Books have gradually increased in size and length by over 25% in the last 15 years. Major publishers are spending more money than ever before securing lucrative book contracts and bidding on international rights. They have a tendency to buy longer books – as a “value” thing, an attempt to justify the price tags on new hardcover books to readers. People are more likely to drop $25 on a 700 page book than a 200-page one.
A study conducted by interactive publisher Flipsnack looked at 2,500 books that appeared on the New York Times bestseller list and it has revealed that the average length of a book has increased from 320 pages in 1999 to 400 pages in 2014.
The Man Booker prize has been one of the most respected literary award since the 1970 and many of the recent books that have won the award are indicative of the growing trend in page length. The first five years of Booker-winning novels average out at around 300 pages and in the last six years they have increased in size to over 520 pages. This year’s winner was Marlon James’s 700-page A Brief History of Seven Killings.
Some books by their very nature are not very long, but publishers are dipping into their bag of tricks in order for them to appear larger than they really are. Some examples include Harry Potter and EL James’s Fifty Shades trilogy. Publishers are making the books larger by altering the spacing on the page, increasing the leading or using a slightly larger font.
Authors grow less willing to accept edits as their reputation grows and there is no doubt editors are doing less editing than they did 20 years ago. Publishers are OK with this – the more pages the higher the retail price. But it makes for some truly verbose and wandering volumes. If only some of these bestselling authors would recognize that a top notch edit almost always makes a much better book.
One example of this is Donna Tart’s The Secret History that came out in 1992 and was a whopping 559 pages – but it moves along at a pretty good clip. Her book The Goldfinch was published in 2013, with fewer main characters and less concrete plot, and it comes in at 773 pages. And man, is it slow, especially in the middle. It could have easily lost 150 pages without sacrificing anything.
In the end, the New York Times Bestseller list is well respected and accurately depicts what publishers are marketing to bookstores. Books have increased in length, there is no denying it.