Why Digital Books will be Shorter and Longer


When it comes to fiction, I like long books.  The Stand, Imajica, Shadowland, The Lord of the Rings to name a few.  I also like long songs.  Give me Pink Floyd, old Genesis, or Tool any day.  Those epic songs take you on a journey, and by the end you feel like you’ve arrived someplace quite different from where you began.

But that doesn’t mean every song should be long.  My favorite song right now is “Radioactive” by Kings of Leon, and the verses aren’t even long enough for one rhyme.  They’re like half verses because why waste any time making you wait for that awesome chorus?  Now that’s a hit single.

Many writers have lamented the death of the short story, but digital literary “singles” could usher in a new golden age for the form.

Check out this great blog post about short e-books:

The Natural Length Revolution in Books

His idea is that with the advent of the Kindle Single, the publishing world is recognizing that books don’t need to be padded for extra length to keep them from looking silly and insubstantial if the idea expressed is best suited to a very short format.  And I agree that a lot of non-fiction seems padded to justify turning a few good articles or essays into a book.

Fiction ideas also seem to have an inherent natural length, some much longer than others of course, and a writer often has to figure out along the way whether she’s writing a short story, a novella or a novel.  Good writers don’t force length, they discover it (sometimes only after an editor shines a high powered flashlight on the dig site).

While I love the extended edition of Stephen King’s The Stand, I thought Under the Dome should have been a lot shorter.  And after cutting 20,000 words from my own first novel, I think it works much better.  In a tough economy with a very competitive publishing market new authors are advised to keep it short so that the printing costs won’t inflate the price of the book and make a title by an unknown an even bigger risk for the publisher.

But e-books could also change that and allow novelists a little more breathing room once again.  I expect that the e-book revolution will mean that both of the outer ends of the length spectrum are going to become more viable than they were before, and hopefully the pricing will reflect that in some kind of fair way.

There’s a prevalent myth about our electronic society–that all art should now adapt to the short attention span parameters of TV and the internet, or perish.  Supposedly a generation of video gamers who don’t read are driving our culture now.  But if you read game reviews you know that most serious gamers value rich plots and characters, and they count it as a strike against a game if the hours required to complete it are too few.

When it comes to imaginative entertainment, people still want worlds that they can get lost in for a while, and I  don’t think that’s going to change.

 

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7 thoughts on “Why Digital Books will be Shorter and Longer

  1. marlene says:

    doug,

    i am reading a long book on my e-reader right now – non-fiction – The Emperor of all Maladies. i started out with two short novels. it is a little strange now to see my digital marker (kindle has an indicator at the bottom of the screen) moving so slowly on this read. i think i may cram in another short novel or two before I finish the long book.

    i’m curious to see how this device may or may not influence my and others reading habits. already had to buy another real book, because I got a gift card from a store that doesn’t support my reader. it was a totally ambivalent moment. i was happy and annoyed.

    love games with good stories!!! good point.

  2. Benjamin Solah says:

    Definitely agree with this. I’ve been saying it a bit for a while and read some great novellas on my Kindle since I got it. The point about long fiction is interesting too, even if I’m not someone to read epic novels. Not enough time!

  3. DTWynne says:

    Marlene, I’m also curious about how the e-reader will influence your reading habits. Is it less satisfying to move through a big book when the digital marker is crawling?

    Or are you more likely to read a long book when carrying it around is so much easier?

    And Cyberquill, I like that idea! There were extra deleted scenes added to the back of a special edition of Salem’s Lot a few years ago. As a writer, I found it useful to see what kinds of things would get cut.

    For the average reader, I don’t know how interesting it would be, but it seems like if the cost of ink and paper isn’t a factor, there are plenty of cool extras that could be tossed in, like character background notes, book club questions, author interviews, etc. Some real fans might even buy both a physical book and an e-version, if there was some extra value offered in digital.

    1. Cyberquill says:

      Someone should invent Paperback Printers for home use—little machines (similar to regular printers) that one can attach one’s Kindle to and which, upon the press of a button, print and bind a paperback version of any e-book stored in the Kindle, just in case the digital user ever feels like reading the old-fashioned way.

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