shelves for a reason! Jo Beverley is also a good example to this, her research into the period shows through. Her characters feel like they belong in that time period. (The last one had a pretty speedy ending, but it wasn’t as bad as some I’ve been reading recently.) In contrast, Loretta Chase evidently did her research into the period, but it didn’t show up in her last book. That would have been really fun/interesting to read! Why wasn’t it included? Do the publishers think the average reader is too stupid to appreciate it?

  33. kimber an
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 09:23:07

    As a reader, I really coudn’t care less about wordcount. It’s the story that matters and getting so swept up in it that I don’t see the final bang coming until it hits me. If I had to give an answer, however, I’d say I prefer shorter wordcounts because it seems like a lot of authors get sloppy and wordy after about 80,000 and I’m impatient with that.

  34. liz m
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 09:30:57

    I belong to the ‘it’s how they use it’ club. The ‘problem’ with the latest LC (and I say problem because while it wasn’t an insta classic is was pretty darn enjoyable) I think resulted as more of an author choice than a word count issue. She made a choice about the heroine and stuck to it. It’s almost a tribute to the book that so many of us say “Wait, no, back up, tell us about Zoe, explain her more.”

    And I’m reading the new Stephanie Laurens. I’d like about 50 pages less. I’m enjoying ti so much and then bam, page after page of feasting on her breasts and tab A / slot B descriptives. Sex scenes with emotional impact are not on SL’s box of crayons. It keeps throwing me out of the (really interesting) story. So here’s a book I’d like shorter – a more traditional ‘sexless’ romance that kept the focus on the emotional life.

  35. Valerie
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 09:46:41

    For me, as a reader, its not the size that counts, its what you do with it.

  36. Janine
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 10:12:34

    Robin (Janet),

    You may be interested in this post by agent Jessica Faust in which she advises writers on wordcount.

    There’s also this one by agent Colleen Lindsay.

    Both suggest that writers of single title romances keep manuscript lengths between 80,000 and 100,000 words long.

  37. Heather Holland
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 10:17:40

    I have noticed I’m reading categories faster and I know the speed at which I read has NOT increased, leaving me with only one conclusion-‘the stories are shorter. Am I complaining? Not really, but that’s mainly because I grow tired of taking 1 – 2 days to read a “thin” book, though it can’t be helped. I’m a slow reader and it’s something I’ve had to come to terms with. If the story works in the word count constraints, great, I’m all for it, but if it begins to suffer, then perhaps the publishers/authors should consider sticking those extra words back in. However, I must admit that I couldn’t tell you how many pages the vast majority of the books I read have because I rarely ever look at the page numbers anymore.

    If the price goes up while the word count goes down, then I have a big problem with it. As I’ve said before, my husband is cheap. I can generally buy the categories without too much complaint from him, however, if the price goes up too much while getting less story, I’ll be just as miserable standing in the book aisle looking for a category as I am looking at the hardcovers (which are generally easier on my hands when it comes to reading) because he’ll be making his unhappiness known in a rather loud and obnoxious way. Just for clarification, he’s not complaining because I’m buying books to read. He’s complaining over spending money. He’s funny that way.

    Writing wise? I don’t write for NY, so I guess I have more freedom when it comes to word count. I write the story as it dictates and don’t worry so much about now many words it ends up being, which is a huge change from just a few years ago when I obsessed over the numbers. I guess being forced into a long break changed my priorities for me and the numbers are no longer at the top of the list.

  38. Becca
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 10:25:07

    I’m in the “it’s not the size, it’s what you do with it camp” – one of my favorite books (Tryst, by Elswyth Thane) is a slim volume. But for the most part, I avoid categories and other slim books just like I tend to avoid doorstop books – I like a nice meaty book with characterization and subplots, but I really don’t care for Vast Sweeping Sagas either. I’ll read a category if it’s strongly recommended here or at SBTB and sounds like a book I’d like, but in general they leave me hungry for more.

  39. Louisa Edwards
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 10:53:43

    Contractual word counts were always explained to me as being guidelines for the author rather than hard-and-fast rules. Also as a way to protect the publisher from having to deal with a manuscript coming in at say, 400,000 words, which has definitely happened to people I know. I can’t imagine that most editors would actually enforce the less than 100,000 rule if the manuscript was tight and clean at, say, 105,000. I can’t speak to HQ, I know category rules are different and always have been.

  40. SonomaLass
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 10:59:05

    While size matters less to me than skill, I have been frustrated lately by some books that seemed “too short.” Is that publisher driven? With authors like Lisa Kleypas or Loretta Chase, I tend to doubt it, but of course I can’t say for sure.

    Specifically, I’ve been frustrated by two types of “too short.” One is in historical romance with interesting settings — I want more development of exotic locales or something other than a Regency setting, on the rare occasions I get them anymore. The other has always been endemic to the genre, and that’s what I think of as a rushed resolution. All that lovely complication and then BAM! — feelings declared, all forgiven, villain vanquished and a baby delivered.

