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

Is Our Attention Span Getting Shorter?

cute cat photo tiny small

A few months ago, Harlequin category (or series) romances appeared on the USAToday list. The reason for this is two fold. First, Harlequin is now assigning individual codes to each book so that the sales of each book can be tracked individually instead as a general category of “book”. Second, more category books are being sold these days (this is anecdotal information as reported by some authors privately). I have also noticed that more short form digital books (novellas and categories) are being sold than long form digital books.

There have also been reports in reduction of word counts, although I’m uncertain whether that is in response to consumer demand or whether it is a cost inducing measure. I was surprised by the slimness of Sherryl Bodine’s latest book, A Black Tie Affair, which clocked in at 240 pages but conversely, I was offered a 400,000 word book to review and frankly shied away from it.   I didn’t have the time to commit to such a book.

With over 25% of romance books published(FN1)  being category length books (and possibly more since digital publishers aren’t included in this assessment), I wonder if we readers are developing shorter spans of attention. I know that if I only have a short time to read at night, I tend to gravitate toward reading a category because I can likely read the entire drama before I need to go to bed whereas a novel length book would require me to quit in the middle, or right when the story gets good.

One of the publishers who send us books for review is Breathless Press.   The majority of their works are under 10,000 words.   We generally won’t review stories that short because it would take longer to write a review than it would to read the story.   Amazon has launched a new feature (which I think is just a rebranding of an existing capability) called the Kindle Single which are works that are around 10-30,000 words:

Less than 10,000 words or more than 50,000: that is the choice writers have generally faced for more than a century-‘works either had to be short enough for a magazine article or long enough to deliver the "heft" required for book marketing and distribution. But in many cases, 10,000 to 30,000 words (roughly 30 to 90 pages) might be the perfect, natural length to lay out a single killer idea, well researched, well argued and well illustrated-‘whether it's a business lesson, a political point of view, a scientific argument, or a beautifully crafted essay on a current event.

Shortlist Press has just launched and is branded as a short story literary digital only press:

Word counts should be from 2,500 words to 15,000 but every one of those words must count – no flab, please

It’s not like short stories haven’t been around since the earliest days of publication.   While Dickens’ works were not short stories, his works were serialized with readers consuming monthly installments.   There is a very prestigious literary award called the “O Henry Award” and it is given to outstanding short stories.   Despite the long and celebrated history of the short, there did seem to be a long period of time where shorter fiction had fallen out of favor (and perhaps this is just an incorrect perception being my own reality).   The rise of digital publishing, however, seems to be pushing us toward short and shorter fiction.   Is this because today we have so many entertainment options, we can only commit to something that takes less time to consume? Is it because digital reading is somehow more difficult visually and thus we are only able to read for short periods of time?   Do you feel like you are reading shorter fiction?

I am reading shorter fiction today than I did previously

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...


  • Contemporary (series):  22.83 percent
  • Romantic Suspense (series): 4.28 percent

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


  1. Edie
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 04:28:52

    While I have always had a short attention span, the current trend of me reading shorter books has more to do with external sources.
    Most of my reading time is stolen time at the computer, and the only ebooks I really have access to are e-pubs. *shrug*

  2. Ana Thierry
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 05:05:16

    I used to be a big HQN reader but their shorter word counts have hurt the books. It’s almost impossible to delve deeply into characters and complex plots when you’re working with fifty-five thousand words.

    When I want a shorter, faster read I find myself reading older category titles. Unfortunately this also means that I’m reviewing (and recommending) very few of the newer releases.

  3. Milena
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 06:00:38

    I’ve always loved great big thick books, and still do. Mostly, I think, because of what Ana Thierry mentioned: in a long work, there’s more room for character development and complex plots.

    Another reason is that short fiction is different — not only in length, but also in style and technique. I can appreciate a good short story, but it requires a whole different set of author skills — and a different manner of reading, at least for me. So if I really want a short read, I’m more likely to go for a short story or two instead of a short novel/novella.

    Mid-length fiction, sitting in the middle as it does, has to be really great to pull me in. But maybe I’m just old. Also, I do a lot of my reading in traffic, so I prefer a longer work, where I will invest in characters, and then it will be easier to go back to them in very short periods of reading.

  4. katiebabs
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 06:29:55

    I’ve also noticed the reduction in pages or word counts in my romances. Two romances I read were barely 250 pages and the publisher still charged $7.99 for each book.

    Shorter word counts means lower prices. Don’t charge me the same price for a 300-500 pages novel and a 250 page novel. That’s not right, IMO.

    I also have issued with YA. I just read a YA that was under 200 pages an was $15. That is ridiculous. I wonder if YA is getting shorter also? Why is it okay to charge more for a YA book with a much shorter word count than an average book?

  5. cead
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 06:42:04

    Mostly I answered “yes” because I used to read predominantly doorstopper fantasy and now I read predominantly romance. But also I’ve been reading a combination of older titles and new titles recently (trying to catch up!), and the old ones do seem longer to me, even the ones by the same author.

    Personally, I’m not in favour of this trend, if it is a trend. Like others have mentioned, I want complexity and depth in my reading that you just can’t get in shorter books unless (to some extent) they’re part of a series. This is probably why I like connected books, and why I try to read connected books in order at once whenever possible. It’s also why I almost never read short stories or novellas; I’m just not interested.

