Shorter Attention Span?

I was in a bookstore a few days ago, browsing in the Science and Nature section, which is right next to the science fiction area, and when I finished I moved over to sci-fi and began my weekly browse there.  I didn’t find anything I particularly wanted to buy at that time, though I did find several new titles that looked like good possibilities for future reading.  But while in sci-fi, I ambled past the usual display of George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series, and a comment that I’ve heard over and over from people in the publishing business came back to mind.  That comment is, people who read novels don’t want long novels anymore.  Shorter novels are the norm and a novel over, say, 90,000 words won’t stand much of a chance getting published.  I disagree with that assessment, based on their arguments.

The argument is that in our highly electronic world, with Facebook, Twitter, cell phones, instant text messaging and so forth, people have begun to expect that all information they receive will be in the form of shorter and shorter texts, and that novels will have to be so too.  We’re too busy to read long novels, they say.  We’re accustomed to getting our information in shorter and shorter bits.  We’re too busy with the affairs of daily life to sit down and read anything longer than 140 bits on a cell phone screen.  This is the reality of modern life, they say, and don’t write a novel any longer than 80 to 90,000 words, and even hitting that level is pushing it.  While that may be the reality of today, I find that extrapolating that argument to novels false and misleading.

Sure, we read a lot of tweets and Facebook posts, many of which are only a few words.  And we communicate in a special shorthand on cell phone messages so we don’t have to write out the whole word or phrase.  OMG! or LOL springs to mind.  But that doesn’t necessarily carry over to reading for pleasure.  Just because a person Tweets several times a day, and texts others repeatedly doesn’t mean that person is committed to short novels, nor does it mean he/she has a shorter attention span, and I find it unrealistic to base an entire concept in publishing on it.  Novels, in the form of paper books or e-reader downloads, are still selling, including the aforementioned GRRM’s novels, and each of those is huge.  The last four Harry Potter novels sold well, and they’re also big books.  In fact, the opposite may be true.  Many people, tired and exasperated with having to read short snippets of information all day long, may look forward to being able to pick up a longer work when they get home.  Who knows?  My novels tend to run over 100,000 words, and I’m proud of them.  I certainly have no hesitation in shortening them if I could do it and not destroy the structure of the plot, but to cut it down just because “people expect shorter novels nowadays due to our increasingly hectic lifestyle” turns me off and I’ve so far resisted.

What does anyone else think?

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