Less Story, Easier to Read ???

December 17th, 2005 · 4 Comments
by SusanGable

More changes in the air at Harlequin. Yes, I know, you’re stunned to hear that. I know, it wasn’t very long ago that Booksquare posted about the demise of the Signature series, but the latest news is that many of the longer lines (referred to in the romance community as the Long Contemporaries – lines such as Superromance, Silhouette Special Edition, Silhouette Intimate Moments…) are being shortened, in general by 10K words.

For example, the Superromance line, which I’ve been writing for, used to have guidelines of 80-85K. That gave the writer room to create a more complex story, with more subplots and secondary characters. The line will now be 70-75K.

Harlequin says this is in response to the readers’ complaints that the font is too small and the margins too small, making the books too hard to read. So their solution is not to add pages to the printed books to allow for bigger fonts & margins (which we know would cost more money) but instead to make the stories shorter so they can keep the same number of pages but give the readers bigger fonts and margins.

I’m curious to know what happened with the Larger Print books “experiment.” My July Superromance was available in Larger Print – 80 pages longer, only .25 higher cover price, and the font was wonderful on the eyes.

But the bookstores didn’t know these books were available. I had to let my local Waldens know that they could order my book in this Larger Print edition for their readers who preferred the Large Print. Was the reader response so fantastic to these editions that they decided to figure out a way to make ALL their books like that? Without raising the cost to produce or sell them?

So, here are my questions to the Booksquare readers. There’s been debate among H/S authors as to whether or not the readers will notice that they’re getting “less story” in the lines. Debate about whether or not it’s possible to write as complex a story at 70-75K as it is at 80-85K. Some say it’s all up the writers, and that we could still write just as strong & complex a story at the shorter length as the longer. What do you think?

Will the readers be okay with giving up “more story” for ease of reading? Will they even notice they’re getting “less story?” (Remember, the printed books will still have about the same number of pages, so they won’t appear to be shorter.) Have attention spans gotten shorter? (In response to that argument, I toss out Harry Potter – and those are supposed to be children’s books!)

Is this just following along the trends started by other product lines, like the ice cream that’s no longer quite a half gallon, or the bar of soap that’s just an ounce or so smaller, but still the same price?

If you’re a writer targeting one of the Harlequin lines, better get to their website and check out the new word counts.

File Under: Publishers and Editors · Square Pegs

4 responses so far ↓

  • riemannia // Dec 17, 2005 at 1:43 pm

    I’m also hearing–perhaps incorrectly–that the new word counts are computer word counts. If that’s the case, the difference isn’t so big, I don’t think.

  • SusanGable // Dec 17, 2005 at 7:41 pm

    No, I don’t think that’s the case. I think there’s a serious case of confusion going on. Because they fully INTEND to make them shorter – or else, how could they make the fonts bigger and the margins bigger? If we just all switch over to using computer count, and that doesn’t make much impact, what’s the point?

    The table that was sent to the authors included a ms page count (based on the 250 wpp theory/method of counting) and those page counts were decidedly shorter — corresponding exactly with the drop in word counts. (i.e. my manuscripts usually run about 340 ms pages – 85K. The new table says my ms should come in at 280-300 ms pages, which is the 70-75k.)

  • Angelle Trieste // Dec 17, 2005 at 9:59 pm

    I got some numbers from a Silhouette writer and posted it at http://www.angelletrieste.com/wordpress/?p=701. I think people will notice because in order to have smaller word count, the stories have to have fewer subplots, characters, etc. Also when everything stays the same except the font size, margin, it’s not that difficult for the readers to figure out that perhaps the story’s getting shorter.

  • riemannia // Dec 18, 2005 at 9:52 am

    Ah. Yes, those are substantial cuts.