    That said, some of the older books strike me as too long – they have a padded feel to them. Long books ought to be the length they are because they have a lot of story to tell, not because the editor wanted X pages or something.

  6. farmwifetwo
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 06:46:28

    I too, don’t think if they are going to lessen the word count that they get to charge full price.

    But, when my Dh was working he preferred the Reader’s Digest shorts. He liked books, but after you spend a day reading for work, reading for pleasure becomes a chore. He reads “regular” books now we’re no longer in the city.

    So I appreciate, the preferrence for shorter length stories and they’re interest for those who are busy. Nothing worse than taking a week to read a book in chunks – feels choppy even if the writing isn’t – when you can read shorter one in a couple of days and enjoy it.

    I prefer mine around 350pgs.

  7. GrowlyCub
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 06:49:02

    The majority of my current reading leaves me dissatisfied because the stories are just not quite there due to lowered word counts. I used to read 100+ Superromances a year. This year I haven’t bought a single one due to the reduced word count, the cheaper paper and the higher prices.

    I also used to buy a lot more e-books, but again the lowered word count with overinflated prices have lead to my buying very few e-books from retailers like LI, EC or Samhain.

    I’ve been reading shorter books, but not by choice!

  8. joanne
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 06:49:15

    I believe my attention span is the same as always but my patience for repetitive writing has all but disappeared.

    Readers aren’t idiots. We know when a sex scene or long description or explanation of something that has already been shown is placed in a fictional piece simply because the story is short on plot.

    When I was younger and had a young family and a full time job and entertained and traveled a lot I read boxes and boxes and boxes of category books, mostly romances and mysteries. Now that I’ve gotten back to the point where I have the time to read longer stories I won’t waste that time on filler words.

    I’ll commit as much time as necessary if the author is telling me a story worth staying with.

  9. Mandi
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 07:00:04

    I don’t think digital reading is more difficult visually – but I do find myself leaning towards the shorter books. I was just offered at 640 pg book for review and said no just because of the page count. I actually become a bit surprised when I see a book over 400 pages in my review pile..I think it is because many don’t have a lot of time to read at night and readers want gratification faster.

  10. Carole & Chewy
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 07:21:13

    It’s a by-product of the computer age. When your mind spends all day moving from task to task, it begins to expect to consume everything it meets as soundbites.
    Reading longer words at night is how I train my mind to go back to actual thoughtful comprehension. Besides, can you imagine GWTW or War and Peace in the “lite” version?

  11. Tee
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 07:22:28

    There was a time early in my romance reading days where, if I picked up a book, I needed to finish it before going to bed. I am sure I cheated myself running through those stories and not absorbing some really great details. The category books filled this need, but they became same-old/same-old very quickly.

    It was a little difficult at first, but I picked up a book one day and decided I was going to take two days to read it, no matter what. I forced myself for a while like that and before I knew it, the habit kicked in. Now I no longer have to feel a book needs to be finished by the end of the day—unless it’s that good, of course. And, now, if the book is written well, I can really enjoy all the author is trying to convey without rereading, which I rarely do anyway.

    So, I answered “disagree” in the poll, because the ratio of short to long is about equal for me, determined by my tastes at the time.

  12. Tweets that mention Is Our Attention Span Getting Shorter? | Dear Author --
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 07:30:40

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mandi Schreiner and Stacy ~, Bea Connors. Bea Connors said: RT @smexybooks: (I like this post at Dear Author) Is Our Attention Span Getting Shorter? : […]

  13. Jennifer Estep
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 07:34:59

    I don’t know that we have shorter attention spans, but I think everyone is pressed for time these days with work, family, and everything else.

    Sometimes, I like a shorter read, and sometimes, I’m in the mood for a longer book. I like anthologies because I can read a story and then put the book down and go do something else for a while.

    But I agree with what others have said — I am shying away from the 600-page books unless it’s something I really, really want to read.

    I just finished reading Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor by Lisa Kleypas. It was a nice holiday story, but I was surprised at how short it was, especially for a hardcover.

  14. Laine
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 07:36:06

    I’m reading more shorter length books because of Geographic Restrictions. Harlequin will sell me all their list. The vast majority of other books I would have bought are no longer available in e in Australia. Maybe they’ll have a later publication date here. But if they do, the buzz will be over, and I’ll have forgotten about them.

  15. msaggie
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 07:39:09

    I too answered that I agree that I am reading shorter fiction books – but not by choice. I am in the camp that wants longer books for better plot development and characterisation. As others have said, I too find many of today’s books shallow in comparison to older romances (even those by the same author, e.g. Lisa Kleypas, Loretta chase). I agree with Carole & Chewey (post #10) – imagine if GWTW was a lite version! It would have been a very different story, and certainly not as memorable. Having said that, some authors are very skilled in writing a good story with very few words – e.g. Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain, or Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I mention these as I remember being surprised they were novellas when I got them out of the library to read after I saw the movies. Perhaps it’s not a fair comparison, as the movie fleshes a shorter story out better than if it was condensing a very big one. I was hoping the trend for e-books (i.e. no increase cost in printing more paper pages) meant we would see more longer books rather than the other way round!

  16. DS
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 07:43:06

    No, I love longer books and don’t buy shorter. I specifically dislike the little hardbacks put out in popular series around Christmas. I definitely don’t buy those even as gifts for friends.

