I like big books and I cannot lie

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I’m not a size queen when it comes to cocks.  I understand why much gay erotica and romance has men with average or more than average inches in their boxers and breeches but when it comes to real life, I know that it really is what you do, not so much what size you are.

But when it comes to books, I’m a bit different.

I love a BIG book.  There’s nothing that makes me happer to buy a book that’s as wide as it is tall – perhaps it’s because I’m parsimonious and like value for money or something but if I’m lying in bed reading and in danger of being concussed if the book lands on my face then that’s fine by me.  I read a book recently where one of the protagonist’s cocks was so wide at the base his lover couldn’t get BOTH HANDS around it. This was seriously scary, unnatural and wrong.  However, translate that to the size and width of a book and I couldn’t be happier!

But what I see in gay fiction/romance –  pretty much everywhere –  is “the slim volume” and I’m rather interested to know why that is.  I know that many publishers say that 100,000 is the maximum size they want from a new to them novelist, but even that size book is pretty much unusual in this genre.  I have scads of books waiting for review and they are about 100 pages or so – perhaps going up to 150 if I’m lucky.  To get my hands on a book of 300 pages is pretty much a rarity.

What’s the reason for this?  Is it the publishers? Do they ask for a maximum length of (perhaps) 75K?

I love some meat to my plot. Something where the plot is as important as the burgeoning romance going on in the pages, and for me that takes time, and pages.

So many books I read the romance IS the plot, so perhaps that is why, it’s pretty difficult to spin out a will-they-won’t-they (even though we know they will) for more than 50k.  I don’t know.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many “little gems” written by people who know how to shove a quart into a pint pot beautifully–Charlie Cochrane’s novellas come immediately to mind, they have intricate plotty mysteries as well as romance–but sometimes it’s all about the romance and nothing else, and as we all know that Romance=HEA there’s nothing much else to occupy the mind.

The spur to this came to me yesterday as I was reading Dash and Dingo: Search for the Tasmanian Tiger which is over 300 pages and I am enjoying the adventure so much I realised I want more like that!
Gone With the Wind HvH
I’m as guilty as anyone else, as my own novellas outnumber my published novels.  It is true that a novella is an easier sell – or that’s been my experience, and often a publisher will approach me and ask me for a 30k piece of work, and being a gal who can’t say No, I don’t.  A novel takes a lot more commitment in time, blood sweat and tears, and I can understand the draw of getting several books out in print in one calendar year.

Is it a product of the MTV generation? ADHD? Do people prefer shorter stories so they can read and forget ’em in an hour?

“Normal size” be damned!!!  Where are the sagas?  The Epics?  The Gone With The Winds, the George RR Martins, the James Mitcheners of the gay romance world? Is anyone writing the first 500 page epic?  Would it ever get published?

Is it because it’s a new genre and we aren’t there yet?

Thoughts? Do you have a preference?

Author

Erastes is an author of gay historical fiction. Her novels cover many time periods and locations. She lives in Norfolk UK with demanding cats and never seems to have enough time to serve them.

75 comments

  • Sorry. I read this line too quickly:
    “I know that many publishers say that 100,000 is the maximum size…”
    *
    I read “maximum” as “minimum.” Something I try not to do when I’m taking cold meds. *g*

    Reply
  • JFM wrote: “Not sure about the “Intrigue” series or the “Medical” series ones. I’d bet the Intrigue are longer, like historicals, because like I speculated, more story alongside the romance.”
    *
    The Intrigues expanded to 80K+ when the decade-old push in publishing was for bigger manuscripts — that trend is now on the wane throughout mainstream publishing. Why? Because readers began to (inevitably) complain about “padding” in books.
    *
    Last time I checked, Intrigue was about 55K. This is true of the current trend of smaller, tighter, more focused books and writing. You see it particularly in the mystery genre. (Obviously certain other genres are immune to this — historical remains “fat” for a reason as do spec fiction and some other genres.)
    *
    In general the move is away from “bloated” prose and what is viewed as “inflated” book pricing (not sure where you came up with the idea that the trend is toward bigger books, Erastes? Could you share that?)
    *
    I’ve always been a fan of those sharp, tightly-written novels of the 30s, 40s, 50s — they typically came in at about 45-50K. Not a word wasted and the reader was always left wanting more (I consider that the ideal state in which to leave a reader).
    *
    That’s why I was so excited when I discovered ebooks and the fact that here in Edom the novella-length reigns supreme. Why? Because most people are still downloading PDF files and reading at their computers, and the shorter length is easier on their eyes and butts.
    *
    (It ain’t rocket science, folks.)
    *
    I’ve glanced at some of these Amazon discussions, and the fact is that most “gay” romance (AKA “m/m romance”) is published in electronic format, and shorter is better for most readers. It’s also better for most writers because — at the risk of sounding unkind — most writers in m/m romance don’t have enough plot or conflict to last 75K.
    *
    But that’s really not a criticism. Every book doesn’t have to be a novel. There’s nothing I love more (as a reader or a writer) than the idea of capturing a few days in the life of a couple of guys — days that will change their lives forever — and writing about that. I write novels, novellas, short stories based on the needs of the story I want to tell, and generally when a reviewer or reader complains that a story wasn’t long enough…I have to respectfully disagree. I know exactly how much story I’ve got. The fact that I can fool a reviewer or reader into thinking there was a lot more there is flattering (but not true).
    *
    The beautiful thing about ebook publishing is there is a variety and a flexibility here that we don’t find in mainstream publishing. Mainstream publishing still doesn’t quite know what to do with the novella. The novella is a terrific and unique literary art form (anybody remember Hemingway?) and is just now truly coming into its own.
    *
    The only sin in writing I see is when an author can’t figure out how much story (s)he has and doesn’t plan accordingly. As a reader…I don’t choose books based on length, but I judge harshly if the story doesn’t merit its alloted lifespan.