    I do think the series romance causes problems for some authors. With many of those, I get tired of the repetitive descriptions of recurring characters (appearance, personality and backstory). Some authors do a better job than others, of course, but in general I have a hard time with re-introductions of characters from previous books. I can remember some where I felt I was meeting an old friend again, but not so much lately — in fairness, that may come from me reading them closer together than would have been possible based on their initial release dates.

    Like some others here, I read fantasy as well, so I’m all about a good LONG read, even many books in a series, if the world-building and the complexity of the plot call for that. Nothing makes me happier than immersing myself in an epic, and I wish there were more epic romances being published. But authors who write best at shorter lengths should NOT try to pad; some stories can, and should, be told more quickly than others.

  41. Evangeline
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 11:11:12

    Size doesn’t matter–it isn’t the word count that’s gotten smaller, but the stories! I’ve come to love category romances because they are strictly about the romance with none of the extra stuff necessary to fill a 400 page book. Granted, many of my absolute keepers are ST romances (I’ll see Bliss and raise you Dance), but as discussed in the “Golden Age of Romance” thread, my ST keepers were published in the 1990s. When you compare a romance published in 1995 to a similar romance published in 2009, the difference is remarkable–even if the plots for both are no more than the standard rake and virgin trope.

    IMO, the stories have grown smaller because we’ve got to jump right into the action, the emotions have to be shown NOW, the characters’ conflict, personality and goals must be apparent from the opening line, and so on. Immediate gratification is the key to today’s romance novels and quiet introspection, bigger issues outside of the romance the h/h deal with (but still connected), and perhaps a unique narrative style has fallen to the wayside. I also see a connection between this movement toward instantaneous action and the narrowed focus of all sub-genres of romance on what could deliver the most bang more quickly (hence the continued popularity of the Regency–no need to describe the setting or atmosphere anymore–smack 1804 on the first page and the reader obligingly fills in all the Regency details they’ve acquired over the years rather than the author sinking the reader into the period, even if it’s their 400th Regency historical).

    As a writer, I’ve forced myself not to push a “small” story beyond the novella length (as there’s an unspoken “writing don’t” that unpublished authors in pursuit of publication should write only full-length novels) if it does not call for it.

  42. Robin
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 11:52:00

    I should have included this in my post, but here’s a little bit of context:

    In the SBTB thread, one commenter indicated that Chase’s Lord of the Scoundrels is around 95K words, while Don’t Tempt Me is estimated at somewhere closer to 65-70K.

    So when we’re talking longer v. shorter, we’re not necessarily talking 100K v. 200K, but an entirely new context in which long is 90K+.


    FYI, my comment landed in moderation, so if anyone else has that problem, please speak up; obviously the spam/mod filters are very sensitive, lol.

  43. Leah Hultenschmidt
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 12:07:09

    It’s true that publishers are asking for shorter word counts–around 80k to 90k instead of 100k. But contracts, at least for Dorchester, generally give an “at least” word count, not a maximum (though novellas for anthologies generally do get a cap). Most of the contracted manuscripts I’m getting in these days are probably around 78k. I find that it’s generally more established authors at the shorter length–perhaps because they write tighter as they learn their craft (and that’s true of many) or perhaps because of tighter deadlines. When books get up around 95,000 or 100,000 words, I know that–especially for newer, less established authors–the Production department will make the font a little smaller or run in chapters to save paper costs. Therefore, if I can find 5000 words to cut, I will. Sometimes I can’t. Sometimes books just need to be long. It’s a give and take and there’s never one particular answer.

  44. Diana
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 12:07:22

    I wouldn’t mind shorter stories so much if it wasn’t for the fact that so many of the paperbacks I’ve picked up in the past couple of years have felt unfinished, and this is true across genres. I believe that you can have a great book in a short number of pages (Robert B. Parker comes to mind), but every word written has to count.

    What has made me think twice about BUYING books (instead of getting them at the library) is when some of my previously favorite authors spend the first 299 pages building up what feels like a long introduction to their story, then solving all of the problems of the universe and giving the hero/heroine a happily ever after, all on page 300. It’s jarring and almost feels like the writers’ editor called and said, “You’re LATE! Where’s your book?”

    And could that be some of it? Are authors being pushed into writing quantity over quality?

  45. Maili
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 12:14:58

    Heh. When Julia Quinn’s first two Bridgerton books were released, there were quite a few gripes from some readers because some felt those seemed to enforce the trend of “wallpaper historical romances” (which was started/popularised by Avon, I think?).

    However, other readers loved the trend. More roms per month, shorter works to devour, and quicker they can get their paws on new releases. So, coincidentally or not, it created the revival of the shorter British-setting / Regency historical romance trend. I think the trend of shorter works influenced other romance sub-genres?

    I’m not sure, but that’s an impression I have. It caused a dilemma or two among book award contests, I think? I’m quite sure the RWA one time had to adjust their criteria to fit the trend in?

