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Book length – does it matter?

This year’s Man Booker winner, The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, is the longest novel to win the prize, at 832 pages. Robert Macfarlane, the Chair of the judges, doesn’t reckon its length will put off readers, saying, “length never poses a problem if it’s a great novel”. And with e-readers, certainly you don’t need to worry about the arm work-out! But if you’re unsure whether to try a book, does the length have an impact on your purchasing decision? And if so, what does this mean for ‘unknown’ authors?

Certainly, I take Robert Macfarlane’s point that once you’re enjoying a novel, you’re not going to worry about its length – in fact, often the opposite is the case, and you’re disappointed when the book ends, wishing it was longer. But as an editor my view would be the book shouldn’t be longer than it needs to be, and many books could benefit from a tighter edit. Adding in words for the sake of it, padding it out unnecessarily, is never a good thing.

The other factor self published/independent authors need to take into account is that if you’re going down the print on demand route, rather than the e-book option, each additional page adds to the print costs and can, in theory, reduce your royalties.

Having said that, I once had a manuscript submitted that was only 2000 words and when I pointed out that this translated to only seven pages when typeset the author was surprised it wasn’t long enough for a book!

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