    Reply
    • “not sure where you came up with the idea that the trend is toward bigger books, Erastes? Could you share that?)”

      I never said that, Josh. I said that the trend was toward SMALLER books, and that I like ’em bigger with meat on them. Everything I pick up is 100 pages, 80 pages, 150 pages. The novel is becoming the exception to the norm.

      Reply
    • Thanks for that information about the Intrigue series Josh, very interesting.
      ~
      It is interesting the way ebooks have revived the novella. Obviously a lot of them are romances just now, since romance and erotica is so big in ebooks, but I wonder if other genres will start producing more novellas as ebooks continue to expand the marker.
      ~
      I agreee that novellas are a unique art form. I read your Collected Novellas Vol 1 recently and unlike some other novella I’ve read, they did feel right, not trimmed down novels or stretched short stories. I think you handle the form very well. While certainly I’d be interested in more about those characters, the stories themselves are complete and satisfying.

      Reply
  • I like big books as well, as long as the length is justified. Sometimes, big books just go and on with no reason and the reader gets bored. As luck would have it, I also write big things, because I simply can’t squeeze everything I have in mind in a short story. The longest I have so far is around 112k.
    It would seem, though, that recently, the most popular books are the medium sized ones, about 30k-50k, which can have a reasonable character description and plot, without boring the reader. It’s now debatable. If you have an idea in your head that requires a certain size, don’t squeeze it because it might sell better. It would only damage the end product. Oh, and ammonite, 75k is not that much, so don’t worry. My debut novel was 95k. 😀

    Reply
    • I’m the same, Scarlet – I tend to write a short story (for an anthology, or something) and 9 times out of 10 I want to write more about the characters, just to write a PWP with them is never enough. So far I’ve refrained because I can do without more projects!

      If publishers are thinking “but most readers WANT smaller books” then I think they are wrong.

      Reply
  • I tend to write books between novella and short novel length, but my co-author and I do have a pair of books releasing in February and April that are monsters. One is a re-release, Bee Among The Clover, and is a 5th century historical that clocks in at 144k. It was originally 169k lol. It’s sequel, Lotus In The Wild, is a bit shorter at 110k, but still a good double the length of the average ebook, if not more than. Both will be in print and ebook and I can’t wait to see how lovely all those pages look in trade paperback. I think it translates to something like 400 pages. 😀

    We had a very hard time finding a home for those books, in part due to the length. The majority of publishers wouldn’t even look at Bee at 144k, it was well over 30k above most pubs cut off limit. We’re very happy to have found a good home with them at Dreamspinner Press. 🙂

    Reply
  • Where are the longer books? YOU’RE WRITING THEM! Sorry, that’s no help, is it?

    Something about your title set off an earworm, and I now have AC/DC’s “I’ve Got Big Balls” playing in my head. And I only know the chorus. Argh.

    I don’t really have any preference re: length–it’s all in how well the deed is done. A story is as long as it has to be, and if I finish a book in one sitting, I may go back and re-read it.

    I do think I’d rather read one that was a little overinflated than one truncated by a publisher–Alex’s ‘Captain’s Surrender’ comes to mind–but I’ve also run across tomes where a writer felt the need to put Every Single Bit of research into the book, and that’s deadly.

    Ransom was 90K and I think it was the longest thing LBR ever did–they reduced the word count to 70 max for later books, I think for cost-effectiveness and uniform size, but there wasn’t as much info to be introduced, so for me that worked well enough. If it’s any consolation, Home is the Sailor should be longer. If I can ever get the damned thing finished.

