When is enough not enough?

Such a wonderfully cryptic title for a post isn’t it?  I’d like to think so.  This is going to be another one of my posts where I ramble on about a topic related to books.  I’ve had a few of these posts in the past, including posts where I ramble on about Uniqueness and Originality, Learning Curve, Romance in Books, and a couple other things from in my blog.  Well, this post is brought on by two recent experiences.  The first of these is from watching an online lecture about writing by Eric James Stone, an author of numerous short stories and recent Nebula award winner for his novelette “That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made.”

Anyway, the lecture that he gives came from when he was filling in for a class that Brandon Sanderson teaches at BYU.  This past year, Sanderson had the entire class recorded and it is in the process of being posted online.  The website for the series of lectures can be found here, while the lecture by Stone that I’m referring to can be found here.  The lectures are all very interesting and cover a wide variety of topics related to creative writing, including several lectures where Sanderson discusses the business side of writing, which was interesting to listen to.

During Stone’s lecture, he focuses primarily on the process of writing short stories, at which he excels (I have to admit that I haven’t read much of his stuff, but one of his stories that I’m familiar with is Rejiggering the Thingamajig, a very interesting story that can be found on the Escape Pod podcast here.) Anyway, he discusses the idea of moving from publishing short stories to publishing novels.  A concept that he brings up that I find very strange is that when he finished a novel and sent it out to editors, he was told that it was too short.  Without listening to the entire lecture again I think he says that his novel ended up being something like 65k-70k words.

So that’s half of the origin for this post, and the other half comes from some books that I’ve read in the past few months.  Several of the books that I’ve read recently I’ve put down thinking that the book was entirely too long.  One of the recent books I’ve read that works as an example of this was Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch.  I enjoyed the book – particularly the second half – but I thought that it was a couple hundred pages too long.  The first 300 pages of the book could have been cut down to about 50 pages, which would have streamlined the book and made it a quicker and more enjoyable read.

While the Lynch book works largely as a stand alone, there are plenty of books in series that have the same problem.  One of the biggest breakout Fantasy authors of the past decade it Pat Rothfuss, who is known primarily for his Kingkiller Chronicles (The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear).  These books are huge, Amazon lists The Name of the Wind at 672 pages, and The Wise Man’s Fear clocks in at a whopping 1008 pages.  I really enjoyed both of those books, but I had a problem with the beginning of The Wise Man’s Fear.  The first 1/3 of the book was pretty much the same story as the last part of The Name of the Wind, in which Kvothe is struggling to make enough money to stay at the University while managing to piss off half of his teachers and several of his classmates.  Kvothe’s story is really interesting, but while reading the second book I kept wishing that he would get on with his adventures away from the University.  At the end of the second book, Kvothe is back at the University.  I’m going to buy the third book shortly after it comes out, and I’m really hopeful that Rothfuss gets Kvothe away from the University a lot quicker in the third book then he did in the second.

Especially in Science Fiction and Fantasy, huge books are the norm these days.  And along with huge individual books, most Fantasy novels tend to be parts of larger series.  While the trilogy is very common, it’s not uncommon to see 7 book series (Harry Potter, A Song of Ice and Fire), 5 book series (The Belgariad, The Malloreon), or even as many as 14 books (The Wheel of Time).  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a lot of these series, but there comes a point when enough is enough.  At any given time, I’m in the middle of several different Fantasy series, in many cases because the series aren’t finished yet.  For example, here are some of the book series that I’ve started reading that aren’t complete yet: The Wheel of Time (Robert Jordan), A Song of Ice and Fire (George RR Martin), The Runelords (David Farland), The Kingkiller Chronicles (Patrick Rothfuss), The Demon Cycle (Peter V. Brett), Monster Hunter International (Larry Correia), The Stormlight Archive (Brandon Sanderson), Variant (Robison Wells), Partials (Dan Wells), and probably a couple of others that I can’t think of offhand.  Adding up each of the planned books in these series, we come to a total of 60 books, which ends up being an average of almost 7 books per series.

I think I understand part of the reasoning for this.  Part of the mindset of the reader is that if you’re going to pay for a book, you might as well get your money’s worth.  And for most people, that means a longer book with a deeper story.  However, there comes a point where it’s just too much.  I enjoy long series of books, and I’m most likely going to end up buying the final books of each of the series that I mentioned above.  But I’m getting to the point where I almost don’t want to start a new fantasy series unless it’s been completed already because I don’t want to wait several years for the next book to come out.