    I think that while the Regency trend seems to be dying (yay!), the shortened length remains and probably will for a while. Native ebooks seem to have even shorter lengths.

    Personally, I’m happy with the shortened length, especially for contemporary romances. Longer works? Only outside the romance genre.

    Because I simply don’t have the patience to tolerate any more misunderstandings, communication breakdowns, random sub-plots, and many other page fillers that affected quite a few longer historical and contemporary romance novels.

    Yes, the shortened length does mean unrealistic speed of a developing romantic relationship, but at least I don’t have to face a series of silly misunderstandings when each can be sorted out with a simple question or conversation.

    All that said, the length of a work is a moot if the writing is the kind that makes me want to worship at the author’s feet.

  46. Moriah Jovan
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 12:17:01


    So when we're talking longer v. shorter, we're not necessarily talking 100K v. 200K, but an entirely new context in which long is 90K+.

    When I was querying and submitting in the mid-1990s (and got very close four times with four different manuscripts), the high end was 120k and 100k was considered the low end of “long.”

    I was very shocked when I came back to writing (and romance) two years ago that 90k was considered “long”–and the high end at that.

  47. Gina
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 12:22:13

    Size does not matter as much as quality. Paperback or hardcover, thick or thin, just give me a story that’s got substance, that I can feel good about skipping lunch to buy a book. Two of my goto authors this year smacked me with different types of disappointment in this area.

    Christine Feehans’ epic conclusion to the Drake Sisters should have been two books, without question. Whoever thought they were going to save time / money / whatever by tacking on the final culmination to an otherwise emotionally charged romance was a moron. I was on a roller coaster ride throughout the whole book only to hit the brick wall of WTF. Snatched me right out of the HEA and left me looking for the missing chapters to an already substantially thick book.

    Alternately Sherrilyn Kenyon releases nearly all her books in hard cover first and the last one “Bad Moon Rising”, which is being hugely hyped, read to me like a map of future works with a romance hastily drawn in as an afterthought. It wasn’t very thick either in size or quality and I’m appalled I spent full price to buy it.

    If I read a book and think I should have spent the money on laundrey detergent instead I think twice before buying that authors next book.

  48. Caroline
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 12:38:33

    I was very shocked when I came back to writing (and romance) two years ago that 90k was considered “long”-and the high end at that.

    This hasn’t been my experience; I’ve written for two publishers now, and one specified 100K words in the contracts, and the other said 90K (and I’ve always been over that number). I find it really hard to believe that an editor would tell an author to cut down a book *just* because it was 96K, even if it would harm the story.

    When you get into a 140K manuscript that can’t be cut without eviscerating the story, I think you’re in a whole different world of publishing than mass market romance.

  49. LG
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 12:41:57

    I think quality is more important than size, although I admit that it’s depressing to pay the prices charged for books today (whether they’re paperback or hardcover) and get something that’s under 300 pages.

  50. Karen Templeton
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 13:04:55

    Yes, word counts for SERIES books are enforced at Harlequin, because page counts in the finished book are consistent within a line. We do get a range (+/- 5000 words, usually), and if you go over/under by 1K or so it’s usually okay. The mainstream imprints — MIRA, HQN, Red Dress Ink, etc. — are probably more flexible.

    Was it hard for me to throttle down from 85K (my old Intimate Moments) to 60K (my upper limit for SSE)? Not as much as I thought it would be, actually. I’ve still got subplots (if not as many), and largish casts of characters, and haven’t found I’ve needed to sacrifice characterization (including backstory) for the sake of brevity. But I’ve learned to say more in fewer words, that most dialogue tags are unnecessary, that it’s quite possible to nail a setting description in two or three succinct observations from the char’s POV.

    On the other hand, I’ve read countless STs with rambling prose that served little or no purpose, because the author never had to learn how to trim. Stephen King, in his ON WRITING, maintains that 10 percent of a first draft can and should be cut. Since I edit as I go I don’t generally have to axe that much, but it’s always at least 5 percent. The “freedom” to let a story be as long as it “needs” to be isn’t always a good thing, since most writers have a tendency to overwrite when they’re just trying to get the story down. Learning how and where to trim, IMO, makes one a stronger writer.

    It’s not the number of words, it’s word choice that make a story work or not.

    And a slight aside: Someone upthread mentioned the expectation these days — from readers, editors, agents — that every story start with a bang. Certainly I see that on First Page Saturdays, where often the writer is taken to task for not having everything laid out — conflict, character arc, backstory — in the first 300 words.

    Given that criteria, I doubt many published books would pass that scrutiny.

    Yes, something needs to compel the reader from page 1, but what happened to letting the reader wonder and worry a bit, maybe even be a little confused so she’ll keep turning the pages to find out what the heck’s going on? Have we grown so impatient we’re no longer willing to let the story unfold, to give the character(s) a chance to grow and learn?

