Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What Is a Full-Length Book?

As a Smashwords author, I log into that site several times a day. I look at my own statistics, of course, but I also glance at the latest books to be uploaded. At first, I was put off by many authors uploading stories of 1,000 words or so and calling them books. Or novels of 20,000 words that are short not only on words, but on plot and characterizations. But over the last month or so, I've noticed that the percentage of full-length books is increasing. I'm sure there are many reasons for this, but I can think of two right away. First, it takes an author (or a paid assistant) longer to format 100,000 words than it does to format 1,000. Second, many authors may be tired of being constantly rejected by ever-more-persnickety agents.

Here's some figures. The Old Man and the Sea is about 26,000 words. In my opinion, that is right on the borderline between a short novella and a long short story. The Great Gatsby, on the other hand, at 47,000 words is most definitely a novel. In fact, I had never realized it was so short--not even half the size of Huckleberry Finn, which has about 111,000 words. Treasure Island comes in at 68,000 words and Tom  Sawyer has 78,000. Pride and Prejudice has 121.000 words, while Crime and Punishment has a whopping 208,000.

So let's call a full-length novel anything over 65,000 words. Go to the Smashwords Home page and check out the latest 10 books uploaded. It is rare if you don't find at least one book 65,000-100,000 or more words. What that tells me is that there are a lot of authors out there who have written stuff that has never been picked up by the regular book publishing industry. A more careful scrutiny tells me that many of these novels are parts of trilogies or other multi-volume series. I have purchased and downloaded several of these e-books and have enjoyed them as much as most of the stuff I can get off the racks. And after all, I can almost always read a sample of an e-book--usuually 20% or more. That's enough to let me know if it is something I am interested in.

And here's an interesting question. In asking how long a book is, most of us will turn to the back of a paperback and look at the last page number. That doesn't work for e-books because the page numbers are different for every e-book viewing device. In fact, they are different depending on whether you are reading portrait or landscape--which I do alternately on my iPad.

It is no secret--at least among those who know me--that I have written down every book I have read since I was 17. These are all books I have read from cover to cover, not just passages. I write down the title, the author, and the number of pages. At the end of the year I total up the books (usually at least 52--one for each week) and the number of pages. But what am I to do now when I read an e-book that has never been in an actual printed version?

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