  17. Christine
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 07:52:53

    I always preferred short stories and novellas, but usually in anthologies (such as the old Hitchcock Presents books, erotica compilations or Stephen King’s short stories anthologies, or even my good old fanfic, which I would devour, in one or two sittings as long as it was less than 50,000 K, or chaptered). But when I read romances, I usually want something at least novella-length, to have some meat to it.

  18. Karen
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 07:56:52

    I find that I’m reading fewer short books and more longer books. I used to read more category books but I’m having a hard time finding good ones these days. They just don’t seem to be publishing that many to my taste these days. (I miss the old SuperRomances but the current ones just lack something.) So I end up reading more full length historicals by default. I like historicals but I would read more categories if I could find books I liked.

  19. Niveau
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 08:14:31

    I don’t like shorter books. They’re harder to get emotionally invested in, the character development always suffers, and since the price is never lowered to compensate for the shortness, I start the book pissed off, which ruins the whole thing. I hate how short categories are these days, and I know I’m reading less of them because of it.

  20. Christine Rimmer
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 08:50:35

    Re category sales, um. Actually, from what I understand, that market is shrinking. Numbers are going down across the board. We lost pockets in Target and many other stores over the last decade. Maybe the ebook market will eventually change this trend. Also, direct-to-consumer sales are way down. Readers just don’t want a whole line every month anymore. They’re watching their pennies and ordering books by author name and favorite trope. I know several authors who had to change careers because they just couldn’t make it as the sales decreased. Perhaps some individual authors have seen their sales increase. But overall, no. It’s leveled off in the past couple of years, staying static. Static is not so good. But maybe the authors who see growth are newer and weren’t around in the boom years.

    OTOH, for Harlequin anyway, single title sales are excellent. From what I hear, STs are up to 50% of their business now, from 20 and 30 a few years back. That’s huge. HQN has really taken off.

  21. Carolyn Jewel
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 08:55:44

    I agreed, but not because I don’t want long fiction. I agree because there is more short fiction available to read. I read almost no category (but not none). I’ve enjoyed shorter fiction in anthologies — less than novella length. If the HQN website worked for me, I know I’d be buying some of their short fiction. Alas, that website is heinously broken.

    I don’t think attention spans are any shorter, I just think there’s more competing for our attention.

    Other genres (mystery, sci-Fi, Fantasy) have a long tradition of short stories. I don’t know that Romance ever had this. I think it’s great that Romance is finally getting shorter formats, too.

  22. Joy B
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 09:38:09

    I voted “disagree”.

    I do think that there are more “short stories” avaiable but I rarelt read series books. I do read short stories from epubbed authors I like (usually in between longer novels to let my brain rest a little). I will also sometimes pick a shorter book to read if I know my week is going to be busy so that I don’t have a book lingering in progress.

  23. Chicklet
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 09:40:21

    I answered Disagree, because I’m still reading longer books — they’re just not in the Romance genre. I’ve never been into categories precisely because they were so short; it was difficult for me to get invested in them. But then, prior to getting into Romance, I spent most of my life reading mystery, SF/F, nonfiction, and literary fiction, which tend to publish longer books.

    Are people’s attention spans getting shorter? Probably. A few months ago, someone posted a question on a fic-find community, asking for stories involving a specific pairing and trope, and that were “long (more than 1000 words).” I literally put my hands over my face and despaired for my fic-reading future. I had to email the link to a friend and say, “I think we’re rapidly approaching a time when your average fanfic will be shorter than a Tweet.”

  24. hapax
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 10:03:16

    Can’t speak for category romances, but other genres (sf, fantasy, horror, suspense) are definitely getting longer. This is especially true in YA and childrens, in which 400-500 pp doorstops are becoming the norm.

    (This is a bit of a problem for me, since I have found that my “natural” writing length is 30K-40K words, or novella length, which are tough to market)

    Also noticeable is the tendency now to write in series — even romances. I love a good meaty novel, but I do get frustrated when I know that the story not only won’t be finished in this book, but it probably won’t be finished this YEAR — and in some cases, this decade!

  25. GrowlyCub
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 10:47:07

    @Christine Rimmer: As I mentioned above, the continued slashing of the word count significantly impacted how many categories I buy.

    I’m not surprised the market is shrinking. Romance reader are savvy, they don’t want to pay more and more for less and less value. It’s an easy fix for HQN, stop messing with the word counts, let authors write fully fleshed out characters and stories and see your readers come back.

  26. becca
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 10:52:53

    I don’t read categories because they’re so short – for all the reasons listed above (not enough space for character growth, plot development, etc), but I also shy away from the doorstop books (which is why I’ve been avoiding Outlander, even though people tell me I’ll love it), because longer books feel bloated and unedited. Give me a 300-400 page book, and I’m happy.

  27. becca
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 10:55:37

    Also noticeable is the tendency now to write in series -‘ even romances. I love a good meaty novel, but I do get frustrated when I know that the story not only won't be finished in this book, but it probably won't be finished this YEAR -‘ and in some cases, this decade!

    which is why I avoid series – because I’ve gotten invested in too many series that never end, and won’t end because the publisher has stopped publishing the series for some reason.

  28. emmytie
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 11:03:28

    Put me in the camp that is reading shorter, but not by choice. I actively try to seek out longer novels. I love when I find them but it seems like I’m having to sift through a lot more category length novels or novellas. Either authors are writing shorter stories or pubs are encouraging shorter lengths or SOMETHING.

