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Lord of the Reams: How a Paper Shortage Created Modern Fantasy

Coiler

Connoisseur of the Miscellaneous
Published by SLP
Location
Nu Yawk
Pronouns
He/Him
On the exact opposite end in terms of both quality and influence, Tom Kratman's A Desert Called Peace started as one book but was split into two simply because his tendency to er, "sprawl", meant it was too big to print as a mass market paperback.
 

Charles EP M.

Well-known member
Published by SLP
the tiresome and entirely accidental trope of the ‘obligatory fantasy trilogy’ which so many writers now see as their default book format, regardless of how much or how little story they have to fill it
Tell us how you really feel!
 

Tabac Iberez

Impetious
Published by SLP
Sorry, you've lost me there.
It's Kratman, so the less you really know the better. He's probably the biggest concern I have possibly publishing with Baen, but most of the other SciFi/Fantasy outlets are much more opaque and need agents I'm still negotiating with.
 

David Flin

Voila, a viola.
It's Kratman, so the less you really know the better. He's probably the biggest concern I have possibly publishing with Baen, but most of the other SciFi/Fantasy outlets are much more opaque and need agents I'm still negotiating with.
I was making fun of myself. I have a tendency to tell stories that grow in the telling.

I find the safest person to make fun of is myself; no-one gets upset that way. I also tend to be suspicious of people who can't make fun of themselves.

I've also found that the best way to destroy a joke is to explain it.
 

Kato

tired
Patreon supporter
Published by SLP
Location
Birmingham
Pronouns
she/her
I'll have to ask @Kato if 100K is over-long for a vignette for the monthly challenge.
Depends upon whether your native tongue is Old Entish.

(This doesn't really work on reflection, because the reason it takes a long time to say anything in Entish is down to very slow speech patterns, not high word counts).

The perceived tendency for fantasy to go for doorstopper volumes, and trilogy+ series is an interesting one. I remember back in school before the Jackson film series, "The Lord of the Rings" was seen as one of those intimidatingly thick books that nobody actually read cover to cover - much like "War and Peace" has remained in popular imagination. Then I remember the bloating of the Harry Potter books from 4 onwards, and it definitely seemed to become more of a thing to expect thick volumes, especially in fantasy or young adult/fantasy crossover series' with the mid noughties boom in that genre.

I'll confess I've always felt a slight envy for the authors who settle on a long running series of title after title following the same arc or character. The point about nominally stand alone new works containing sequel- and trilogy-hooks is well observed. I wonder how much of that is down to cynical marketing, and how much is down to authors having the very human tendency to want to always know what happens next for their characters?
 

Arthur_Phuxache

Total Inabilty To Supply Usual Performance
Paper shortages as rejection excuse by publishers long into the 1970s - Iain Banks' first novel, (the still-unpublished and approx 400,000 words) "The Tashkent Rambler" was rejected due to an alleged paper shortage in the circa 1974.

Charlie Stross has an interesting take on the length of books as part of his 'Common Misconceptions About Publishing' series on his blog.
 

David Flin

Voila, a viola.
I'll confess I've always felt a slight envy for the authors who settle on a long running series of title after title following the same arc or character. The point about nominally stand alone new works containing sequel- and trilogy-hooks is well observed. I wonder how much of that is down to cynical marketing, and how much is down to authors having the very human tendency to want to always know what happens next for their characters?
As one who, in a small way, falls squarely into this category, I can't answer for the generality (and I suspect that there are as many answers as there are authors like this), but - speaking for myself alone - it's those secondary characters that do it every time. If a secondary character has any depth, there's more to find out about them. It's possible to restrict the story in question to a focus on the main character, which keeps the story down to manageable proportions, but I, as an author, am always left unsatisfied with having left these interesting characters unexplored. That calls out sequel. Or the secondary characters start becoming more significant in the tale, and one ends up with the traditional 4-book trilogy.

Harry Potter seems a good example of this. In the first books, there is Harry, plus Hermione and Ron, as the focus of attention, a handful of sort-of characters filling in a stereotype role (Dumbledore the Wise Mentor who is basically nothing more than the Wise Mentor for the first three books), and a bunch of names. As the series goes on, these secondary characters (for good or ill) start to become more significant, and we learn more about Neville and the Weasley twins and so on, and the word count rises.

Take Six East End Boys. The tale is complete in and of itself. And yet ... It wasn't that there was unfinished business, but there was the question of "What next?" That question was looked into in Tales From Section D (due out real soon now), which led to Tales From Section D (2) (in redraft). Tales (2) introduced some characters who were theoretically throwaways who relentlessly bullied me until I wrote Apostles of Section D (in redraft), and that then spun off Reports from Independent London (on hold while another project consumes me). Without interesting (well, I find them interesting) characters, a plot can be told, with much less chance of digression. Interesting secondary characters: they'll come up to the author and demand their day (or week) in the sun. This author can say that it's very much the tendency to want to know more about the characters.
 

