Conferences, Publishing, and MUCH shorter novels

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So picture this.  Two thousand conference goers, editor and agent get togethers, two house guests, parties, booksignings, workshops, business meetings, a particularly noisy hotel and writers I hadn’t seen in years.  Add this up and you get . . . exhaustion!

I just returned from the Romance Writers of America conference in Washington DC, and now that it’s over and my last guest is on her flight home, I’m assessing what I brought home with me, besides a handful of novels I received in my bag at registration. 

First of all, a strong desire for a good night’s sleep.  Second, pleasure at seeing friends I love.  Third, some interesting state of the market “gossip.”  Fourth, relief that editors are still buying books and readers are still reading them.  I learned there’s an ever widening spectrum of “romantic” novels being published, from erotica to inspirational, with a strong dose of paranormal.  Vampires are IN, but you knew that, right?  Mr. Darcy is still, all these centuries later, everybody’s hero. 

Just a side note?  As usual I discovered that I am not setting trends.  You will not find vampires or Mr. Darcy, in my non-erotic, non-inspirational (at least in the strictest sense) novels. Let me know if this bothers you, okay?  But don’t expect it to change.

One trend that seems clear?  Books are going to be shorter.  Not only are attention spans narrower, paper shortages and shelf space dictate this.  For instance an imprint where I cut my writing teeth, has dropped 25,000 words from its novels. 

A good friend and I sat over tabouleh and hummus at lunch and tried to figure out how anyone could write the “same” kind of story we told in 25,000 additional words.  My suggestion?  A website with lists of basic information to go along with each book.  For instance, when you, the reader, gets to the point where you need a description of the character, we, the authors, simply insert “Character D” in our text, then you go online and look up Character D at your leisure, so you can picture him or her and learn what you need most to know.  We could even provide photographs, horoscopes, tributes from his/her mother and former romantic partners.  The same idea would work beautifully for plot problems.  Character D discovers she must overcome Problem K in order to work her way toward an important goal (Goal Q.)

Of course I’m only teasing.  But only just.  Because reading online and paperless (ebooks) are no longer ideas for the future.  I have a Sony eReader and use it frequently.  And, of course, without paper and shelf space to worry about, books can be as long as they need to be, if you, the reader, is willing to plow through them.

When did I realize that these changes were well and truly here, and the conference I’d attended for more than a decade would never be the same again?  I knew for certain when this year, instead of a two inch thick packet of workshop handouts–the norm at previous conferences–we received a flash drive.  The flash drive is the size of my thumb.  And it holds the secrets of the conference universe.

Are you ready for the changes that are already here? While you’re trying to answer that, just don’t forget the good news.  There are thousands of publishing professionals devoted to bringing you the books you most want to read, no matter the format in which you read them.  Some things may change.  Trends come and go.  But stories that entertain and enlighten?  They are a given.  You can count on that.


  1. Diane Chamberlain on July 20, 2009 at 3:51 pm

    Thanks for the conference report, Emilie. My publisher (who just happens to be one of YOUR publishers) recently stated they want our books to be under 100,000 words. That’s about 25,000 words less than I–and you–are accustomed to writing. I had a moment’s panic about your “Character D solution” until I realized it was tongue in cheek. It’s been challenging to figure out how to write my current work-in-progress so that it comes in under that 100,000 word mark. For the first time in 19 books, I’m only writing from two points of view, and while I always thought I wrote “tight,” I am now writing even more tightly, skipping description that is not absolutely necessary. I know I will want to include more than two points of view in the future, however, and will have to see how that plays out. In the meantime, I’m very happy with this book and my significant other, who’s reading the manuscript, has not written TMI all over the pages as he usually does!
    PS You and I may be the only authors left who aren’t writing erotic vampire books, but I think we have readers who appreciate that fact!

  2. Emilie Richards on July 20, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    Yes, you know only too well how much harder it is to write short and still write “large.” I will confess that although I’ve had the vampire craze explained to me ad infinitum, I am still on the side of “no thanks.” This is why there are MANY authors out there to enjoy.

  3. Ingrid King on July 20, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    Good to hear we won’t have to worry about vampires in your books 🙂 – I was not happy when Nora Roberts headed in that direction, never did read that series. It just doesn’t appeal to me.
    I love that you got the conference handouts on a flash drive. I’m not so sure how I feel about the issue of eReaders/Kindle. I get why people love it, but I still don’t think it replaces the feel of an actual book in my hands. I also don’t know how I feel about the pricing (of the books, not the readers). $9.99 for a Kindle version of a book you put years of your life into? I’d be curious to hear how you feel about this issue.