    I’ve actually been reading more fantasy and YA lately because as hapax mentioned above, those genres do seem to have heftier books.

  29. Author On Vacation
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 11:37:42

    I’ve been reading more short fiction these days due to a demanding schedule. Normally I have a “main read,” either a novel or other novel-length work (historical biography, writer’s reference,etc.) and I read short stories and novellas in between when I don’t have enough time to really “sink into” the lengthier and/or more serious book.

    I’ve read a lot of novellas and mini-novels that come up “threadbare” and leave me “still hungry.” I admit I like longer, more involved storytelling. I’ve found the best novellas tend to be longer short stories. The “novel squeezed into a novella” feel in a book always disappoints me.

  30. Pat
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 11:43:07

    I can’t help thinking that you are setting up a false dichotomy here. I’ve read a few categories -‘ some of Carla Kelly’s, for example, or that Blaze Historical that Betina Krahn wrote not too long ago -‘ that are “meatier” than any number of much longer books in terms of page length.

    On the other hand, I have read far too many 350-400 pagers that, if you cut out the generic sex scenes and mental lusting, would be hard put to qualify as novellas. Does that make them shorter?

    If publishers start demanding shorter books, maybe authors will start writing tighter. We’ll get the depth without the padding.

  31. Hannah
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 11:50:22

    That’s an interesting explanation as to why categories have gotten shorter, but I wonder about single-title books, in particular historical romance. Is it also to do with the text size? I remember that one of the last Avon historicals I read in print (And then he kissed her by Laura Lee Guhrke) had a font size that was bigger than average, almost “large print” size. I can’t say that this bothered me, because it was close to the size I’m used to on the Kindle.
    I like the practicality of a novella–I can usually finish one in about an hour, which is usually the max. time I have for reading in the evening. However, I usually don’t find them as satisfying as a longer book.

  32. Eva_baby
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 11:54:15

    I voted that I disagree. I like the feeling of reading a good long book.

    I like length b/c I feel that an author needs room to explore and develop plot and character and a lot of that goes missing in the categories and smaller books, imo. I am more often than not frustrated when I read a Harlequin because they read like shorthand. I do admit that some authors can pack a great story into a small package. Mary Balogh’s A Matter of Class was a very small book that felt like a lot of story. But generally I feel that that is rare.

    I also want to feel like I am getting my money’s worth. I do have to say that the price point of the categories is about right for what I feel they give us. But any other book and I am giving it serious thought. I got Wallflower Christmas a couple years ago and felt really hoodwinked. It was a handsome hardcover but it was only 224 pages and the story felt even thinner. I see on Amazon Kleypas’ most recent novella length book is getting criticized for length and lack of character development as well and the asking price for the page count.

    In the past I used to click the ‘Buy’ button very easily on Amazon, now I am really checking page counts books before I buy.

  33. Christine Rimmer
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 11:54:57

    @GrowlyCub: You wrote: If publishers start demanding shorter books, maybe authors will start writing tighter. We'll get the depth without the padding.

    Actually, that was part of the reasoning behind the reduced word counts across category lines. The other part was price point. By cutting pages, they cut cost and didn’t have to raise price. The price point is a valid one. But whether authors “pad” or not is turning out to be not so much about the word count. Many readers are not finding the books to be “tighter” at all, but only shorter and less satisfying.

  34. cead
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 11:59:43

    @Pat: I think you have a good point, but I also think that issuing absolutes isn’t the way to go. Any story should be the length that it needs to be – not padded for inflation, but not necessarily trimmed down to the bare essentials either. Some books are immense simply because they have a lot of story to tell, and books of that type can’t be condensed without either sacrificing story or being split into multiple books.

    The Gears’ Pre-Columbian books were originally intended to stand alone; it was a series, but in theme rather than plot or characters. Now they’re having to split the books in half. The stories themselves aren’t necessarily much longer – People of the Lakes has to be about a thousand pages, and it was published as one volume – but the editors won’t publish anything longer than 500 pages. The Gears and their fans were upset, but it was that or cut it down to incomprehensibility.

  35. GrowlyCub
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 12:10:00

    @Christine Rimmer: That was Pat’s quote, not mine.

    I disagree with her. I’ve seen very little tight writing, mostly reliance on shortcuts. And to my mind there’s overtight as well to the point of incomprehensibility.

    As for keeping the price and cutting the word count: I notice these shenanigans. It’s dishonest and anytime I feel like somebody is trying to pull a fast one on me, I spend my dollars elsewhere, be it books or cereal. Hence 0 Superromances purchased in 2010.

  36. WhoMe
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 12:10:51

    If I read digital, I prefer a fast moving story that I can read in a shorter time period. I also find that I want to be thrown into the action faster and be kept on the reading edge because if I get bored I can flip to e-mail or a website or…

    With paper I have more patience, want more nuance and ultimately desire to sink into the story and let the world slide away. I expect more with this medium because the book is much more likely to get my undivided attention.

    Which do I prefer? Depends on what type of entertainment I’m seeking.

    As far as word count is concerned, that’s very different than page count. It depends on the writer’s style as well as the font and margin size used. I’d never try to read a book like Dune or Martin’s Ice & Fire series digitally the first time through because I’d miss too much of the details and the journey. (because of how I read)

    I’m currently reading Donaldson’s Against All Things Ending and although having the online dictionary handy would be nice, there’s no way I could read it digitally even on a dedicated device. Any time I’d hit a rough patch I’d be flipping.

