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If I had more time I’d have written a shorter book…*

February 3rd, 2011

A faculty author expressed frustration at not knowing how long was long enough for a book.  She felt certain her work needed to be filled out more, but at the same time she also felt she was saying what she wanted and needed to say:

I’ve long had anxiety about the length of my work, stemming from the length of my dissertation.  As I suspect is true for many doctoral students, dissertation length is a contest of sorts, with the longer writing somehow equaling more effort in the archives, more brilliant thoughts, more dedication to your field.  My dissertation wasn’t that long to begin with compared to my peers, and now as I revise it for a book manuscript I find myself making it even shorter.  My confidence that I have something important enough to say in a book format is already shaky, and this insecurity is only exacerbated by the thought that what I have isn’t long enough. What remains in my head is the equation longer manuscript equals good, important book, worthy of publication.   I can’t seem to shake that.

This author was heartened to hear my strong opinion that writing a short book is not only fine, but to be encouraged.  Many editors have expressed the concern that authors go on longer than they need to, and often try to include too much.

A short book is also less expensive for a publisher to produce and ship, and it may even enable a publisher to offer it at a friendlier price point.  In all, I encourage brevity as both the soul of wit and of a happy editorial relationship.

* With apologies for the title paraphrase to Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Blaise Pascal, and others to whom it has been attributed.


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