    So for all the ballyhooing about how word counts have been cut, I wonder if part of that is due to society’s impatience in general, that whole instant gratification thing?

  51. Moriah Jovan
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 13:11:31

    @Karen Templeton:

    […]what happened to letting the reader wonder and worry a bit, maybe even be a little confused so she'll keep turning the pages to find out what the heck's going on?

    Oh yes. Yes. A thousand times yes. I love those most of all, the wondering and confusion and worry. The payoff can be so rich.

  52. Sara M
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 13:31:05

    I don’t really have a problem with book size. It’s the story that matters to me. I’ve read a 240 page book that knocked my socks off and a 440 page book that just dragged on and on and could barely finish.

    I think a big thing is that print size is getting smaller to save production costs. Take the font down .25 pt and you can fit X amount of words on 275 pages instead of 300 (just an example, I have no idea of the specifics). If I feel like a chapter seems to be taking me longer to read, I’ll often count how many lines are on a page. I’ve have found mass market paperback with up to 38 lines on a page. That’s some small text considering most have closer to 33 lines. Young adult books tend to have around 28 lines per page, so they’re actually quite a bit shorter than their adult counterparts with the same amount of pages.

  53. DS
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 13:43:05

    @ Becca: Yay for someone loving Tryst. I love that book also.

    ETA @Karen Templeton

    And a slight aside: Someone upthread mentioned the expectation these days -‘ from readers, editors, agents -‘ that every story start with a bang. Certainly I see that on First Page Saturdays, where often the writer is taken to task for not having everything laid out -‘ conflict, character arc, backstory -‘ in the first 300 words.

    In sff it’s pretty common to start the story with the reader in a total state of confusion. I have learned to trust the writer to give me the information I need when I need it.

    Samuel Delaney’s Einstein Intersection is a good case in point.

  54. Jill Sorenson
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 13:58:23

    I’ve never felt any pressure to write shorter. My category from last year was well over 60K. Both of my single titles for Bantam are around 100K, and I don’t consider them “long.” I see a lot of longer books (500 pgs+) in romantic suspense.

    So–from my standpoint, 100K is still the norm. Not every publisher or editor is asking for less than that.

  55. KeriM
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 14:12:21

    @ Gina, yes, yes!! I had forgotten all about Feehan’s book, I have been on such a reading frenzy lately and forgot that one. You are correct, that is one book that should have had some more substance put into. I liked the book, but I wanted to LURVE that book, because I love the series and it was the last one and I just didn’t because everything was so darned rushed.

    Now Sherrlyn Kenyon’s Archeron, even though I read and enjoyed the book in less than 6 hours, in two back to back sittings, IMO could have been cut down and I would still have been happy with the story. I have no plans at this time to buy her latest, even though it is Fang and Amy’s story. I have already heard way too many bad things on the book to take the chance.

  56. Eve Boston
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 14:17:52

    Some publishers price books (or e-books) by their length. I’m not thrilled with this policy as I think that readers may not perceive that the books are priced by the amount of words they contain, but by some other secret pricing method that makes one book somehow “better” than another. I feel like pricing by word-length is a bit of a sales handicap to full-length novelists whose customers may be shopping by price, rather than their true reading interest. When I tell a story, I want to tell all of it and not have someone tell me that I need to cut out 10,000 words. 2,000, sure…if they are well-chosen.

    Also, readers may tend to use a dollar amount to help decide which books they buy, putting novel-length works at a disadvantage.

    Books are getting shorter for several reasons: what people are willing to pay (related to how much disposable income they have), how much time they can devote to reading, and less complex stories are being told (i.e., dumbing down books for shorter attention spans).

    Recently, I was advised by another author to write shorter books, that I would sell more. I’m considering this bit of wisdom with some angst, as I tend to write stories with a depth of character that requires a longer form to tell the story properly.

  57. Billie Davis
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 14:38:10

    It’s not the number of words but what’s done with the words. I’ve read many
    books where I’ve check the page number over and over to see how much longer
    I have to suffer before I’m finished! I’ve also read many that I have felt parts of
    the book was there ONLY for word count. If the story is solid the word count
    doesn’t matter.

  58. Caroline
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 14:40:03

    Yes, something needs to compel the reader from page 1, but what happened to letting the reader wonder and worry a bit, maybe even be a little confused so she'll keep turning the pages to find out what the heck's going on? Have we grown so impatient we're no longer willing to let the story unfold, to give the character(s) a chance to grow and learn?

    So for all the ballyhooing about how word counts have been cut, I wonder if part of that is due to society's impatience in general, that whole instant gratification thing?

    I have to agree with this. If publishers knew they could sell 100,000 copies of a 600 page romance epic, they would publish it, and ten others too, to see if those would also sell well.

  59. Jennifer McKenzie
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 14:46:48

    Here’s what I think.
    Books with too much backstory get rejected.
    Books with backstory get said backstory edited out.
    Writer learn to write WHAT SELLS and what sells right now are books that get to the conflict/action/present story NOW. The gift of backstory? Just isn’t there as much IMHO.
    Feel free to disagree, but that’s where I think books have changed.