I love big series of books, but I think in many cases books are being stretched out much longer than they need to be simply to fit in with what is expected of books today.  I read a lot of books, and there are very few books that I’ve put down and said “Wow, I wish that book was longer.”  By comparison, there are quite a few books that I’ve put down thinking “That would have been a much stronger book if it was 200 pages shorter.”

However, there are some books that are very long that don’t feel like they have a lot of filler.  My example for this is going to be The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson.  This book is enormous, with the hardcover coming in at 1008 pages and the paperback big enough to scare many readers away at 1280 pages.  But when you’re reading it, everything is interesting, works within the story, and is simply fun to read about.  So while that book is easily the most massive book I own, it’s also one of the quickest reads you’ll ever find because it’s written so well.  If I remember correctly, I read The Way of Kings in 3 days.  by comparison, I’m currently reading The Malloreon by David Eddings.  It’s an interesting story, but It’s taken me about 10 days to read the first 4 books, which ends up being about the same page count as The Way of Kings.

In many ways, I think this is part of why I enjoy many YA books.  The stories and themes aren’t any simpler than in adults books, but in YA books the standard seems to more like 300-350 pages as opposed to adult books where nearly every Fantasy book seems to clear 500 pages and quite a few books fall into the 650-700 page range.

While there are authors who are doing an excellent job of writing long books, I’d say that it’s far more common for a book to go longer than it should.  So there’s my rant for the day, what do you think?  Do you agree that many books, or series, are longer than they need to be?  Or do you prefer to get more words for your buck?  And also, do you have any examples of books that are too short?  Because I really can’t think of many.

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The Future of Publishing?

I’m readily admit to being a nerd, and over the weekend while checking out Dan Wells’s website I came across a post originally written by David Farland talking about the future of publishing with his idea for enhanced books.  I’m going to copy the post here and then give my thoughts about it as well because I thought it was a really interesting topic.

David Farland, bestselling author of the Runelords series and others, is a good friend and a brilliant business-minded writer. He has a new book coming soon called Nightingale,and I’m happy to help promote it with a guest post today. Take it away, Dave! (This section was written by Dan Wells on his blog, the following part of the post in italics is Dave Farland’s original post.)

Right now, the publishing world is in turmoil. People are buying electronic books in huge numbers. In fact, it appears that as of today, more than fifty percent of all sales are electronic. This puts traditional paper book publishers in a bind. You see, most books earn only a modest profit. But if paper books are shipped to bookstores and then returned, they get destroyed, and thus don’t make any money at all. In fact, the publisher then goes into the hole on every book he publishes.

The losses right now are so large in the industry, that as one agent put it, “Nobody in New York wants to be in this business right now.” That’s why bookstore chains like Borders and major distributors like Anderson News have gone bankrupt.

So where do the publishers make up for those losses? By selling electronic books for the Kindle, Nook, iPad and similar devices. The problem is, so many electronic books will come out in the next year, according to Bowker’s Identifier Services (the guys who make the ISBNs that you see on the back of a book), that the market will be flooded with over three million new books.

Why? Because authors who couldn’t find agents or publishers last year are self-publishing their novels this year. I was talking to a bestseller last night who groused that in the past week, he’d run into three different “authors,” none of whom had sold more than fifty books, all of whom were self-published.

That creates a problem for readers. It means that we now have to try to figure out which of those novels are worth buying and reading and which should never have been published in the first place.

Some of those novels may look good on the outside. They might have cover quotes from the author’s friends. They might have gorgeous illustrations. But inside, maybe halfway through a book, you might find that the story falls apart.

In fact, a lot of criminals are out there right now trying to sell e-books which Tracy Hickman has labeled “Frankensteins.” These are novels stolen from bits of other novels and cobbled together in a way to look like a legitimate book. The “author” hopes to steal a couple of dollars from unwary readers. Sure, it’s not a lot of money, but in some countries, like Nigeria, a few dollars goes a long way. If there are no laws against it (and in some countries there aren’t), the thief doesn’t even have to worry about getting punished.

How are we going to combat crummy novels? How are we going to get past the Frankensteins? Ten years ago we had gatekeepers in the industry—literary agents and editors—who made sure that only the best novels got published. It’s true that the system was flawed, but at least there was a system.

So who are our new gatekeepers going to be?

The truth is that there will be new kinds of publishers. Right now, I’m starting a company with my partner Mile Romney, called East India Press. We’re going to published “enhanced novels.”