    I could easily read category romances digitally but I have to be honest here. Typically when I read category romances I’m skimming anyway to get to the good scenes.

  37. rebyj
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 12:29:46

    I’m with the crowd that likes thicker books! I can read a category romance in less than an hour so I rarely buy them new unless they’re on sale.
    I want world building, character development and an expansive plot. I sometimes find that to some extent satisfactorily in a category romance but it’s rare.
    The price range now is what? 5.99 – 7.99 ?
    Too much for me to pay for an hour’s entertainment.

  38. Author On Vacation
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 12:33:05


    I've seen very little tight writing, mostly reliance on shortcuts. And to my mind there's overtight as well to the point of incomprehensibility.

    I think my biggest disappointment with some novellas and shorter novels is “rushed conclusion syndrome.”

    By that, I mean the book opens and follows through to the middle with good plot and character development. Then, somewhere in the final third or fourth of the book, the author seems to realize, “Oops! Gotta wind down and get to the ending within X words.” And suddenly everything is more rushed and gratuitous.

    I think the best novellas and shorter novels are actually “long short stories,” if that makes any sense.

  39. shessuchadork
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 12:36:34

    If I can knock it out in an afternoon or two, I’m in. I’m just too busy to sit down and read a tome these days. It’s the same as with longer works – I’ve read some winners and some losers.

  40. Christine Rimmer
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 12:40:48

    @GrowlyCub: ARgh. Now, how did I do that? Sorry.

    As to cutting the word count for price, well, it was either that or raise the price due to increased production costs. So you think the better choice would have been to be to raise the price when necessary? I think so.

  41. Christine Rimmer
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 12:50:00

    @rebyj: Price for paperback category books ranges from 4.75 to 5.50 currently, depending on the line. And they’re about a dollar cheaper per book if you buy ebook. In the line I write for, SSE, the price has been 4.99 since 2004. That’s really holding the price down if you notice how other book prices have risen in that time. And they did it partly by the cut in word count.

  42. Isobel Carr
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 12:51:25

    There have also been reports in reduction of word counts, although I'm uncertain whether that is in response to consumer demand or whether it is a cost inducing measure.


    other genres (sf, fantasy, horror, suspense) are definitely getting longer.

    Single title romance is getting longer too (much longer!). Five years ago, industry standard for a 100K word manuscript was 400 pages (12pt Courier = 250 words/page). At the time, houses were cutting back to 85K words (350 page manuscripts). With my most recent contract, they've switched to using electronic word count. This means that an 85K-95K word manuscript (same font and point size) is now a 450-500 page manuscript! That's a MUCH longer book.

  43. DianeN
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 12:51:48

    I don’t think there’s any doubt that attention spans are getting shorter across the population. We get our news in soundbites. We communicate via text message, and socialize via twitter. We have more to do and fewer hours to do it in. But having said that, my taste in books still runs toward longer, meatier books. I pick up categories only if they’re in my favorite tropes and are on sale. I like some of them, but some just don’t have the depth I prefer. What’s interesting to me is series seem more popular than ever, and very few of them can be considered short. I wonder if we’re drawn to series because once we’ve got the backstory down we can skim quickly through what we already know and just concentrate on what’s new, and we’re still having a richer reading experience than if we only read short fiction.

  44. Author On Vacation
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 13:04:20


    What's interesting to me is series seem more popular than ever, and very few of them can be considered short. I wonder if we're drawn to series because once we've got the backstory down we can skim quickly through what we already know and just concentrate on what's new, and we're still having a richer reading experience than if we only read short fiction.

    I enjoy series because I like revisiting characters I’ve come to know and like in previous books.

    I don’t skim the new books, and I’ve quit reading series that take the plotline somewhere I don’t want it to go. I was a huge fan of LKH’s Anita Blake series through the first eight or nine books. I wouldn’t read OR skim the newer books if they were given to me free of charge.

  45. rebyj
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 13:13:00

    @Christine Rimmer:

    I mainly buy at Kroger’s when I’m buying groceries.I know I’ve paid 5.99 there. I’ll look closer for the $4.75 – 5.50 ones. They’ve pretty much phased out the Desires and Super Romances and started just stocking the Kimani line and they’re 6.99 – 14.99.
    I don’t buy Harlequin ebooks from the eharlequin site anymore after being burned a couple of times by not being able to open and read them on my ipod touch. There’s 2 Megan Hart books (Stranger and Deeper) I’ve still not been able to read. *sob*

  46. Janine
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 13:14:31

    I tend to prefer books around 350 pages in length to 200 page books or long tomes. That’s been the case with me for a long time, so I voted “disagree.”

  47. Angelia Sparrow
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 13:47:30

    Actually, books have gotten LONGER and are now going back to what used to be standard lengths.

    I own a number of novels from the 40s-70s and very few of them are over 250 pages. Errol Flynn’s SHOWDOWN is 230. Brian Daley’s Han Solo novels are 180. Most of the old Harlequin are about 200. Burroughs’ Mars books are 175. Most Louis L’Amours are about 200.

    In other words, most of these are about 50,000 words long.

    The current standard is about 350 pages, or 80K words (according to horror author friends).

