Writing 101: The Evolution of Book Length

Are books getting shorter? More and more, I'm finding that the books on my reader are pretty quick reads. When I recently looked at 10 books from the top 15 Amazon bestsellers in fiction, half of them were less than 300 pages. The other 5 contained fewer than 500 pages. Not one that I saw was a thick, epic novel, like a Little Women or Clan of the Cave Bear. Should you be aiming to write shorter books, too? 

Pages and Pages
Have you ever gotten a good look at Gone With the Wind? The printed book can practically be used as a deadly weapon -- it's that heavy. Epic-length novels are something that people once took for granted. Big, thick heavy books were very much the fashion when Jane Austen was weaving her tales. But these days, big books are becoming harder to find...not just on the bestseller lists, but all over the book market. 

I could throw a lot of science at you, but suffice it to say that multiple studies indicate that indeed books are getting shorter -- and it's our fault. People move quickly these days. You surf the Internet with great speed, skip through the commercials with a flick of the wrist, watch TV on the go and drive through all the time. People flitter around on Twitter, visit all sorts of links on Facebook and do whatever they like on a whim. Our attention spans are getting shorter because we need a lot of stimuli in order to stay interested in any particular thing. 

And in that mindset, it's hard to throw an epic novel into the mix. Readers can download books online and read them on the go, and there are more books available today than any day before so why would they want to spend lots of time on just one book? The answer is they don't. Books have been getting shorter for a while now, and only rarely do longer books break into the bestselling charts. Harry Potter, obviously, but how many other epic books have you read (and loved) lately?

The median length of books in 2012 was 64,000 words. That's about 240 printed pages. Book length is evolving, and short is in. Many indie authors are using the trend to their favor. They're churning out short novels quickly, keeping their readers engaged, and making a good living at it. 

When the book industry evolves, indie authors evolve with it. Like all the greatest species, this is how we survive. So edit aggressively, and keep your books action-packed and to-the-point. It's a new era.

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