Fat Books Are Dead. Long Live Skinny.

Russell Baker

Over the years, there have been a lot of great writers throw out a lot of great lines about writing.

The times are changing.

What was true then may be an absolute obsolete thought in the digital age of ePublishing.

The world of eBooks has taken on another face.

Russell Baker, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and columnist, was famous for saying: “Americans like fat books and thin women.”

Not anymore, they don’t.

Well, there still might be a penchant for thin women if you believe the full-page ads in fashion magazines which show off glamorous ladies with legs no larger than a good fishing pole in South Alabama.

But books?

Let’s think again.

Love Story: 131 pages

There was a time when authors felt compelled to write fat books because potential readers and book buyers would want at least 100,000 to 150,000 words in order to get their money’s worth.

No one wanted to plunk down $24.95 for a skinny book, take it home, and have it read before sundown.

People wanted to buy epics.

As my partner Stephen Woodfin told me, they wanted books like Twitter. They wanted at least 140 characters.

Take the novel home, read it for a couple of months, agonize over several generations, a couple of wars, an economic depression or two, an epidemic that shattered the lives of the community, a handful of affairs, and the laborious chore of turning a two-horse log corral into an oil empire. Once finished, readers could always use the book for a doorstop.

With eBooks, readers aren’t looking for epics with 140 characters anymore.

They have no idea how big, how thick, how fat the books are on Kindles, Nooks, computers, and iPads.

Of Mice and Men: 108 pages

Besides, everybody is in a hurry.

No one has the time or the patience to wade through oceans of gray type when a good book with great characters, great dialogue, a great plot, and a dynamite ending can be read and digested thoroughly on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Because eBooks are so inexpensive, today’s readers would just as soon spend $2.99 or $4.99 for a 40,000-word novel as a 100,000-word novel.

Besides, today’s writers are producing books for generations raised on television and video games. Attention spans aren’t what they used to be.





I believe that when you write a book, you should narrow your focus and not send your reader down the twists and turns of so many subplots that take so many more words and so many more pages.

Get into the story.

Tell the story.

Get out of the story.

And write another book.

The Old Man and The Sea: 104 pages

As far as I’m concerned, we need to concentrate on novellas, not novels. Some of the best stories ever written were told in 30,000 to 50,000 words.

Today’s concept for writers is simple. It is a three-step formula.

Shorter books.

More books.

More often.

The wave of the future has already begun. The fat books are dead. Long live skinny.

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