Bloated Books – It's Time for a Diet!

Lynn and Cindy: This month Booklist was featuring mysteries so we think it’s time to investigate a real-life mystery that has been puzzling and frustrating us! Where did all these bloated 500+ page books for teens come from? YA novels used to be trim, slim and just big enough to fit nicely in a purse or even a back pocket. Now, just like the population, books have blown up in girth turning into tomes big enough to replace hand weights for Charles Atlas. What happened? Is it Harry’s fault? Are authors being paid by the word? Are editors being evaluated by product weight?

STOP! Enough already! More is not necessarily better and even fantasy can come in under 300 pages! Yes, there ARE teens who think every book needs to be 50 pages longer (yes, Liz Seeber, we’re talking about YOU), but a lot more of them are scared away by books so enormous it takes a fork lift to get them to the circ desk.

And then there are the poor reviewers whose eyes are crossing and whose arms are growing bulging biceps just from holding these hefty horrors. Listen to Michelle Obama and listen to our plea – it’s time bloated books were put on a serious diet! We want to hear from you! Do you agree with us, or do you think that our deadlines are just making us crabby? Are you instead in the camp of “if 250 pages is good, 500+ is great?” We need to know.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

14 Comments on "Bloated Books – It's Time for a Diet!"

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  1. Yes, I vote for shorter books. I am one of those poor reviewers and I am sick of throwing my back out trying to ferry those gigantic tomes back and forth to work. Rarely is it the case where the writing is gorgeous enough to warrant a ginormous page count. I can always think of exceptions (Before I Fall, Monsters of Men, The Monstrumologist–which is AWESOME!!) but usually I’m tired of the verbosity long before the last page. Good writing is rewriting, and I just can’t believe that trimming in the editing stage wouldn’t produce a tighter finished product. I’ve read several books lately that would have been much better had they lost about 100 pages.

  2. andykaiser@gmail.com' Andy Kaiser says:

    THANK YOU for writing this.

    This is something I’ve watched with confusion – it seems that with the lead of the Harry Potters and Twilights and others, massively bigger is becoming the standard.

    It perplexes me why this is so. From everyone’s point of view in the reading chain: author, publisher, bookstore, reader – I’d think that overall, smaller is better. But instead we see book lengths regularly hitting “epic fantasy” size.

    If the Hardy Boys weighed 300+ pages each, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be the reader I am today, and boy would those books be boring. Big books have their place, but they should be the exception in children’s lit, not the standard.

    Andy

  3. lallen@lcps.k12.nm.us' Laura Allen says:

    YES, YES, YES. A hundred times, YES!
    With so many reluctant readers and distractions (think TV, video games, internet) why are publishers and authors moving in this counter intuitive direction? It drives me crazy and makes my heart heavy to watch a kid pick up a book, show real interest, then shy away because of its heft. Pendragon…need I say more.
    Is this a new brand of megalomania???

    (As a positive aside, I really appreciate what Orca Publishing is doing for reluctant readers. Perhaps you all can blog about a new Orca book or two)

    P.S. I love your blog!

  4. angela.craft@gmail.com' Angela says:

    I’ve had this happen several times recently where I choose what book to read next based on how long it is. When I’m carting a book (or two if I’ve almost finished one!) back and forth from work and goodness knows where else, I’m opting for the ones that cause the least shoulder strain!

    I understand why fantasy and SF authors would want huge books, because they’ve created wonderful worlds that they want to play in for as long as possible, but certainly not every one of them needs to aspire to Harry Potter lengths (and am I the only one that thinks several of the later HP books could have been pared down A LOT?)

  5. I’m posting this for an author who wishes to be anonymous:

    With my 2nd novel, due out in Oct, my editor pushed me to make it longer, and not just for the sake of the particular story I was telling. I can’t remember her exact words, but she said something about how we have lots of room to play around with and it COULD be a lot longer (admittedly, it is fantasy). I ended up with 70K words, which satisfied her, but with the novel I’m working on now, I feel sort of compelled to make it at least 70K words. I don’t know if other authors are feeling that same push from editors or not. I recently read that LOOKING FOR ALASKA was 60K words—it seems like a perfect length to me.

