Writing Shorter Books Re-visited

By Deane Barker on August 9, 2010

Short rant here – authors, can we please start writing shorter books?  We’ve talked about this before, but now I have a specific example.

I’m trying to learn more about encodings – you know, character sets, Unicode, stuff like that.  I read Spolsky’s article, which was great, but I want to go deeper.  So, I thought, I’ll get a good book.

Here are the choices:

Now, I’m not a wuss.  I read a lot – more than anyone I know.  But the shortest book there is 528 pages.  (I’m reading The Fountainhead right now, and that’s about the same size.  I’m going on two months now with The Fountainhead.)

Is it too much to ask for, say, 250 pages?  I realize that there’s enough subject matter here to probably fill 1,000 pages, but could someone distill it down a bit?

Two years ago, I wrote this:

I used it think [size] was an advantage – the bigger, the better – but as I get busier and my company accelerates, it’s increasingly a liability. I’ve started to be greatly attracted to smaller books – or thinner books, more accurately. I’m more and more interested in concise books that cover a more detailed point than broad monsters that try to hit every base.

Length is a liability here.  Because of the length, I’m not going to buy any of these books, and will just get by on free resources on the Net.  So, some author, somewhere, was just deprived of revenue because all the books on the topic are just too long to fit a read in.

There seems to be no middle ground.  Either I get by on articles off the Net, or I launch into a book big enough to kill someone with.  There has to be a better way.

Comments (2)

David Gammel says:

That’s one of the reasons why I loved the new HTML 5 book from Jeffrey Zeldman’s A Book Apart imprimateur. It’s about 80 pages of witty introduction to the changes and editions to the standard. Perfect.

Seth Gottlieb says:

I think shorter books are more difficult to write because you need knowledge and discipline to distill down to the most important parts. It is easy to blather on about whatever comes to mind and hope you cover enough of what the reader needs to know. Reminds me of the famous Twain quote: “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” (Actually the quote was originally from Blaise Pascal, according to Wikipedia.)