  60. Anthea Lawson
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 15:05:49

    Re: Sarah M @ 52

    Some publishers certainly shrink font size. We were shocked when our debut novel, a nice substantial 104,000 words, was squeezed into 316 pages. 37 lines per page. That is some dense packaging.

    OTOH, Avon (not our publisher) has a set format, and they shrink or enlarge fonts/margins to make every book fit that particular… I believe it’s in the neighborhood of 346-374 pages. I am looking at 2 Avon books right now. Both the same page count. The first is 30 lines per page with not very wide margins. The second is 26 lines per page with LOTS of white space on the edges. (If we extrapolate that second book’s formatting to our own debut, our novel would have come in at over 400 pages.)

    Draw your own conclusions, but DO be aware that it’s not the THICKNESS of the book that necessarily determines the number of words inside. Open it up, look at the margins and font sizes. Those tricky publishers. ;)

    My CP had to cut 10k of her first book to fit her publisher’s 80-90k standard (and yes it’s a big NY pub house and we’re talking historical romance here), and her editor was adamant about cutting. Granted, it was her first sale and possibly could have used the tightening, but the publishing house was definitely using word count as their reason.

    Thanks for opening up this particular can of worms!

  61. anon
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 15:06:24

    A book–to me–is only too long if it’s a boring book.

    With the popularity of the super-lean novel, I’m missing the boat. I usually write 120-140k per book. My editor (small POD publisher) helps me trim them down to around 100k, but they’re still too long, because the cost to publish them is so high per book. Prohibitive, really. Despite good reviews and promotion, I don’t sell (and I realize there are lots of reasons, yes, but the price seems to be a major factor). The stories that come to me don’t seem to fit into a 70k word limit. My wip will be over 100k. I don’t know what I’ll do with it, but at least it was fun to write. =)

    There are many beautiful short novels. Look at Silas Marner or The Great Gatsby. But I’ve read several books in the 70k word range which left me wanting more. I personally know some authors who were forced to cut their works down, to the story’s detriment (according to both friends and reviewers). Editing a story to improve the story, that’s one thing. Editing to stuff a story into a specific word count– from a creative standpoint, it just seems so wrong, even if, from a business standpoint, it’s necessary to prevent $20 paperbacks.

  62. ldb
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 16:42:06

    I agree with the idea that there’s no ideal page count for every story. The ideal page count is the one it takes an author to write a full book, with the characters not cardboard cut outs, the scenes interesting and ALL there, and enough plotting to make me feel like something happened other then the obligatory love story arch (because love never happens in a bubble it’s best when i can see how other factors effect it). The thing I have noticed is there are few stories that can be told in total in 330 pages. When a book comes out in 330 pages and I shut it wondering “why didn’t I see so and so confront so and so” or “why didn’t the author make me believe that so and so was truely effected by that vague event that happened in their past” or “why does the heroines actions ring untrue” it’s usualy becase rather then takeing the space to show the things that the author wants us to see they just tell us about it. It takes less space but hardly effects the same reasult. Now if one author were putting out 330 page books, or there were varying font types and spaces I’d think this was the authors fault, but when one publisher can have almost all the books they release the same length I can’t believe that it’s because authors are truely only inspired to have that length of books.

  63. Jessica
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 18:17:42

    I can’t say I’ve noticed this at all, due largely to being a new romance reader (3 years), but I am fascinated by all of your experienced comments. All of the work/leisure studies suggest we are working more and leisuring less, perhaps if there’s a desire for shorter books, that plays into it on the consumer side, money saved on the publisher’s side.

    Now that I read on a Kindle, I do actually notice size more, but merely as a matter of interest, not desire. All books use the same measure, so you can compare apples to apples.

    Robin — Not an intended consequence of your great post, but thanks to your rave, I Kindled Black Silk and am 6% into it. Terrific so far!

  64. Ann Bruce
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 21:22:12

    less complex stories are being told (i.e., dumbing down books for shorter attention spans)

    Oh, I don’t know. Some of us prefer the shorter length because we want tighter writing and tighter plots.

    Does this mean all longer books are more complex because I slogged through three 100k+ novels where the word count was met by the main characters having the same conversation over and over and over again. I can only read “You work too much and have no time for me!” / “I want to get ahead to give you the things you want!” / “But you’re all I want!” so many times before wanting to stab my eyes out with a spoon.

    It’s not that we’re dumber. Some of us lead busy lives.

  65. Sally
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 21:22:15

    I mainly read categories because the shorter format mean I can finish a book within a day, but I hate the ones with a shorter word count because the story lacks the same quality and depth a longer-word-count category does. After all, these books are short to begin with so the story really suffers when they get even shorter. I’ve just finished a book today that had this problem: it could have been a better book if the author added more to the story.

