2017/12/12

Sanderson's Law

Authors are just as prone to cognitive dissonance when received wisdom about the publishing industry is challenged, as this series of tweets demonstrates.

Sanderson's Law 1

That tweet is not a statement of personal preference or opinion. It is based on objective market data. As of this writing, the top three books in Science Fiction > Adventure: The Gender Game, Artemis, and Ready Player One are 418 pages, 322 pages, and 386 pages, respectively.

On the indie side, which is more relevant to our purposes, the longest Galaxy's Edge book is 424 pages, and the most recent weighs in at a mere 277.

All of this information is readily available, but that didn't stop commenters from opining in ignorance.

Sanderson's Law 2

Do some readers prefer longer novels? Certainly, but the particular is not the general.

As for genre, the effects of book length on story are beside the point. My goal is to help new indie authors succeed. A major contributing factor to an author's success is writing to market. Fantasy might be even more tarnished than science fiction. The thriller genre is thriving, and as the commenter above noted, thrillers tend to be short.

Also vital to indie publishing success is releasing new content regularly and frequently. Basic math dictates that it's much harder to release a 300,000 word cube every month than a lean 50,000 word short novel--which happened to be the pulp standard.

Sadly, the point continued to elude the Dunning-Kruger set.

Sanderson's Law 3
I'm sure all the Japanese light novelists in this blog's readership feel vindicated.

But it was this explanatory tweet that garnered several responses invoking what I now call Sanderson's Law.

Sanderson's Law 4

Sanderson's Law 5

I'll let this exchange speak for itself.
Sanderson's Law 6

The future of publishing is indie. Being part of that future means writing to market, releasing frequent regular content, and working the algorithm. That goes for Brandon Sanderson, too.

Nethereal - Brian Niemeier
I guess some people really loved it.

19 comments:

  1. What amuses me is that Sanderson is the Pulp Speed writer of the epic fantasy set. But your point holds firm. Walter Gibson, not Robert Jordan, is the current model for release schedule.

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  2. I find most readers and writers are stuck thinking that the industry is the same as it was when they were children.

    Your potential audience is going to look at your 1000 page tome and shrug when they realize they can get just as much entertainment with less effort by binge watching Game of Thrones or The Expanse. No matter how good your masterpiece is, the audience is not going to bother with it.

    As strange as it is to say, Pulp length and releases is the way to go now. It's much closer to those ancient days now than it's ever been.

    You want an output closer to Maxwell Grant, not Patrick Rothfuss.

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  3. I've never read Sanderson. I'm always told to read him, but I see the size of these books that he writes and I imagine that it's a bunch of filler, characters just "talking", and unimportant plotlines. I also think that my time commitment to decide if I'm into his stories are too high. So I don't read him.

    Galaxy's Edge (book one) is a quick read. And you easily decide that the books are amazing, so you read the rest of them, and now you buy all Nick Cole (and Anspach) books and you're a fan for life.

    Of course as an Indie author shorter is better, there's a reason the market data shows that. I'm not willing to give Brandon Sanderson(!) a chance with friends recommending him to me, but I'm going to be willing to pick up your 1200 page epic fantasy/SF novel written by random indie guy I've never heard of? Good luck with that.

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    1. "Galaxy's Edge (book one) is a quick read. And you easily decide that the books are amazing, so you read the rest of them, and now you buy all Nick Cole (and Anspach) books and you're a fan for life."

      That right there is how the game is played.

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    2. Another disadvantage of the length of books like Sanderson's is the gap between entries in a series. 6 years ago I read his "The Way of Kings" and thought, "well, there's some dumb stuff in there, but it wasn't bad, I'll probably get the next one." Now it's been six years and the third book has only last month - as I discovered when I checked before posting- been released.

      I'm a pickier reader than I used to be, but it's possible that even with just annual releases my interest might have been maintained. On the other hand, a series of mediocre novels that, assuming its current rate of production is maintained and it doesn't exceed its projected length, won't wrap up for another 24 years? Yeah, I just don't care that much.

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    3. You've offered a perfect example of the dominant market sentiment. Readers want to binge-read series like TV viewers binge-watch Netflix.

      That's why Nick Cole predicts that current tradpub darlings will fail when they're forced to go indie.

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  4. Looks like my post got lost somehow. Anyway, I wrote this:

    I find most readers and writers are stuck thinking that the industry is the same as it was when they were children.

