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From Dave Farland:
When you look at novels carefully, you will notice that the bestselling books of all time are usually big “doorstoppers.” In each genre, we see this pattern.
When the novel Dune was published, it was rejected by every publisher in the business until a company that sold engine books illustrating engine parts (so that you could easily order parts for repairs) decided to publish the novel. It became the bestselling science fiction novel of all time.
A Tale of Two Cities was rejected by so many publishers, the author finally published it himself with the help of an investor—and it became the bestselling mainstream book in English for the next 150 years.
With Harry Potter, the twelve largest publishers in the world rejected it because it was “too big” for Middle Grade readers. It has since gone on to sell 500 million copies and become the bestselling Middle Grade novel of all time.
Yet as authors, we are told over and over again to write skinnier novels. My editor at Tor used to try to cut every novel down to under 130,000 words. I like to write them a bit closer to 200,000.
I’ve heard several reasons why we should write skinny novels.
- Publishers complain that paper costs are usually steep enough so that if you have too many pages, it’s hard to get customers to pay the higher price required for a big book. I recall one publisher complaining of a bestselling novel by Robert Jordan—“We’re selling millions of them, but we are wondering if we’re losing money on every book we sell, with today’s paper prices being so high.”
- One editor pointed out that with fat books, there are only a couple of binderies in the US that can handle a book that holds over 400 pages, so they are tougher to make. Indeed, with mass-market paperbacks, we didn’t have glue that would bind 600-page books together until the mid-1980s.
- Booksellers like Barnes & Noble often complained to publishers that fat books were unprofitable because they took up so much space on the racks. In fact, the US’s largest bookseller warned publishers that they would refuse to take fat books if the publishers kept printing them.
Yet people keep reading fat books.
. . . .
When Tolkien wrote Lord of the Rings, he intentionally wrote a “long book.” I believe that he understood the effect that he was trying to achieve. In the 1950s, he taught a class at Oxford where he discussed the importance of telling stories from multiple narrators so that an author could create a “dreamlike state” as quickly as possible.
So when he wrote LOTR, he imagined it as one huge novel. He typed it up and sent it to his publisher in an orange crate because, back then, orange crates were made of wood and were sturdy enough to hold his 2000-page manuscript.
The publisher looked at it and declared it an “act of genius,” but worried that they’d lose money on it.
So they broke it into three pieces and sold it as a “trilogy”. Suddenly, authors could write longer narratives so long as we kept them in a series.
Link to the rest at Dave Farland