Enhanced books are text files, like regular books, but they also combine elements like film clips, music, video games, author interviews, audio files, illustrations, and animations. They’re part book, part movie, part game, perhaps. These books are then then sold electronically to be read on your iPad, phone, computer, and so on.

Are enhanced books the real future of publishing? There is good reason to think so. You see, making a beautiful book in this market will cost tens of thousands of dollars. That’s a bar to most wannabe authors. So money alone will limit the competition.

These new publishers will still have to establish their own credibility. They’ll have to select great books, create superior products, and develop a “brand” presence. In other words, you’ll want to read the books because of who the publisher is and what they represent.

A hundred years ago, that’s the way that books were bought in the first place. If you went to the bookstore, the books were ordered by publisher. You might pick through the piles and find that a certain editor liked the same kind of “science fictional stories” that you did, and that became the place that you visited over and over again.

There will be other ways to judge a book. It might come from an author with a long list of awards, or great cover quotes from independent review agencies, or maybe the fact that the book is a bestseller will give it a lot of credibility.

So I expect enhanced books to become the dominant art form for novels in the next two years, replacing and outselling simple e-books on the bestseller lists, and even outselling hardbacks and paperbacks within a couple of years. As my agent, Russell Galen put it, “Enhanced books are the entire future of publishing.”

Now, I’ve published some fifty books in science fiction and fantasy. I’ve won a number of awards and my books have been translated into thirty languages. I worked for years as the lead judge for one of the largest writing contest in the world. I’ve trained authors like Brandon Mull, Brandon Sanderson, and Stephenie Meyer who have gone on to become #1 international bestsellers.

So I know books. I know a good story when I see one, and I know how to fix a story when it needs fixing. Given this, and my own background as a novelist, videogame designer, and movie producer, it seemed like starting a new type of publishing company was a must.

In fact, I believe in this new medium so much, I’m even putting out my next novel through this publishing company. It’s called Nightingale, and tells the story of Bron Jones, a young man abandoned at birth and raised in foster care. He discovers that he’s not quite human, and suddenly finds himself at the center of international intrigue.

This is a model for the new publishing industry. I think it’s a great book, and I could have sold it through normal channels. But this is the best way to go. So we’re offering the book on our site at www.nightingalenovel.com. You can buy it on November 4 in hard cover, for your e-reader, or in enhanced mode for the more advanced e-readers, or we even have an emulator so that you can run it in enhanced mode on any computer. It also has a forty-five minute soundtrack, lots of art, optional notes from the author and other features. In the future we may add a game or trailers. I believe this is the way books–good books–will be done in the future. I invite you to check it out, and check out our new company, East India Press.

If you’re a writer, look into our short story writing contest while you’re there. You could win $1000. You can find out about more about the East India Press or the writing contest at www.EastIndiaPress.com.

Ok, still with me?  Good, here are my thoughts on the idea of the enhanced book as a response to me finding this post.

The enhanced novels are an interesting idea, but I don’t think that they will take over the majority of the marketplace within two years as Dave expects.  The problem right now is that we’re at a crossroad in terms of publishing.  I read a lot, and I still purchase and read exclusively paper books, I have an e-reader that my brother bought for me last Christmas and it’s currently collecting dust.  I don’t like the idea of trying to read a novel on a screen of any kind, I like having my books.

The ability of people to self-publish their own novels because of the abundance of e-readers in the market does create the problem of finding the few books worth reading through all the dross.  Because of this, the main publishing companies are still probably going to be viable methods of publishing because they have the reputation amongst reading as serving as the gatekeepers.  The idea of a ‘brand presence’ is really the basis for how we purchase nearly everything, especially if you don’t have any preference between different options, the brand is often what will sway your decision.

Many of the things that Dave mentions as being part of his Enhanced books are interesting, but not necessarily going to sway me to buy a book.  Is a film clip going to make me buy a book?  No, that is the reason that I don’t think book trailers are effective advertising methods, you’re mixing different mediums and trying to use a visual medium (film) to sell a non-visual method of storytelling (books).  The idea of illustrations and animations fall into the same area for me.  Mixing media doesn’t work for me.

Would a videogame based upon the game make me want to buy the game more?  If it was a good game it might be interesting to look at, but again you’re mixing mediums there.  Another part of the problem with a videogame for a book is that you’re crossing mediums.  While the number of people who both read books and play videogames may be increasing, I don’t know if it is all that high.  Personally I play mostly role-playing games that generally take anywhere from 30-80 hours to play.  Do I want to play a game that long for each book that I read?  No, I might as well just play games and not read the books at all.