  6. My guess is we readers send mixed messages on this topic. I often see reviews (blogs, kids, professional, what have you) that say something along the lines of “I didn’t want it to end.” So writers, understandably, think that is true of their own books; or, at the very least, they want to write a book for which readers say that.

    While I too thought some of the middle Harry Potter books might have been tightened up others wanted to spend as much time in that world as they could and so totally disagreed with me. I’m guessing writers and publishers are hoping for this sort of reaction and so the big book is king (or queen).

  7. jharper@hfhighschool.org' Jane Harper and Kathy Tisoncik says:

    This post could not have come at a better time. We are high school librarians and have been booktalking all spring. It has been a little discouraging (to us and our students) to have so many books which, very honestly, would be just as good or better if they were at least 20 percent (or more) shorter. This is particularly true of books that have content we know would appeal to our struggling or reluctant readers. Unfortunately, you just can’t picture yourself handing them a “doorstopper.” The long books seemed like a trend to us, so seeing this post makes us feel as if we are not alone! In response, we created a new booklist for our students. We call it “100 Under 200″…100 books under 200 pages long. We decided not to include the shorter books everyone already knows about (the Blufords, Orca Soundings, etc.). Instead, this list focuses more on a selection of shorter books in our collection that students and teachers may not know about. If you’d like to see it, it is posted to our school Web site at http://www.hfhighschool.org/hfmain/imc/documents/shortbooks.pdf

  8. shighley@gmail.com' Susie Highley says:

    I also think that some students liked the notoriety of carrying around a large book, even if they didn’t read it. They feel like they are “keeping up” with the others. I say, bring on the editors so that more kids read more books!

  9. When Rick Riordan’s Red Pyramid showed up at my library a couple weeks ago, I saw that 500-page length and my face fell. I had SO been looking forward to handing it to all those Percy Jackson fans, but 500 pages? That’s quite a commitment for 3rd graders.

    I don’t mind just handing a 300-page book over to a kid without having read it first… but I won’t do that with a 500-pager unless I can GUARANTEE it is GREAT.

    So I read it, and it’s good, but not as funny as Percy, so I am a little worried Rick Riordan has asked too much of his army of fans.

    At BEA this week, I saw fewer of the super-long YA and middle grade books, and I was very relieved!

    :paula

  10. lpblog@gmail.com' Lazygal says:

    I’m in the “it depends on the book” camp – some books need more space, but most seem bloated. It’s as thought the author (or editor, apparently) decided that a tight story isn’t good enough, the readers want MORE. More action, more romance, more exposition, more everything. Well, not totally true.

    All too often I feel as though the old adage “half as long, twice as nice” would apply to the books I’m reading. This is particularly true of series books, where my sense is that with some serious editorial shears, the 400+ page book could be a nice, manageable 200-300 page book but was expanded because, well, it’s a series. Too many trilogies or sequels could be edited into one volume and it’d be a great book.

    As for the “I didn’t want it to end” comment, yes, we do think that about books we love. It doesn’t mean we want a weaker More, however. What’s wrong with rereading (I know, it doesn’t sell books)? And the longer the book, the more likely we’ll think “I want it to end already”.

  11. librarygeek50@gmail.com' Liz says:

    As a parent of boys, 9 and 16, it has been a source of frustration, with my younger one, to see the large books. We deal with some of the larger tomes by reading them together and dealt with a lot of Harry Potter this way. We finally reached “Deathly Hallows” and he seems to have given up in favour of x-box and other pursuits. Fortunately we found a new shorter series by Cressida Cowell of “How to Train Your Dragon” fame. We do have a rule in our house though: read the book before you’re allowed to see the movie. This helped us to deal with some of the more mature themes in Harry Potter. If they were too young to continue with the book, the video was purchased instead and put in storage until they were ready.

  12. edwarc@pon.net' Carol Edwards says:

    I’m coming to this late, due to a fun extended weekend, but I second many of the comments above– particularly Monica’s. Each book needs to be the right size for that story and judicious and crackerjack editing is as important now as ever. Sometimes it seems to me that a newly idolized author will be regarded as untouchable by the editor, and that the work thereafter suffers. My call is for strong capable editors who can sense the shape the story needs and ask for more when it merits it, and less when it’s excessive.

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