    Your potential audience is going to look at your 1000 page tome and shrug when they realize they can get just as much entertainment with less effort by binge watching Game of Thrones or The Expanse. No matter how good your masterpiece is, the audience is not going to bother with it.

    As strange as it is to say, Pulp length and releases is the way to go now. It's much closer to those ancient days now than it's ever been.

    You want an output closer to Maxwell Grant, not Patrick Rothfuss.

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    1. "You want an output closer to Maxwell Grant, not Patrick Rothfuss."

      Preach it!

      Dean Wesley Smith has called the current flourishing of indie on Amazon a new pulp era.

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  5. Brian
    Thanks again for the advice. So 200-300 pages is ideal. I think thst this is feasible for the Romance languages too. Gerald de Villers wrote ove 300 SAS novels and they're about 150 pages.Simenon who wrote literally 1000s of novels wrote about that amount for the Magreit series.
    I like the the 200-300 pages as it imposes a discipline in writing that i find helpful. Cut the padding!!
    xavier

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  6. Well, that tweet answers my question on minimum word count.

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  7. Brian, your Twitter caps prove that indeed Man is a Rationalizing Animal. ;-)

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  8. Ideal novel length has changed several times in my life. They will probably change again. However, it is true that ebook readers often seem to prefer shorter books.

    This is, however, partially because of the weird way that books seem to kind of float because no one knows how long they are while reading...no book to hold.

    If someone makes a reader that indicates book length read/to come while reading...such as a few lines on the side to imitate holding a book and seeing the pages, I bet that would change again.

    But...throughout all time, some authors write to the market, and some write to the Muse. The first often pays in the short term, but not always in the long term. The second often doesn't pay, but when it does, it has a huge pay off and changes the field. (Example: Harry Potter breaking out of the chapter book and finally making it so that people could write longer kids books again.)

    Writing to the market is a safer bet. Writing to the muse is only wise, if it varies from the market, if there really isn't a choice. ;-)

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    1. "Ideal novel length has changed several times in my life. They will probably change again."

      You're certainly right.

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  9. Probably jumping into this conversation too late, but oh well.

    For the most part I agree with what you have said. At least when it comes to the Kindle market. I think people are willing to put up with longer books on the printed page, but that's a rapidly shrinking field dominated by trad pub that's probably going to vanish for a while once Barnes and Noble and the trad pubs collapse.

    I think your examples might be an oranges to apple comparison. Looking at the top sellers for Fantasy Epic, you find Sanderson's books as well as other works that have the same 1000+ page count on the high end, and are anywhere from 300 to 500 on the low end. Granted this was just a quick scan of the top ten, and is hardly scientific. I think an author could go with longer work on kindle, BUT with some caveats. It will depend on the genre, and the fanbase, and the author is going have to make some hard decisions. You probably won't get the casual readers, and will instead get more a more hardcore audience, as such you will probably have to make your book more expensive to compensate. If you want to look at the arguments in favor of a more expensive indie book, look up Cernovich's thoughts on the matter.

    As for genre, I am going to take a different track. Listening to Nick and Jason's podcast, their experiences conflict with what some might think. Genre absolutely matters, and if you don't stick with a genre that may hurt you chances with the algorithm. Perhaps it was once that genre was a meaningless thing made up by trad pubs, but as has been said here and in the comments, right now the game is dictated by Amazon, and Genre seems to be very part of Amazon, and more to the point to the algorithm. At very least Nick and Jason say keep genre in mind when making keywords and writing, and that it's a very important part of marketing. Genre writing is part of nick and Jason's formula to make the algorithm work in an author's favor. Nick and Jason tended to use a more literary style in their earlier work, and made a conscious decision to make their writing more along the lines of Mil SF standard to get better sales. I'm going to use my old canard here, but research, research, research. Know the genre you want, and know the readers expectations for that genre. IF you want to make something different and niche, you should probably expect niche sales.

    With some genres, yes higher page counts are part of the category. And these genres probably don't sell as well as more mainstream genres. Again research, and hard decisions maybe needed.

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    1. Relevant to Nick and Jason's approach: it's much easier to release monthly content when you're writing shorter books.

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    2. Yep. That's one of the ways how you reach the 30 - 90 day window between releases they recommend.

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