Do readers prefer long, short or mid-sized books?



I know what the authors among you are likely to say about this topic.

A book just needs to be as long as it needs to be.

I get that.

But I also get that readers’ tastes are something to be reckoned with.

I have waffled on this issue and waffle still.

There was a time when publishers set the length of books by contract with the writers in their stables. An author would agree to submit a manuscript containing X number of words by a specific deadline. If the book submitted didn’t meet the word count, the author was in breach of the contract and would have to remedy the problem.

This is one of the many things about the publishing industry digital has set on its head because in the Indie world the writer is his own captain and answers only to his internal barometer when it comes to word count.

For years the publishing standard for what constituted a book was a work of at least sixty thousand words.

Now we have hundreds of people who in November each year participate in NaNoWriMo, churning out novels with a target length of fifty-thousand words.

Of course, even in the old days word count was a moving target.

Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie never wrote a book longer than fifty-five thousand words.

Likewise, many authors see one hundred thousand words as the proper length for anything that hopes to be viewed as a full-length novel.

I admit that I harbored the notion for a while that the coming of eReaders brought with it a reader preference for shorter works.  By shorter, I mean I thought we would see the advent of the preeminence of novellas, works in the range of forty thousand words.

It is true that the novella has become a popular form, but not to the exclusion of longer works.

Also, I thought singles would jump way up in popularity.  A single is a work that inhabits the region between a long short story and a novella, clocking in at around twenty-five to thirty-five thousand words.

Then, of course, we have short stories themselves and short story anthologies.

Each form of fiction carries with it peculiarities, strengths and limitations. Sometimes nothing is better than a fifteen hundred word short short story. On other occasions, a long work brings satisfaction.

The only conclusion I can draw from my own books is that sixty to seventy-five thousand word books seem to be where I feel most comfortable.  Those length books give me time enough to create and solve the book’s puzzle. If they are shorter than that, I sense they are not fully-developed.  If they exceed that length, then I feel like I am adding unnecessary filler to the story.

But, I don’t have a clue whether readers consider the length of a book when they are deciding whether to buy it.

What are your thoughts?





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