I just finished reading the Kindle version of “Wireless” by Charles Stross, which I picked up at Amazon for $6.99. I wanted to read his Hugo award-winning novella “Palimpsest”. At the end of the story, as with all the stories in the book, he has an “Afterword”. It raises a question I haven’t seen discussed about the length of books and the potential for ebooks leading to longer novels. Here is what he says:
“Palimpsest” wanted to be a novel. It really, really wanted to be a novel. Maybe it will be, someday. And maybe I could have gotten away with making it a short novel, just to round out this collection with an example of every format of fiction, if it wasn’t for the imaginary voice of my editor nagging at the back of my head (“Do you know how much it costs to print a hardcover once it goes over five hundred pages?”)
Part of the reason novels are the length they are is the cost of printing and binding. Binding a fat book is disproportionately more expensive than binding two thinner ones, and there is a downward pressure on the price of hardbacks, which makes it difficult for publishers to show a profit on a fat volume. No surprise, then, that many recent big fat fantasy novels have shown up split up into two or more thinner volumes.
Perhaps once publishing moves wholesale onto the Internet, fashions in fiction length and the disappearance of printing and binding costs will lead to more and longer novels: but in the here and now, this short-story collection is pushing the limits of what I can get away with, without any need to add another hundred thousand words!
By the way, I found a typo on almost every other page – shameful. Not the quality one would expect from Penguin.