When I was a kid, I was a sucker for toys that came in really big boxes. It didn’t matter if it was Lego or a board game—if it came in a big box, I imagined the contents to be better, more engaging, more overwhelmingly fun. This belief drove my mom crazy. I remember very clearly standing in an aisle at Toys “R” Us trying to choose a birthday present for a friend. I was dead set on getting my friend a certain type of accessory for a doll series that was popular at the time. The box was big—it had a nice weight in my arms. The pictures on the box were luscious, promising a complete fantasy world.
Imagine my disappointment and confusion when my mom cut open the box right there in the store and showed me that all it contained were a few tiny bits of plastic nested in a styrofoam shell. There was no fantasy world. Everything was smaller than it looked on the cover of that big box. Feeling cheated and a little embarrassed, I put it back on the shelf and decided to give my friend some markers instead.
In recent years, I’ve occasionally felt the same sense of disappointment from non-fiction books whose one or two main ideas aren’t nearly enough to justify their two-hundred-plus page existence. Small things should come in small boxes. Authors shouldn’t be pressured to pad out their ideas with styrofoam just to achieve a certain arbitrary length. Yet the publishing industry has consistently steered clear of small boxes and small books on the theory that small books don’t sell well enough to be viable. It seems that book-buyers, like little kids, associate size with value—even when this leads to unnecessarily lengthy books.
This is about to change, at least where e-books are concerned. Amazon has recently announced a new program called Kindle Singles, which will allow authors to publish e-books that are longer than a magazine feature, but shorter than a “standard” book. These e-books will be priced much lower than longer books, from $2.99 to $9.99.
The Vice President of Kindle Content, Russ Grandinetti, says: “Ideas and the words to deliver them should be crafted to their natural length, not to an artificial marketing length that justifies a particular price or a certain format.”
I most heartily agree. It’s time for shorter forms and smaller books to get the outlet they deserve. Authors shouldn’t have to pad their ideas just to achieve a certain “marketable” length. Hopefully, this will spark a renaissance of short, well-thought out little books. It’s time to give due credit to small ideas.