Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Does size matter?

One of the questions about ebooks is how long should they be? Often the product description specifies that this ebook is a "full length" novel and gives the equivalent in page numbers. This leads one to believe that other ebooks may not be as long as your traditional printed book.

Is that important? Has length historically been determined by the constraints of printing and commercialization which don't really apply in ebooks?

There's no question that a printed work of 90 pages, traditionally called a novella, can be satisfying to read. But are we conditioned to believe that the development of plot and character that unfolds in 300 pages is the norm?

Authors had an incentive before to write long because it took nearly a year to get a book in print. But now authors can publish their own works in intervals of months, or even weeks. There are no physical or commercial constraints on length.

Why don't ebooks automatically give the print page equivalent? It would seem that is easy enough to program. Apparently you can't go by file size because formatting and compression will give wildly different numbers of kilobytes. For instance, Castle Cape, an ebook I'm currently reading, is supposed to have 370 pages in print, but the ebook file size is given as 495 KB. My book, The Grand Mirage, at 304 pages in print, has a file size of  834 KB.

As a freelance journalist, I'm accustomed to thinking of length in terms of words. Mirage is a little over 80,000 words, whereas my earlier thriller, Gold, weighed in at 72,000 after I had it scanned and converted to Word for re-issue. My friend Jim Bruno said he is aiming for 90,000 words in his new Cuba thriller.

There is a certain discipline to writing long. It forces the author to elaborate with descriptions, to step back and slow down the pace of the plot, adding details to characterization and richness to the overall narrative. It would be easy to slap a bare-bones novel into e-print, charge 99 cents for it, and caveat emptor, but a more finished product might be more satisfying for both author and reader.

In any case, I think in principle I will shoot for the 70,000 to 80,000-word range, longer if the spirit moves me, perhaps shorter if the book feels done.

No comments:

Post a Comment