Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Is Your Novel "Too Long?"

"Wait just a tick," you've just said to yourself. "Didn't he recently write a blog post entitled 'Is Your Novel "Long Enough?"'" Yes, that elaborately-punctuated query is correct. I did, and it is here. But I have been perusing the book blog Book Riot (which is fantastic, by the way) and came across these two posts: "Every Book I Read Needs to be at Least 50 Pages Shorter"and "The Problem with 500-Page Books." These are two readers who, generally speaking, do not like long books. They find them fluffy and meandering. The comments to those posts consisted of those who agreed whole-heartedly and those who felt it was their duty to berate the authors for not having attention spans of steel. Comments from my post "Is Your Novel 'Long Enough'" also came down on both sides of the argument, which is to be expected.

So I'd like to ask those of you who prefer novels over novellas and short stories: How long is too long? Does it depend on the story, or will you simply pass on a book that has too many pages, no matter how good it looks? I have Stephen King's expanded edition of The Stand sitting on my shelf, which comes in at a  doorstop-ian 1150 pages. And I do have to admit, I'm reluctant to begin it. I also notice that the three books that make up The Lord of the Rings are about the same combined length. 

A question for all readers: If an author has a 1000-plus-page tale in the works, do you prefer it to be broken up into three or more books, or would you rather sit down with a tome in your lap? Discuss.


  1. "How long is too long?" is a question I can't answer until I'm into the story. If three pages are dedicated to Abby's introspection at seeing her reflection followed by three pages describing the room she just left and three more describing the one she just entered then it's too long.

    On the other hand, if Abby glimpsed a momentary reflection of another while she was admiring her beauty and traced the walls and floors for possible hidden exits, bumps her head, rips her dress and discovers a horrible secret during those nine pages...then it's not too long at all.

    I've never balked at a book due its page count. I'll gladly read 700 pages of good story. I just don't want to read 200 pages before I know what's going on in it. (Yes, this from one who has read and loved the many thousands of pages of Wheel of Time, Sword of Truth, etc.)

    And perhaps I should have clarified this in my earlier comment on the post you linked. A collection of novellas or short stories do not put me off. I just really have to want to read them to pay (near) full book price for each individually. Sold as a package is a completely different matter. Many tales are indeed best told in short or novella form.

  2. Thriller writer Steve Berry once told me that there was no such thing as a book that was "too long." He said that when someone says a book is too long, what they really mean is "It was boring."

    So, it's a matter of pacing, rather than overall length.

    I think that's true. I have raced through long books and plodded through short ones. I like books that move fast.

  3. It depends on the other factors that make me want to read it. Being a fan of Douglas Adams, if I had heard of a huge 1,200 page epic he'd written, I would gleefully sit the weighty hardback on my table and lose myself in endless hours of Adams' wit; similarly, I could imagine the same expectation of an over-long Pratchett or even Tom Sharpe. Other books have put me off by being stuffy and confusing at the start, and the thought of many more such chapters to plough through has stopped me reading on (The Illuminati springs to mind). I've never completed the Lord of the Rings although I love the story, the films based on it too; the elven poetry seemed a step too far. I've written a 470,000 word novel as one book, intending to try and get the mother of all debut publishing deals, but on reflection I've broken it into 3 more managable installments; I think I have much more chance of selling three regular-sized books than one enormous one, especially at this stage in my fledgling career. When I wrote it my aim was to write a light-hearted epic, but I'm not sure anyone looks for such a book.