    Some romance novels got really thick in the late sixties. The Angelique series was a hefty 300 pages/book. Doorstop thick fantasy novels and epics became the order of the day in the 80s.

    So we think nothing of 600-800 page books, and a trim little 200 page novel looks like nothing.

  48. Christine Rimmer
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 14:36:45

    @rebyj: I was thinking of Kimani as more of an imprint, but I checked it out on eHarlequin just now. Yep. A line. An imprint being Single Title: like HQN and Mira and Spice. On eharlequin, Kimani lists as 6.25–but it’s 5.00 if you buy from eHarlequin. So yeah. Kimani is higher. I didn’t see any other lines listing above 5.50, though. But maybe I missed others.

  49. Christine Rimmer
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 14:40:30

    @rebyj: And very sad about not being able to open the books you bought. That’s just not right. Did you get back to eharl on the issue? Beyond disappointing if they didn’t correct the problem for you one way or the other.

  50. Jane
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 14:46:22

    @rebyj You need Bluefire app. It takes/reads DRM’ed ePubs which eHarl sells. All other formats will not work on the iThings unless you strip and convert.

  51. jmc
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 14:50:54

    I’m reading shorter books today because that seems to be what the market offers right now. It’s not necessarily my preference. Novellas, novelettes, short stories, etc. I don’t necessarily mind the shorter format if the author can tell the entire story in frame, but like others have already written, it feels as if many of the shorts would have been better served by a slightly longer format.

    Large font, large borders, pages of reviews and/or marketing at the front and back of the book, it all makes the (paper) book look the “right” size at first glance, but the substance is definitely shorter.

    I do think attention spans are shorter; mine certainly is. Add that to the competition from so many other sources of entertainment, and the market for books is driven to be consumable in the same sort of bite-sizes.

  52. LVLMLeah
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 15:18:32

    I read a lot more shorts than full length novels at the moment mostly because what I read in particular doesn’t come in full length novels as mush as other genres.

    Also, I admit, I start getting bored with a 50+K book unless it’s extremely riveting. I can’t remember the last time I read an extremely riveting book. So I do tend to read less full length novels.

    I’m also a slow reader. So I get more satisfaction from reading novellas or categories since I can finish them fairly quickly. Novels take me a lot longer and then I start losing interest over time.

    But I also get really pissed off at less than 7K stories because it’s a rare author who can do justice to a story in that word count.

  53. rebyj
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 15:25:55


    I will look into it although last time I tried anything I got the message that I’d already downloaded the book and couldn’t again.

    @Christine Rimmer:
    I did the day I bought them and was having trouble. I just got a form letter with the same instructions. I was so frustrated by the second day I just said forget it and counted them a loss.

  54. Jane
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 15:27:05

    @rebyj I’ve been able to redownload my books that I bought a long time ago (we are talking about the eHarlequins site, right?) But I understand your frustration. Sometimes I count things that don’t work for me as a loss too.

  55. Evangeline Holland
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 17:15:21

    It depends on the book/writing. I devoured Connie Willis’ WWII Time Travel duo, which clocked in at nearly 1000 pages. I’ve bounced between single title romances and category romances for the first time this year, and length didn’t matter so much as an engrossing story and great writing. However, I do find I have less patience with a lackluster story when I’m reading an e-book, because I can’t flip through the pages and hope something interesting pops out–but I am more likely to finish a digital book than a print book that doesn’t catch my attention because I can lose a print book. An e-book sits on my eReader, guilting me into completing it. *g*

  56. Castiron
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 17:24:45

    My attention span has gotten very short, though I blame parenthood rather than computers. Still, long works make up the same percentage of my reading as they always have. I’ve recently reread Lord of the Rings and The Count of Monte Cristo, and I’m 10% through Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, all read on my iPod.

    Reading on my pod actually helps me get through the long stuff. I’m not going to lose my place, even if I switch to another book for a while. I can read in short chunks without having to find where on the page I left off; even if it’s only a paragraph, the paragraphs add up over time.

  57. Statch
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 18:13:28

    I’m reading many more Harlequins (or similar categories) than I used to, but the reason is not book length. It started with anger over the new digital pricing model. I read almost exclusively ebooks, so when publishers started ‘fixing’ prices, I started actively looking for ‘new to me’ Harlequin writers. (Thanks to the DA site for pointing me to a lot of them.) I buy them mainly on Fictionwise; between the ‘first week’ discount and my Buywise membership, I rarely pay more than $2.88-$3.60 each.

    I think that reading these shorter categories has reduced my attention span for longer books…but I never would have gone down that path if the pricing model hadn’t changed.

  58. library addict
    Nov 02, 2010 @ 19:10:41

    I voted yes, but it's not always by choice.

    I do still read a lot of category books. The shorter word count they started a few years ago I do feel hurts the quality of stories overall, particularly in the Silhouette Romantic Suspense line which used to be Silhouette Intimate Moments.

    But I also read a lot of e first books now, and they often seem like long novellas. TBH though I am not 100% sure what the average length of a hard cover or paperback is. I am going strictly by the length of time it takes me to read the e first books vs the length of time to read a hc of mmpb.

  59. nasanta
    Nov 03, 2010 @ 00:54:55

    I disagreed because of the approximately 15 books I finished reading in October, 5/15 were less than 350 pages. 2/15 were less than 300 pages. On the other hand, I had been reading new books less frequently these days because it requires more mental investment for me than it does to read romance. I find myself rereading favorite parts of old books instead.