  66. Kaetrin
    Aug 18, 2009 @ 22:01:20

    I agree with other commenters that it’s not so much the size it’s what is done with it. But, that said, I’d hate to think that I’m missing an important part of the plot/character development because of a word count limit.

  67. medumb
    Aug 19, 2009 @ 01:47:49

    Indeed it is a case of how the author uses their words is what counts.

    While I must admit I enjoy the quick reads, I do think there is room for some expansion on word counts for some authors and/or some genres. I mainly read paranormals and UF these days, and it sometimes seems to me that to fit the desirable length we either lose out on part of worldbuilding or part of the romance. While I still often enjoy the story, I am left feeling that something is missing.
    The person above somewhere who wondered if it has something to do with pushing the series & getting more books out of the storyline has me thinking and leaning more and more towards hating book series.

    Though all that said, the books still need to be tight and fast paced. As much as I am a fan of Kenyon, I have to concur with #55, I probably would have enjoyed Acheron a bit more if that had been shortened/tightened up and about half the length that it was. (And if the romance had been better. JMO lol)

  68. me
    Aug 19, 2009 @ 04:18:06

    I’m published with a NY house and my contract specifies an ms to be turned in within the 80-100k range. My first book was 92k before revisions and around the 100k mark afterwards. The second book is 98k before revisions and I have a feeling we’ll go over 100k. FWIW

    However, I too have noticed some books getting smaller while others are too long. Feehan’s Burning Wild was long. too long and the book that was out by Kenyon after Acheron, the name escapes me, was so short I totally felt ripped off. I think I did a word count on it and figured out it was under 80k which for a ST book is a total joke. I’m assuming because Acheron was massive she and the publisher felt they could get away with putting out a lightweight but I didn’t like it.

  69. Gina
    Aug 19, 2009 @ 05:33:05

    @KeriM I’m glad I’m not the only one who wasn’t blown away by Acheron. Her hype has almost become a hinderance because after the YEAR OF ACHERON I eagerly sat down expecting the best and was left feeling “eh” instead. Shorter, yes, and the second half needed to be as good as the first because for me the romance fell horribly flat in comparision to his history.

    As for the lastest, if you’ve read the series there is a lot of information in this book both on past characters and a boatload of new ones. But check it out of the library.

  70. NKKingston
    Aug 19, 2009 @ 07:02:01

    I have to say, if a book feels too long or too short, then something’s wrong, especially if it distracts you from the story. No matter the actual number of words or pages, it’s definitely how it’s told.

    Personally, I like a book I can read in a day. I want to sit down and read from front cover to back withough large interuptions (even meals, if it’s a really good book). For “average” type and margins, this clocks in at around a 250-300 page book maximum. This hasn’t stopped me tackling significantly larger, but I find if I’m still slogging through a week later I’ve ‘accidentally’ bought several more books, and I lack the self control to stop myself from starting them! The original book ends up on the arm of the chair or next to the bed, continually second in the to-read pile.

    I was reading a book in a multi-author series a while back (Star Wars: NJO, if I’m being completely honest). It’s was well acknowledged that there was a lot of editorial control, to prevent authors writing simultaneously from crossing their wires and make sure the books came out at about one every six months. It became apparent towards the end of the series that some of the writers might be struggling with either deadlines or wordcounts. At least one really caught my attention because the first 15 or so chapters were well paced and tightly plotted, very enjoyable, and the last two finished the entire book off at painfully high speed. Everything slammed to a crashing halt, and I was left staring at the inside of the backcover with a vague feeling that perhaps a couple of chapters had fallen out. It really felt like the author had hit either a deadline or a word limit, and hadn’t edited the book well enough to hide the problems this brought up.

  71. Noelle S
    Aug 19, 2009 @ 09:34:32

    I have been purchasing a large amount of books online recently and I am often disappointed to find that the books are less than anticipated.

    I don’t always want/need a story that is 370+ pages, but I do like those stories to be available when I want a meatier read. So many of the books I am buying are so short and fast that I am left wanting at the end. The depth of the character and twists in the plot are definately lacking.

    I will pick on a favorite author team of mine, Moira Rogers. Her e-story (I simply cannot call this a book), Sexual Healing, was available online and at a rate I am used to paying for full length books, like those of Lorelei James, Jaci Burton and Maya Banks. The book was 58 pages!!

    I feel like publishers are taking a page from the grocery industry, dropping the weights of snacks and other items while keeping the packaging and price the same. They think no one will notice and by the time they do, we will have grown used to the “new way” of things.

  72. Samantha
    Aug 19, 2009 @ 11:07:06

    Absolutely Noelle S. But I’m a bit fed up with buying a hard cover and not getting what I paid for. This consumer is down to one Auto-buy hard cover Author.

    St. Martins Press is the worst offender. Someone mentioned above that the publisher is the cause for all the ills in the world (paraphrasing) Yes they are in mine. I don’t spend my money going to the movies or buying DVD’s I find my pleasure in reading books.