  4. Emilie Richards on July 20, 2009 at 7:01 pm

    Many novels debut in mass market paperback at $7.99 or less, so the eReader versions are comparable. Plus “some” publishers give better royalties on ebooks than on paper. There are so many things to balance. Like you I wondered how I’d feel about holding an eReader instead of a book, but I got used to it immediately. I chose the Sony, though, because it looked more like a book and didn’t have a distracting keyboard below the screen. It’s important to be comfortable with whatever you’re staring at.

  5. Diane Chamberlain on July 20, 2009 at 9:55 pm

    Ingrid, I resisted an eReader, feeling the same way you do about holding a book and about how the pricing of the books would impact authors. I finally bought a Kindle, and now I don’t like holding “regular books”! It’s amazing how quickly we adapt. Ironically, I think I will buy even more books now, because they are less expensive than the hardcovers I usually buy and especially because I don’t have to go anywhere to buy a book. I don’t even have to get out of bed! I just finished Emilie’s wonderful Happiness Key and in the next minute, downloaded a new book to enjoy. I DO worry about what this shift means for bookstores, especially the struggling independents. There are so many rapid changes in this industry. It’s going to be interesting to see how it all shakes out.

  6. April on July 21, 2009 at 7:53 am

    I have resisted buying an eReader because of the initial output of money. I know that after I have it, the books are easy to get and not terribly expensive, but that first few hundred dollars to get it? That is where I am stuck. The other thing is that I LOVE the bookstore. I love going in and wandering around and randomly pulling a book off the shelf just to see if I may like it.
    Oh and another thought as I type this, what will this do to the libraries?

  7. Emilie Richards on July 21, 2009 at 8:31 am

    Good points, April, particularly on the price of eReaders. I bought the next to the last incarnation of the Sony reader, which I liked better than it’s pricey younger brother. But it was still an investment–a gift for a BIG birthday. I do worry about bookstores, which will have to work hard to adapt to this. But I bet libraries will still be in demand. Mine already offers ebooks in a format that stops working 2 weeks after it’s downloaded, to avoid copying, etc. But the best libraries I know have “branched” (no pun intended) into so many other areas, that they are indispensable to their communities. One of the ones that springs to mind is in Topeka, KS. Here’s a link to their discussion of the next decade. Very interesting.

  8. Pam on July 21, 2009 at 9:09 pm

    I also have no desire to read about vampires and would be very happy to see that fad go. As a reader I am not sure how it will feel to read a book with 25,000 less words but I hope it isn’t like eating a really good meal and not having dessert! I haven’t purchased a reader yet but think I would like it especially for travel. Fitting all the books in my suitcase for a long trip is a problem. But I like looking for new books at bookstores and the actual feel of a new book. Also browsing my own bookshelves for a favorite book to re-read. The one thing I do know is that I will continue to read no matter how long the books end up being or what format they are printed!

  9. Debbie Haupt on July 22, 2009 at 9:32 am

    Well as a lover of paranormal as well as traditional romance I’d read whatever you wrote and it’s not too far out of Aggie’s realm to encounter some one with elongated canines hmmm, well maybe not real vampires but hey what do I know.
    I have on-line , author and blog friends who attended the conference and they have also commented on and asked questions about paper vs e books. I am not ready for the e explosion that’s coming, in fact I review books for a romance site and they send me pdfs that I simply print out to read. I don’t have a kindle and guess what my cell phone only takes and receives calls, no texts no internet access, it doesn’t walk my dog or do my dishes either.
    As far as the length of books that’s a question that we tackled not too long ago on a book club on B& and I’ll say now what I said then. I have read thousand page books that I wished contained another thousand pages when I neared the end and I’ve read 200 page books that I couldn’t wait to end, it’s not the length of the book but the content.
    Glad you’re back safe and sound from DC Emilie, I went wayyyy over on my budget for vacation so I have to wait until Aug. to by Happiness Key, but I can’t wait and I have the coupon so all’s good.

  10. Emilie Richards on July 22, 2009 at 9:48 am

    I once walked into the living room when our whole family was together for a reunion, and my husband and three sons were sitting silently in chairs playing with their Iphones. I do not want to get my email when I’m out of the house. I can so relate to your simple phone. I can’t even figure out how to take a photo with mine.
    I hope your vacation budget was spent having an absolutely fabulous time on a beach somewhere! Maybe Happiness Key will be a nice reminder?