    However, thanks to, public domain free e-books, and occasional recommendations from DearAuthor, I am reading newer romance books more often.

    I agree with GrowlyCub: “As for keeping the price and cutting the word count: I notice these shenanigans. It's dishonest and anytime I feel like somebody is trying to pull a fast one on me, I spend my dollars elsewhere…”

    I noticed this with Sherrilyn Kenyon’s most recent (I think?) hardcover, and although my sister and I “collect” the Dark-Hunter books, I couldn’t bring myself to purchase the hardcover – and read it in the bookstore. I do not think that the paperback will be cheaper although the book seemed shorter, but at least I won’t be paying hardcover price for it.

  60. Bella F.
    Nov 03, 2010 @ 05:14:44

    it’s difficult for me to be sure, so I ticked the “IDK” choice but I think in general I read about the same as always because it evens out. What I mean by that is, since I dont have an ereader yet I can only read for small increments of time on my laptop so ebooks are either shorts or read very slowly to make sure and not tire my eyes too much. But in regular books, I read everything from huge books like Outlander and The Passage to shorter romances and YA’s. So IMO, in the end it all evens out to I’m not really sure how much I read but it varies on my mood more than anything else.

  61. Cynthia N
    Nov 03, 2010 @ 07:19:46

    Not me. I find that I need the character and story development offered in full-length novels. The short stories and novellas offered today don’t have what it takes to keep me interested. If I only have a brief length of time to read, I’ll grab a magazine. Also, I refuse to pay the outrageous price for a novella e-book. I can usually purchase a print mass market paperback for less and have a much more enjoyable reading experience.

  62. Anon
    Nov 03, 2010 @ 08:49:57

    I voted I disagree. My reading tastes are as varied as always. I might read four categories in a day, or a doorstop fantasy in a day. I find with shorter works that the story can feel cut off and there is no proper ending. I will stay up until morning without sleep if I’m reading a good book – sometimes I’ve done this and been bitterly disappointed by the ending. If authors can write a good story, length will not matter.

  63. Camryn Rhys
    Nov 03, 2010 @ 12:40:11

    I’m definitely reading more short fiction than I used to, but not because I’m reading less long fiction. I’m just reading more.

    When I bought my Kindle, I started regularly making purchases from Ellora’s Cave, Breathless Press, Eternal Press, Wild Rose Press, and the like. But especially from Ellora’s Cave. And now I read everywhere. I read in traffic jams, I read in line at the store, I read when I’m walking down the street. Anytime when I’ve got a few minutes to put together, I read.

    I still will read the long (especially historical) novels that I’ve always read. I just now also read a lot of short fiction, as well. And I love it.

    The quality of writing now from some of these digital presses is quite good, and I find myself reading an entire EC novel without rolling my eyes one time. It’s a breath of fresh air.

    I actually feel like my attention capability has increased. But this was a fantastic post to get my brain thinking about my reading habits.

  64. Ursula
    Nov 03, 2010 @ 12:51:42

    I’m amazed, as an author, and a reader, what a difference 10 to 15K words makes in a story. I used to be a hard core category reader in a few lines, to supplement my larger books. I read fast, so longer lengths don’t rack up that much more time for me. But recently I’ve been more cautious, as some shorter lengths don’t seem to have the necessary story density to keep my interest. When I tried to figure out why, I looked at some of my older purchases and realized word count was cut. not to say it’s the same for all: good storytelling occurs at all word counts. But on average, I saw what I felt was a drop off. Certainly something to think about. Price also is a factor, shorter is cheaper and for those who read a lot, less cost means more books.

  65. Moriah Jovan
    Nov 03, 2010 @ 13:52:19

    @Camryn Rhys:

    I read in traffic jams, I read in line at the store, I read when I'm walking down the street. Anytime when I've got a few minutes to put together, I read.

    This. I’m the happiest and most patient line-stander in the world now. Whip out the BlackBerry with either MobiPocket Reader or Kindle app, and I really don’t care how long I have to wait.

    I don’t care for short fiction. Never have. When I was very young and very poor, I got more bang for my buck from a huge book than a lot of little books, so that’s what I unintentionally trained myself to want/prefer.

    (Also there is the matter of the $3.99 “novella” from one digipub that turned out to be a whole 18k long and badly edited, and I’m still bitter about that. Fail x3)

    I was also a Hqn Superromance fan when they were fat, and now they’re not. That makes a difference to me. I assumed the Hqn single titles had stepped in to fill the Superromance’s function.

  66. Ros
    Nov 03, 2010 @ 18:57:38

    I don’t read novellas or short stories. I’ve never enjoyed that kind of fiction. But I don’t think that it’s current popularity has anything much to do with attention span. I think it’s almost wholly to do with digital publishing. My understanding is that in the past, novella-length fiction was virtually impossible to sell to publishers because they would incur almost the same costs as for a full-length work, but couldn’t charge full-price for it. With the advent of ebooks, this seems to have changed, and a lot of ebook publishers are much more flexible about the length of the works they publish. I think that variety is a great thing for both authors and readers.

    I do, however, read a lot of short category romances (though I try to avoid the two-novellas-in-one-volume kind). I love the instant gratification of knowing I can start a book and be done with it, and have my happy ending, within an hour or two. I read longer fiction as well – I recently read and loved Jilly Cooper’s latest doorstop of a book.

