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What Constitutes a “Novel”? August 17, 2014

Posted by Al Philipson in Last Train from Earth.
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When I was a young fellow, the average “novel” was 50,000 words. One of those narrow mass market paperbacks that used to be everywhere, but are rarely seen today. Any thing less was either a novella, an even shorter “novelette” (harken back to the old “Ace Doubles”), or a short story.

Somewhere along the line, the public started demanding larger books and the publishing industry complied. 100,000 words became the “standard” for a “novel”. 50,000 words was still technically a “novel”, but the industry wanted to put the fatter books on the shelves. A fat book had more of the spine showing and attracted buyers more easily than the thinner books of the past. And they could charge more for it.

Now that eBooks are becoming popular, word count doesn’t mean as much as it used to. When browsing electronic “shelves” you, the buyer, don’t see a row of spines, you see full covers, albeit in thumbnail sizes. Novelettes and “blockbusters” look the same until you’re done reading one and either wonder why it went so fast or why it took so long to read.

In fact, people are beginning to ask for shorter books that they can read rapidly and get on with their other tasks (like texting their buddies).

So, why am I mentioning all this? Well, I’m almost done with my first draft of Escape from Earth (working title) and it looks like I’ll be lucky to hit 60,000 words. Ten years ago, I’d be trying to figure out how to “pad” the story to flesh it out so my publisher would consider it (flashback: that’s what happened with Children of Destruction; the first draft ended with the end of Buck’s story, but I had to add the second section and the alien story to hit the 100,000 word mark — fortunately it worked out).

Well, this time, I’m going to leave the story where it is, because I can’t think of any way to “flesh it out” without boring you to tears, and because “short is the new long.” We’ll see what happens to it when I get done with the rewrites.

Won’t that be fun?

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