Small and Simple Books

small_simple_slide I’ve been thinking a great deal about small and simple things lately. I was speaking with one of our Scribe’s Forge authors the other day about recent trends in publishing. He was concerned because he was primarily a ‘short story writer’ and had difficulty putting together something as complex and lengthy as a full-length novel.

It suddenly occurred to me that no one knows any more when they are paying any more for a ‘full-length novel’. When the reader purchases a book in electronic format, they really don’t know whether they are purchasing a 15,000 word novelette or a 150,000 word epic ten times its size. Page counts are irrelevant in ebooks and, for that matter, so is file size. If I want to puff up my ebook with extra bytes all I need to do is through in a few graphics to inflate the file size.

If that is truly the case, then where is the incentive for the modern writer to write a 418,000 word ‘Gone with the Wind’ novel when the purchasing audience thinks that it should be available at the same $9.95 price as a 40,000 word novella.

A long time ago in a decade far, far away the prevailing wisdom was that fantasy readers preferred ‘fat books'; that authors in speculative fiction genre needed to produce works of 150,000+ words so that the book on the shelf would look ‘beefy’ enough to intrigue the fantasy reader. And, of course, everything had to come in threes: Margaret Weis famously once wrote a two-book fantasy series and has been plagued with fans asking ‘Where’s the third book?’ ever since.

‘Tis a gift to be simple

But all of that is changing with the ascendance of the weightless ebook and, perhaps, that is also a reflection of the change that our lives have taken. We fill every moment of our day with sight, sound and experience. A friend of mine, Mike Stackpole, mentioned to me the idea of the ‘commuter length’ novel — something short which people could read in bits on the train to and from work. Why, if one were approaching getting published today, would one want to write a lengthy tome when they could write a potentially more popular novelette in a fraction of the time and for the same retail price?

I read the following in the Book of Mormon just the other day and it has gotten me to thinking about the small and simple things:

Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.

Book of Mormon / Alma 37:6

So, while I turn again to the two trilogies I am working on with Laura at the moment, my thoughts are turned to the small and simple things. We tried our hand at this with our ‘St. Nicholas and the Dragon’ book last December and we both found it exhilarating. We are still excited by epic fantasy such as our recently completed ‘Drakis’ series and the upcoming ‘Knights of the Red Band’ and ‘Nightbirds’ trilogies … but increasingly I think we may find comfort and satisfaction in writing less and saying more.

Because sometimes the greatest joy is found in the small and simple things.

One thought on “Small and Simple Books

  1. I love this blog post, and I was actually thinking about the scripture reference you highlighted for my own reasons today. I’m trying to query out a novella right now and have been nervous that no one will agent it because it’s “too short.” This was a great pick-me-up to read. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the value of shorter fiction in the ebook market. :-)

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