Author interviews are interesting, but they’re not really a selling point to me.  There are a few authors that I will look up interviews for, but it’s because I really enjoy quite a few books that they’ve written, not just one book.

For music or other audio files, I don’t know.  I used to read while listening to music, but anymore I tend to find it distracting.  Other audio files that people might use for books would include what?  Pronunciation guides?  Samples of what the author hears as the character voices?  Again, neat ideas, but it’s not going to sell me a book.

With Enhanced Books there is also going to be a question of balance.  Is the book going to be the main focus?  Or is the videogame?  How much music is there going to be?  Is the music an original piece commissioned for the book or is it a previously existing work?  What happens when an author writes the book to be read in a certain time to the music (i.e. a performance by a character in the story) and I read faster or slower than the author intended?  Now I have to change my reading habits to fully experience the book the way the author intended because of how the music plays into the story.  What happens when a company decides that they want to put a lot of effort into every aspect of the enhanced book?  When will we see the monstrosity that is a fully developed video game for computer/PS3/Xbox along with a feature length movie (complete with a full score) and the book?  When this happens (and it will if these succeed) when is the hugely expensive enhanced book going to come out?  You’re not going to get a person who wants to read to spend $100 for the full package, and if they allow people to purchase the individual parts, people are only going to purchase the parts they want (the book people will buy the book, the moviegoers will buy the movie, and the gamers will buy the game).

So are enhanced books the future as Dave thinks?  I don’t know.  I think they will be a measurable portion of the market if not a very sizeable portion.  I don’t think traditional books will ever stop, what will probably happen with traditional books is that bookstores will continue to disappear.  I love Barnes & Noble and I purchase most of my books from them.  However, selling almost exclusively through Amazon eliminates one of the biggest expenses of a publisher for traditional books because the customer pays for the shipping expense.

I’m an avid reader and I will continue to watch all of my options for how to read.  As new options such as e-readers or enhanced books continue to become more popular the proportion of people reading hard copies of books will obviously decrease.  However, I don’t see physical books being completely phased out anytime soon.

Congratulations if you made it through all of that, I’d love to hear what you have to say on the issues of traditional publishing vs self-publishing electronic novels, enhanced books, or anything else this post made you think of.

The First Draft

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post saying that I hit 5,000 words for a short story that I was writing.  Well, today I just finished what I wanted to accomplish for the overall draft of the story.  I wasn’t looking for a specific word count, I just had an idea of where I wanted the story to go, and I got most of what I wanted in the story into the story.

This is by no means a finished product, even as I was still writing it I was thinking about things that I wanted to change about parts that I had written previously.  I’m also going to add some more omniscient viewpoints before each scene that will add to the overall idea that I based the story off of.

I didn’t try to write a specific length of story, I just kept typing till I was done, and I finished up the first draft at 8220 words, which according to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America technically makes this a novelette.  I don’t care, I just have a draft done, and I’ll start working on a revision and finishing up in the next couple of days.

5,000 words

I’ve said before that I work at a bowling alley, and summers are slow times for bowling alleys (at least around where I live).  It’s nice outside and people don’t want to spend all that time indoors.  As a result, I’m not working nearly as many hours as I was up until a few weeks ago.  In addition, I finished my college courses and got my B.A. in Psychology this past semester, so I’m done with school.

So what have I been doing recently?  Well, for starters I’ve been reading a lot of books, hence why I’ve read 10 full novels in the past month.  Not all of these were the massive 700+ page books that I read fairly often, but they are full novels.

I’ve been bowling a couple nights a week, and working a little, but I’ve still got a lot of free time on my hands.  So I finally started something I’ve been thinking about doing for quite some time, I’ve started writing.

The reason I’m finally talking about my writing now even though I’ve been doing it off and on for about 2 weeks is because today I hit 5,000 words in my story.

I think my story is fun, I think that it’s kind of entertaining.  I don’t know what it’s going to end up being, it will probably end up being around 7-10k words which I think is still considered a short story, who knows.

I’ll most likely submit it to a few different places to see if I can get it published, I don’t know what I would be able to get from it, and I don’t really care right now, I think it’s fun and after about 5 or 6 days that I’ve worked on it I’ve hit 5,000 words.

5,000 words, it’s a good start.