Are Writers Being Shorted with the new James Patterson approach?

What’s this “the shorter, the better” all about in publishing these days? James Patterson jumped on that bandwagon–and is racing off! Is it a flash in the pan? Or a sign of the times?

Short fiction isn’t new.

Flash fiction (stories from 50 to 1,000 words) is a popular art form. Most writers find it  just plain fun! First, it is fast (who doesn’t like THAT!) and yet it is a challenge as well. How can you pack everything a story needs, characterization, plot, drama, conflict, resolution, in only  50 or even a couple hundred words? That IS a challenge. 

There are Linkedin groups, FaceBook groups and numerous websites all devoted to Flash Fiction so it is obvious this is a form of fiction that is here to stay. 

But I’m guessing most writers have considered it a testing ground, an exercise to get them up to their full writing potential.  

After all, these aren’t books. They are, well, stories. Quick as a flash. Just a filler of sorts. A great idea for a writing exercise, but readers want, well, more, in their REAL reading, right? Full bodies characters and rich settings and complex plots with twists. 

Or … do they?

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James Patterson is banking that readers don’t need all that bulk. In a recent interview, Patterson talked about his new project: Bookshots. These books are explained simply as: “All thriller. No Filler. Under 150 pages. Under $5. Impossible to put down.” 

Patterson, with 73 bestsellers to his name (and counting), believes this is the start of a reading revolution. It is “like reading a movie” he explains. 

Patterson started as a writer at age 29 when he completed his first novel and was turned down by 31 publishers. Later, however, that novel won him an Edgar award. 

His original career path was as a copywriter in advertising and maybe that is why his terse and action-packed style catches so many readers–he swoops them in like, well, an ad man might! But Patterson recognized his weakness as a novel writer, that he simply wasn’t a great stylist. Rather than try to “overcome a weakness” he embraced the concept of simply keeping it simple. 

The results?

Besides numerous awards and series, just his popular Alex Cross books have 20 sequels and numerous movies. Which only proves that there are readers for every writing style so long as the author embraces his own unique style and perfects it in ways that will engage readers.

But back to the question–are shorter books really the new trend? There are certainly indications this is true. Take for example that publishers are seeking specifically shorter stories for books. Like Tor.com, who this month is seeking fantasy writers with a novella of between 20,000 and 40,000 words on Time Travel, Space Opera, Near Future Thriller, or Cyberpunk, for their open submission period.

But wait–don’t science fiction and fantasy readers want sagas and series and serials? And mystery fans want numerous mysteries solved by the same ongoing steely-eyed detective? These long and far-reaching works of literature have been the mainstay of the science fiction, fantasy and mystery genres for decades. 

However, not everything comes in the same size package. Not every reader’s appetite is the same. So take heart, those of you with short stories and small novellas–there is an audience for your little books, and publishers are jumping on that fast-reading bandwagon. 

What about you? Do you prefer really short fiction or long works? Or … a mix? And which would YOU want to write?

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