    It boils down to content. MMP you tend to let things slide it was 7 or 8 bucks and it entertained you even with minor quibbles. When I buy a book for 17-26 bucks well I expect more, not LARGER font and double spaced and HUGE margins. I’m not an idiot, I can see what’s going on. The last SK book was the final nail in the coffin with buying Hard Cover. The entire book with it’s copy and pasted passages from previous books to the LARGE font and the passing off a novella length book with hard cover prices.

    Suzanne Brockmann had a hard cover novella out, which she donated to a cause dear to her heart. I bought it. One, I knew it was novella length and two, I felt since she always gives I wanted to give back. But SMP is not so forthcoming and it’s deceptive.

    Same goes for ACE with the Sookie Stackhouse books. Novella size priced at 26 dollars. I mean really. Give me a break. Same goes for Feehan’s Carpathian series. I will now wait for paperback or wait for a sale and Kindle it.

  73. Patricia Rice
    Aug 19, 2009 @ 14:34:48

    I always hesitate to reply to these posts because I’m always behind on blog reading, but word count has always been a problem in publishing, and whereas publishers are responsible for the technical end of it, as many of your letters indicate, readers are the other part.
    My first books, 25 years ago, were 150k words or more. Today, my contracts specify 90-100k. Yes, I can go over that word count and they will still publish my book. But because of paperback rack size, that book has to stay at a certain page size, roughly 376 pages, I believe. So if my word count climbs, the font and margin size declines. I HATE reading books with squinty type and words run into the center, so I abide by the contract and try to keep the count down.

    As your readers have indicated, many of them are impatient with thick tomes of backstory. They want the action to happen immediately and the story to progress quickly from there. While being emotional, fulfilling, and well-told with characters they love. No pressure there. “G” To reach these readers and make my publisher happy, I have learned to write much, much shorter than in the past. I adore setting up my characters for a crash, but now they must do so immediately instead of later. Lingering romantic scenes now are packjammed with emotion in tightly woven sentences. I do NOT envy new writers entering this market.

    So yes, story counts, but size doesn’t matter if you like your stories fast-paced.

  74. ldb
    Aug 19, 2009 @ 16:33:52

    @Patricia Rice:

    I think your comment about setup explains exactly why I hate the shorter books, I miss teh setup, I miss seeing why somethings going to happen, or having a second to care about what will happen or even think about what’s going to happen, instead I erally do feel like readers are being hit over the head with scenes and problems, and with little setup I can;t work up the empathy to care.

  75. ldb
    Aug 19, 2009 @ 16:34:09

    @Patricia Rice:

    I think your comment about setup explains exactly why I hate the shorter books, I miss teh setup, I miss seeing why somethings going to happen, or having a second to care about what will happen or even think about what’s going to happen, instead I erally do feel like readers are being hit over the head with scenes and problems, and with little setup I can;t work up the empathy to care .

  76. ldb
    Aug 19, 2009 @ 16:35:38

    Oppd I double posted. If someone can delete one I’d be greatful, and if it’s possible to delete the first I’d be double happy, it’s an OCD thing, if you can delete one and delete the second I’ll never know but will feel better for having asked.

  77. ReacherFan
    Aug 19, 2009 @ 21:14:52

    Sadly, I’m beginning to think we are rapidly developing a ‘perfect storm’ scenario in the publishing industry. Books are shorter, not better. The longer books are often no worth the paper they’re printed on. Some books have wonderful prose, but no story. Others have great stories, but are told badly. Getting books is easy. Getting OK books is easy. Getting books worth the time to read slowly, savoring the story and getting lost for awhile – man, are they scarce.

    I look back on my ‘keepers’ and too many new ones are more novella than novels. I look at my older ‘keepers’ and they’re huge by comparison. I recently dug out Tai-Pan by James Clavell for a re-read. Nobody does books like this anymore. It’s a damn shame.

    Kassia Krozer recently blogged on Competing For Eyeballs. Perhaps that really is the crux of the problem. Free time is in small bite sized pieces and it’s too damn hard to immerse yourself in a book in 15 minute increments. I’m one of those that reads several hours a day, so long books are no issue. But think about it – we’re so busy with Twitter, Facebook, iPhones, Blackberries and every other damn device out there we’re always afraid we’re ‘missing something’. It’s like your afraid a party will happen you don’t get to attend, so we’re always ‘on’.

    I feel badly for those writers who are constrained by publishers, it must be frustrating as hell to have to limit ideas and stories. But mostly I feel badly for readers. It’s the price all of us pay for the change in our everyday lifestyle and that urge to stay connected. Overwhelmed by a mass of ‘meh’ books with unoriginal, copycat characters and predictable plots, romance – and many other genres – are getting buried in the mediocre and we have no one to blame but ourselves – because we BUY THE DAMN STUFF! So when you complain about the steep decline in quality books, the lack of wonderful long, complex stories, look in the mirror. Publishers print what sells, so if you’re buying it, you’re supporting the system that’s cheating you. That seems to be OK for many people. Me? I feel like 8 of ten books I’m reading are really old Reader’s Digest versions of gutted books masquerading as ‘full novels’.