OwenM

The patronising flippancy of youth
Location
Colwyn Bay/Manchester
Pronouns
He/him
Paper shortages as rejection excuse by publishers long into the 1970s - Iain Banks' first novel, (the still-unpublished and approx 400,000 words) "The Tashkent Rambler" was rejected due to an alleged paper shortage in the circa 1974.

Charlie Stross has an interesting take on the length of books as part of his 'Common Misconceptions About Publishing' series on his blog.
I remember the reason the Belgariad is five books is because three would have been too big for the page limit at the time (the wordcount was I believe pretty much the same in this case).
 

OwenM

The patronising flippancy of youth
Location
Colwyn Bay/Manchester
Pronouns
He/him
Also, I do wonder if the trilogy is a fairly natural way to plan what is intended as a multi-volume saga - a duology feels a bit restrictive if you're going to have sequels at all, and you're generally going to plan too many (Harry Potter being the obvious exception on that score). Aren't three acts pretty common for a play, as well?
Then again, ISTR tetralogies were more common in Ancient Greece, and that probably fits into the same sort of range (five probably being the upper end), so trilogies are still probably not foreordained.
 

Arthur_Phuxache

Total Inabilty To Supply Usual Performance
I remember the reason the Belgariad is five books is because three would have been too big for the page limit at the time (the wordcount was I believe pretty much the same in this case).
Yeah, over 424 pages and publishers have to have to shrink the typeface (no easy job in the olden days), or subcontract the stitching on the hardback, or publish it solely as softback, which means it won't get reviewed.

(One of the few retail jobs I wasn't sacked from was a bookshop. Does it show?)
 

Md139115

God is Law and Law is God.
I suspect that the virtual nature of media is going to blast all notions of how long a book/epic/trilogy/series should be completely out of the water. When a gigabyte of hard drive space translates to about 180 million words (assuming 8 bits per character, six characters per word on average, 1 GB = 178.9 million), and tablets and some e-readers and tablets are now in the 32 and even 64 GB range, we’ll soon reach the point where an author can have a ten million word book published in e-book format.

Really the only constraint in the length of a book at this point is how long the author will live to work on it!
 

David Flin

Voila, a viola.
I suspect that the virtual nature of media is going to blast all notions of how long a book/epic/trilogy/series should be completely out of the water. When a gigabyte of hard drive space translates to about 180 million words (assuming 8 bits per character, six characters per word on average, 1 GB = 178.9 million), and tablets and some e-readers and tablets are now in the 32 and even 64 GB range, we’ll soon reach the point where an author can have a ten million word book published in e-book format.

Really the only constraint in the length of a book at this point is how long the author will live to work on it!
This is a Bad Thing. I'm talking about in relation to the quality of the story.

The precise perfect length of a story will depend on the individual situation, but when authors have a word count to worry about, they check to make sure that the words they do use have a purpose and add to the story. Without that limitation, there are authors who will just ramble on digressions, lose track of what the story is, and end up with a meandering, meaningless wodge of prose that is of interest to no-one except (possibly) the author.

I, of all people, should know.
 

Tabac Iberez

Impetious
Published by SLP
we’ll soon reach the point where an author can have a ten million word book published in e-book format.
That exists as a project and is terrifying on every level imaginable. If you value your sanity, just go in, read the header with the word count, and leave. Don't stop moving, don't start reading, and whatever you do don't blame me for knowing this exists.

https://m.fanfiction.net/s/10333897/1/Ambience-A-Fleet-Symphony

Four point five million words, the longest single piece of fiction in the English Language. All of it terrible, and exactly the sort of garbage the can ruin a man.
 

Md139115

God is Law and Law is God.
This is a Bad Thing. I'm talking about in relation to the quality of the story.

The precise perfect length of a story will depend on the individual situation, but when authors have a word count to worry about, they check to make sure that the words they do use have a purpose and add to the story. Without that limitation, there are authors who will just ramble on digressions, lose track of what the story is, and end up with a meandering, meaningless wodge of prose that is of interest to no-one except (possibly) the author.

I, of all people, should know.
That exists as a project and is terrifying on every level imaginable. If you value your sanity, just go in, read the header with the word count, and leave. Don't stop moving, don't start reading, and whatever you do don't blame me for knowing this exists.

https://m.fanfiction.net/s/10333897/1/Ambience-A-Fleet-Symphony

Four point five million words, the longest single piece of fiction in the English Language. All of it terrible, and exactly the sort of garbage the can ruin a man.
Well, of course it’s going to be awful, but we are all going to live to see it... well, provided no one kills themselves first rather than be in the same world as it.
 
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