    Reply
    • 🙁 No. Not helpful at all!! 🙂 I can’t read my own stuff, it goes from the author’s copy package onto the shelf and there it stays. I want someone else to satisfy my longing for a 800 page epic. “The Steel Remains” does this, with 352 hardback pages, but that’s fantasy.

      Quite agree that a book is as long as it needs to be, I don’t consider length in advance when I’m writing something (unless it’s something for a specific submission call) for novels, they just come out how they are. I also agree with you about Captain’s Surrender, I didn’t know that the publisher had cut it down when I read and reviewed it and I remember being a little baffled at the way the central section was almost glossed over.

      But yes, we don’t want anyone to get Dan Brown-itis (except for the fame and fortune part)

      Reply
  • I also like a big, meaty book I can get my teeth into. I like my characters well-developed with deep plots and several subplots, and something going on besides will they or won’t they.
    The draft of the m/m novel I’m writing now is 75,000 words. I hope length alone won’t keep it from being published.

    Reply
  • Hi – I hope it’s okay to pop in, since I haven’t posted here before (I’ve lurked for quite some time though;) ).

    You certainly bring up a very interesting topic. I haven’t really read that many m/m books — most notably, your Standish and Lee Rowan’s Ransom, both of which were wonderful:) — but one “magnum opus” of the genre that comes to mind is Ai No Kusabi by Rieko Yoshihara, originally published in 1986/87. Unfortunately, it is not very well-known because it was not officially translated into English (there is a fan translation online, though), plus it came out more than 20 years ago when the genre was less popular than it is today (before slash fanfiction took over the Internet, I suppose ;-).

    AnK is perhaps best known thanks to the 1992 anime of the same name. The anime itself, while definitely making the story immensely popular, can also act as a sort of double curse. Some of the more “serious” readers would perhaps be sqicked by the anime factor and would not be willing to give the novel a chance. (I’m not an anime fan myself, but I still found the written work breath-taking). A lot of the anime fans, on the other hand, do not even know it was based on an actual BOOK. They assume it was originally some manga – but it was NOT.

    The novel itself is currently being re-written by Yoshihara, re-edited and translated for the English-language audience. It was also split into separate smaller volumes because it was so long. There are already 6 volumes out – each about 170-180 pages long – with a few more to come out. I would definitely call the combined output a BIG book. I have some issues with the novel – the author’s style, in particular – but I would highly recommend it because of the excellent story and character development. It’s a futuristic dystopia revolving around an unrequited Romeo-and-Juliet-type love story – only both protagonists are male.:) I know this sounds weird, but I find it very hard to pigeonhole its exact genre. I suppose “sci-fi” would be just as accurate, only it’s much more than that. It’s not an easy read, though, and may even repel some people, because it gets quite graphic in terms of both sex and violence, so be warned.

    But anyway. I totally agree with you that a book’s size matters. Sometimes I’m just in the mood to pick up a heavy volume – Steinbeck’s East of Eden – for example – is one of my top favourites of all time – I’m always re-reading it – rather than a shorter novel I could devour in a matter of hours. On the other hand, one of the BIGGEST books I’ve ever read – both in the homoerotic genre, and in literature as a whole – is Death in Venice by Thomas Mann – which is only 100 pages or so. A true classic. So often great things DO come in small packages.

    Anyway. Sorry for the long post, and please excuse any spelling/grammar errors – I’m not a native speaker. Cheers!:)

    Reply
    • Hi Saskia,
      you made me very curious about the book you described and I searched after it. It was released only in print, or is that I haven’t enough patience to search more? I found the book on Amazon, but sincerely, I prefer e-books because I could have them in matter of minutes and not wait about a month to read them. And I already have too much books at home and not enough space, sadly.

      Reply
      • Nah, unfortunately it was not released as e-book. I find e-books much easier to read (since I’m on my computer all day long and can read while, say, working or just goofing around). I think the only version of the book is the paperback edition, and it is somewhat difficult to find as well. The first volume, for example, was out of stock last time I checked on Amazon UK…
        I think there are fan scanlations of the pages, though, but only of the first three volumes, as far as I know…

        Reply
    • Thanks, Saskia, that book sounds fabulous! And I quite agree with Death in Venice too. I feel the same way about some slim volumes – it IS possible to write a big book in a 100 pages, but sadly, not many people can manage it. (me included)

      Reply
      • Hehe, I’m glad you liked my short description of AnK 🙂 I’ve meant to write a review on the book for some time, maybe I’ll get down to it tonight. I can send you a link on LJ to check it out when I’m done, if you’re interested. 🙂

        Reply

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