  78. Lorraine
    Aug 20, 2009 @ 00:12:43

    Back in the 70s when I first started reading romances I wouldn’t even pick up a book with less than 500+ pages. I was young and had no responsibilities other than myself. I loved them…they were filled with rich detail, lots of backstory, beautiful prose and overall they were meaty, satisfying reads.

    Now, between work, husband, kids and ailing parents, it’s all I can do to find the time to sit down and read a book that’s 350 pages. When I do, I generally enjoy the books, but rarely do I love them since they usually lack much of the detail and backstory that is necessary for me to be safisified. I really do miss the longer, deeper tomes, but I just don’t have the time anymore to devote myself to them.

    However, I still refuse to read the smaller, category books. They’re just too short to seem satisfying.

  79. SarahT
    Aug 20, 2009 @ 01:39:46

    With the notable exception of books which I feel have been ruthlessly edited in order to make them shorter, I have no objection to a lower page count. At the other end of the scale, I have no problem with longer books as long as their length and complexity fits the story being told. In other words, the length of a book doesn’t matter to me. I’m more concerned with the quality of the story.

  80. Kathy B
    Aug 20, 2009 @ 12:25:26

    To be honest, I’m somewhat disillusioned these days. I hate to pick on particular authors, but there are many who’s work I read 10 years ago (and thoroughly enjoyed) but would not read today. Why? Because the earlier books were rich with what seemed to me to be true story-telling (details, descriptions, conversations) and nowadays their work seems almost childish. I wonder is it the publishers or have some authors just run out of things to say?

    I’m always willing to give an old favorite a chance, but 9 times out of ten I’ve been disappointed. I love the fact, however, that authors like Jo Goodman or Jacqueline Cary still write a good, meaty story without compromise. I’m hoping Laura Kinsale’s next release will be the same.

    Finally, if I want to read a favorite author now, I’ll go to my favorites boxes and pull out one of their older work. Those books are satisfying in a way that just doesn’t seem to happen that much anymore. Sigh…

  81. Persephone Green
    Aug 20, 2009 @ 16:11:30

    Sometimes even the authors I like a LOT *cough* Moning *cough* suffer from pad-itis. You know padding when you see it: the guy’s giving smoldering looks to the woman across the room, and suddenly we have five paragraphs of the MC explaining, via simile and metaphors galore, the detailed thoughts racing through her head about why life is complicated. That bugs the hell out of me. I mean, I’m sure I do it, too, on occasion, but I would hope my editors and betas would call me on it. Some stories could be a hundred pages shorter if only someone cured pad-itis.

    OTOH, I recently read MZB’s Witch Hill (horror, not romance), and I would have enjoyed another 200 pages of the story. It was tightly woven and thrilling to the end. This isn’t a recent title, for the obvious reason that Bradley is dead and has been for close to a decade, but the point is current: word-count is not what makes or breaks a story, nor should it be. Authors should be allowed to write the story they need to tell, and editors should trim the fat.

  82. Evangeline
    Aug 20, 2009 @ 19:09:44


    But think about it – we're so busy with Twitter, Facebook, iPhones, Blackberries and every other damn device out there we're always afraid we're ‘missing something'. It's like your afraid a party will happen you don't get to attend, so we're always ‘on'.


    Visiting Dear Author and reading my RSS feed (mostly not even reading, often skimming blog titles) are my last vices because the internet was taking over my life. I died and came to get the Sony Reader from the SB Test Drive but the first month I “owned” it, I read sporadically because I kept getting online. I stopped tweeting because whenever I was away from the internet, I felt I was missing crucial conversations. I stopped visiting AAR–how could I talk about reading when I was doing none of it? I even put my writers loops on no mail because the temptation of talking about writing and the industry was stronger than actually writing. After being in this internet community for (sheesh) six years, I’ve got to learn balance. Ironically, the game has changed so much that everyone keeps pushing authors to spend time on the internet to gain a following. So it isn’t the internet cutting down on reading time, but the internet creating a new set of issues writers must face–which further cut into leisure time.

  83. Sherry Thomas
    Aug 20, 2009 @ 19:51:42

    NOT QUITE A HUSBAND is only 64k words. But I told the story I wanted to tell and it ended when it ended.

    I really don’t think it is the word count per se. Word count is one of those problems people notice when they are dissatisfied with some other aspects of the book, i.e., there is not enough of something else, be it plot resolution, character development, or what not.

  84. Writing Roundup, August 21 « Uncategorized « Jen's Writing Journey
    Aug 21, 2009 @ 11:58:38

    […] Does Size Matter? At Dear Author, Janet explores the rumor of shrinking page counts. Does a shorter book mean less value for the reader? Or does it mean a higher-quality, better-edited work? […]

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