Would you rather read a fat book or a skinny book?
June 8, 2015
Russell Baker, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and columnist, was famous for saying: “Americans like fat books and thin women.”
Not anymore, they don’t.
Well, there still might be a penchant for thin women if you believe the full-page ads in fashion magazines which show off glamorous ladies with legs no larger than a good fishing pole in South Alabama.
Let’s think again.
There was a time when authors felt compelled to write fat books because potential readers and book buyers would want at least 100,000 to 150,000 words in order to get their money’s worth.
No one wanted to plunk down $24.95 for a skinny book, take it home, and have it read before sundown.
People wanted to buy epics.
As my partner Stephen Woodfin told me, they wanted books like Twitter. They wanted at least 140 characters.
Take the novel home, read it for a couple of months, agonize over several generations, a couple of wars, an economic depression or two, an epidemic that shattered the lives of the community, a handful of affairs, and the laborious chore of turning a two-horse log corral into an oil empire. Throw in a couple of murders, the hint of incest, the brother who’s in love with his brother’s third wife, and an illegitimate heir by the granddaughter of a former slave, and you had a book worth reading. Once finished, readers could always use the book for a doorstop.
With eBooks, readers aren’t looking for epics with 140 characters anymore.
They have no idea how big, how thick, how fat the books are on Kindles, computers, iPads, and even those big smart phones posing as lending libraries..
Besides, everybody is in a hurry.
No one has the time or the patience to wade through oceans of gray type when a good book with great characters, great dialogue, a great plot, and a dynamite ending can be read and digested thoroughly on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Because eBooks are so inexpensive, today’s readers would just as soon spend $2.99 or $4.99 for a 40,000-word novel as a 100,000-word novel.
Besides, today’s writers are producing books for generations raised on television and video games. Attention spans aren’t what they used to be. I believe that when you write a book, you should narrow your focus and not send your reader down those twists and turns that take so many more words and so many more pages.
I personally like an opening scene that begins on Monday and comes crashing down to the final scene by midnight on Friday.
Get into the story.
Tell the story.
Get out of the story.
And write another book.
As far as I’m concerned, we need to concentrate on novellas, not novels. Some of the best stories ever written were told in 30,000 to 50,000 words.
Today’s concept for writers is simple. It is a three-step formula.
The wave of the future has already begun.
The fat books are dead or dying.
Long live skinny.
Caleb Pirtle III is the author of Little Lies. It’a story told in 60,000 words.