  11. Sofia O'Moore on July 23, 2009 at 8:34 am

    I’ve been reading ebooks for nearly a decade now. One of the first “non-standard” uses I put my first Palm Pilot to was installing an ebook reading program on it. I have chronic pain issues and cannot lug a bunch of books around with me when I’m out, but I *hate* being stuck somewhere without something to read (and magazines in the doctor’s waiting room just don’t do it for me). Now that I have two small children, I’m glad I’ve kept that old Palm in working condition – not only am I less nervous that the kids might break it than I would be if I was using an expensive new unitasker like your Sony or a Kindle, it takes AAA batteries so when I forget to charge the darn things I can stop at a corner drug store and pick up batteries 24 hours a day without having to wait for the thing to recharge (especially if the fairies have hidden the charger for me like they keep doing with the data cable for my BlackBerry). I also read on my BlackBerry when other options aren’t availble (the screen’s a bit small, but I actually prefer to only have a paragraph displayed at a time – primary reason I don’t like reading on my phone is because of how extra annoyed incoming calls make me when I’m in the middle of a particularly good sentence!). Mobipocket works on both devices, the software is free, lets me do annotations and search and such that I wouldn’t/couldn’t do in a paper book, and allows import of pretty much any text file that you happen to have (which might help your reader above who gets PDFs, if she’d be comfortable reading on an old Palm – I’ve converted a few PDFs on it).
    As for vampires, well, I don’t write about them myself (never saying never, I do write speculative fiction, currently focusing on ancient gods in modern times though) but I do sometimes enjoy reading about them. Anne Rice’s vampires were good companions during a particularly bad time in my teens (I was having serious medical issues, including seizures, that were keeping me out of school and we didn’t know why – thought I might be dying, turned out to be a really bad reaction to a prescription, only resolved because of librarians helping my mother look up everything I was on in a reference book – YAY libraries!). I am a HUGE Harry Potter fan, became one just after Goblet of Fire (book, not movie) came out – I was working as a summer school teaching assistant with learning disabled rising 4th, 5th, and 6th graders and these kids, diagnosed with ADHD, were sitting there reading this book the size of a dictionary instead of going out for recess. I was intrigued, I read the first four books straight through, and I’ve been hooked enough to look like an idiot in public ever since (including going to 3 book releases and 6 movies in costume, and co-owning a large fanfiction/fanart website – yes, I’m THAT far gone). I’ll admit to reading Stephanie Meyer’s vampire saga… it really didn’t do much for me, I primarily read it out of peer pressure. The first movie gets the distinction of being one of only two movies that I liked better than the book it was based upon (the other is Practical Magic – LOVE Sandra Bullock in that film). I think my issue with Meyers is that she just doesn’t seem to know her characters as well as I’m used to. Rice and Rowling, and Marion Zimmer Bradley for that matter (another favorite and dearly missed) – all of them know their primary characters (and even many of the secondary ones) so well that they could tell you what each of them ate for breakfast their first day of school when they were 10, and you would feel like they weren’t just making it up on the spot. This excuses inconsistencies in the books themselves (Rowling and MZB in particular have some linear time issues at times, MZB between books, but the *characters* are always consistent).
    These beloved books also point to something else – the younger generation is NOT daunted by a large book sitting on the shelf. The kids that grew up with Potter (and my peers who grew up with Anne Rice’s books as well as many other good scifi/fantasy writers) are actually more likely to be put off by a book looking too SHORT to be interesting. I recently read Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series and they felt so shallow compared to what I’m used to in youth literature. We’ve been spoiled by the level of character development Tolkien and Rowling do, too much less than that and it feels like, to quote Hermione “the emotional depth of a teaspoon”.
    On a totally different note, Emilie – I emailed you at the info email address under my real name (this is my pen name). I’m a member of one of your husband’s former congregations (though we started attending after his tenure, both of you are still warmly remembered and spoken of). Hopefully that message didn’t go into your SPAM basket, I don’t think the subject line would have made a good poem segment.

  12. Emilie Richards on July 23, 2009 at 9:46 am

    Thanks for sharing, Sofia. The Palm Pilot sounds like a great compromise. I wonder if my husband still has his old one lying around somewhere. As for readers appreciating long books? Yes and no, as with everything, but publishers who have to print them, are less likely to be thrilled, hence new word count maxes. But ebooks could change that. Interesting to think about.

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