Welcome back to The Author’s Alphabet. You can read earlier posts here. Each week, I’ll be posting another letter of the alphabet, selecting a word that starts with that letter, and sharing my view of what that word means to me, as an author. Then, the fun begins — you get to comment, question, poke, prod, and otherwise get involved with the discussion.
B is for book.
Once upon a time, the vast majority of books were published in two formats: Hardcover and Paperback. Sure, there were subsets — hardcovers could be coffee table books, or children’s picture books, or babies’ board books, or regular ol’ literature sandwiched between rigid, cloth-covered boards. And paperbacks could be mass market (the convenient pocket-size books that most of us thought of as paperbacks) or trade paper (exotic beasts, printed with fine covers and even finer paper, primarily serving up Literature.)
Welcome to the modern age.
Hardcovers continue to exist (although not many people buy them any more.) Paperback is still around (although, sales are dropping). But a multitude of new formats have appeared to fill the gap — .mobi (for reading on a Kindle device or app), .epub (for reading on a Nook and on most other devices or apps), .pdf (for people who like to torture themselves while reading), .html (for people wanting to read online, through a web browser).
And then there’s the expanding notion of a “book”. Almost every day, I hear someone say that they “read” a “book” through Audible. I have to admit, those words still jangle for me — I think of reading as being the act of passing one’s eyes over text. Listening to that text is something else entirely. (I’ve made this argument many times. I continue to be surprised by how many people disagree with me. Vehemently.) In any case, toss recorded books into the format mix.
For most of my life, I treated “book” — at least when I’m discussing fiction — as synonymous with “novel”. For the books I’ve written, that’s meant stories of approximately 100,000 words. Until I got a letter from my publisher, asking me to keep the next book at 80,000 words, so that it could be printed economically in a world where paper prices were soaring. And until I started writing category romance, where 60,000 words was considered the gold standard. Until the standard shifted to 65,000 for some imprints. And 70,000 for others.
Electronic publication is changing the way people think about book length. When we stared at potential purchases on bookstore shelves, we were reluctant to spend $X for a skinny little novella, when we could have purchased a full-length novel for the same bucks. Sometimes, we held off on buying the extra-long tome as well, because we knew we couldn’t easily carry it on the subway, or to the beach, or in line at the grocery store. Electronic readers blur those distinctions — short and long reads aren’t as glaringly obvious. The prevalence of short fiction in some hot electronic genres (e.g., erotica) has trained some readers to accept — even to expect — shorter works.
Of course, there are variations of “book” that I haven’t even touched on — graphic novels, and anime, and books composed entirely of tweets or Facebook posts. Next year’s definition of book is likely to be more expansive than today’s. And so on, and so on.
These changing definitions have a real impact on my life as an author. Whenever possible, I work hard to harness the features of unique formats. If you buy one of my books in .epub format through the Barnes & Noble website, you’ll find links to other books written by me — in the same format, available through the same vendor. Likewise, I “personalize” my books for Amazon, Book View Cafe, iTunes, and Kobo. I’d be a fool to ignore my readers’ preferred formats.
Readers’ increased interest in shorter works opens up possibilities for me. At the moment, I am seriously considering publishing nine inter-related novels next year (a romance mini-series, with the first book launching in April, and the last coming out in December.) Those novels will be relatively short — around 50,000 words each. I’ll be pushing myself substantially to write 450,000 professional words in a year. I could never consider meeting my old writing lengths — 900,000 words — in a single year.
My earliest novels (The Glasswrights Series and Season of Sacrifice) are already available from Audible. At this point, I haven’t seen graphic versions of any of my work. But those points might change in the not-too-distant future.
B is for book. And authors write books. But our definition of book is changing, day by day, week by week, year by year.
Are you reading or writing in different ways than you were five years ago? Ten years? Twenty?