  67. Christine Rimmer
    Nov 04, 2010 @ 13:44:34

    @rebyj: Due to my short attention span, I’ve taken two days to get back here. ;) Just kidding. Had another publishing emergency. Anyway, I bought a kindle and have been thinking of trying to download some of the books off the eharl site and figuring out to convert them them so I could read them on the kindle. With your experience, I’m more wary than before.

  68. Jane
    Nov 04, 2010 @ 14:28:46

    @Christine Rimmer If you have a Kindle, you will have to strip and convert anything you buy on the eHar site.

  69. Christine Rimmer
    Nov 04, 2010 @ 14:41:20

    @Jane: Jane,thanks. I figured that. So far, I’ve just been waiting until they become available on the Amazon site. As I recall, you’ve described in past here how to do it. (?) So when I’m ready to try and figure it out, I’ll start here with a search.

  70. sarah mayberry
    Nov 04, 2010 @ 16:12:47

    Just a heads up for readers of Super Romance. I saw here that a couple of people commented on the lower word count and thinner books. Well, Harlequin have just announced to writers that they will be upping the word count back to what it used to be – 75,000. Due to publishing lead times, the first books to feature the extended word count won’t appear until mid next year, but please know that you were heard (as were eds and writers who pressed for a return to the longer-form Supers of old) and that change is a coming… Happy reading!

  71. Anne Ardeur
    Nov 04, 2010 @ 17:29:54

    I find I go around in circles over time. I often like shorter books (more ‘Mills and Boon’ and ‘Silhouette Desire’ rather than ‘short stories’) because I can finish them in one sitting, and if I’m commuting, they’re thinner and lighter to carry.

    But then after a while of short stories I get tired of rushed plots, unexplored points of interests, under-developed relationships, secondary characters who are just there as filler and never developed properly, so I hunt out some longer books.

    And then after a while of those I get tired of having to split my reading over several nights or more, of carrying around larger books, or of having to hunt to find the bookmark in the ebook because it loses its place when I resize the text… and go back to shorter books. At least for a while.

  72. Estara
    Nov 04, 2010 @ 17:31:41

    I don’t know what would be the case if I were a romance or even category-romance reader only, but my first love is sf&f and then romance, so I go for epic series for example ^^.
    As long as the book is good I actually prefer long – not happy with the fact that Cryoburn is as short as it is, for example, or the new Robin McKinley.

    I usually dislike short stories, as a matter of fact, except when they are part of a larger universe and fill in gaps there.

  73. Angela
    Nov 04, 2010 @ 20:57:54

    I skimmed the comments here, but I think I tend to agree with most. I prefer my books longer, I come into romance from a fantasy background, with huge door-stopper books, and I tend to prefer that even now. Most of the books I read now clock in around 350 pages, and I think that’s a good length. But honestly, tell the story how it needs to be told, if that takes 200 pages or 500 pages, so be it. I want a rich, satisfying experience.
    I was actually just talking to a friend today that I want to be able to lose myself in a book. I’m finding fewer and fewer of them that I can do that with lately and it’s disappointing. I think this might be part of the reason why.

  74. Christine Rimmer
    Nov 05, 2010 @ 08:58:07

    @sarah mayberry: Excellent news. I had heard a rumor that might happen. Will check with my ed to see if they’re doing that in Specials, too!

  75. Moriah Jovan
    Nov 05, 2010 @ 10:56:19

    @sarah mayberry:

    75,000? In the early 90s when I was targeting Superromance (for publication), they were 90-120k. I thought they were 75,000 NOW. Must be worse than I thought.

  76. brooksse
    Nov 05, 2010 @ 12:04:48

    I’m definitely reading more category length books now than previously. But it’s mostly based on going digital.

    With Harlequin releasing more and more backlist titles, I’m finding plenty of books to read by my favorite authors.
    Including single title authors who used to (and in some cases still) write for Harlequin. Pre-digital, category length titles were limited to the stock on hand at my favorite used/new book store.

    Also, if I want to try out a new-to-me author, and that author has written both category and single titles, I have a choice between $7.00 to $10.00 for a single title, versus $3.00 to $4.00 for a category. With more categories available than ever before, I’ll try out one of the category titles first… less money and time invested for an unknown author. And if I like the author’s writing, I can pick up her single titles later.

  77. Are Shorter Books Better? « Quacking Alone
    Nov 07, 2010 @ 10:08:13

    […] was already thinking about this issue a few days ago when I read a post on Dear Author titled “Is Our Attention Span Getting Shorter?”  The author of the post noted that Harlequin category romances had started appearing on the USA […]

  78. Carrie#K
    Nov 12, 2010 @ 12:48:13

    I’m reading more fiction than non fiction nowadays though and I realized after I voted that I’d skimmed through your post……well, I am at work. And my attention span is just as long as it -hey! cool car.

  79. Stumbling Over Chaos :: The Return of Linkity!! Now with even more linkity!!
    Nov 15, 2010 @ 19:14:55

    […] Author wonders whether our attentions spans are getting shor… Oh! Look! […]

  80. Give Me Literature: My Take on Book Length | Prismatic Prospects
    Sep 19, 2013 @ 15:05:37

    […] hear tell that in this digital age of ours, books are getting shorter. (Another post shared with me by author Chicki Brown. Thanks, […]

%d bloggers like this: