Smith points out that length used to be a criterion for whether a book was acceptable. Some traditional publishers still use length as a guide for whether they’ll consider publishing something, and that can severely limit an author’s ability to tell the story he wants to tell. Having been a published author for many years, Smith remembers when books suddenly had to be very long - 80,000 to 100,000 words - or not considered worthy. That was a hoax because the truth was those publishers were faced with rising expenses and needed to make more money. Their scheme was to publish longer books and charge more for them.
Now, thanks to self-publishing and small presses, authors are free from being forced to write to a certain length. Which is a good thing. Smith offers a list of famous novels which were less than 40,000 words long and enjoyed great popularity and acclaim. Here are some of them:
Jack London’s CALL OF THE WILD
John Steinbeck’a OF MICE AND MEN
George Orwell’s ANIMAL FARM
Robert Louis Stevenson’s DR. JECKYLL AND MISTER HYDE
Charles Dickens’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL
H.G. Wells’ THE TIME MACHINE
Philip Roth’s GOODBYE COLUMBUS
Joseph Conrad’s HEART OF DARKNESS
Stephen King’s SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION
Ira Levin’s THE STEPFORD WIVES
John Steinbeck’s THE PEARL
Norman MacLean’s A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT
This is only a partial list, and it can be argued that many of these novels are quite old, written before publishers decided to raise book prices as a way to avoid having to leave their expensive New York offices. But the desire and necessity to write short is growing. Today’s readers want to use their I-Pads, even telephones, to catch up on the latest romance or thriller from their favorite author. “Short is the new long” is the slogan of today. And that doesn’t mean the reader can’t have an excellent reading experience. After all, the author, not some publisher, is the better judge of the “right” length for her story.
Blog reader/author: Do you write shorter books than you formerly did? Do you find them more, or less, popular than your other work?