A Note on Craft: Nightstand, Bedstand, Midwood
As I have been reading these various books this summer, I have noted the excellent craftsmanship, especially by Robert Silverberg, indelivering books that always reach the 50,000 words mark.
In his seminal essay, “My Life as Pornographer” (from Penthouse Letters, reprinted in Sin-a-Rama on in Kemp’s el), Silverberg states his books for William Hamling were 12 chapters, each chapter 14-16 pages (or 4,000 words); his memory is fauluty, because every Don Elliott and John Dexter he did consist of 14 chapters, 12-13 printed pages, and always reach 192 pages. Every Nightstand/Ember/Midnight Reader/Idle Hour was 192 pages — if the novel only reached 188-190 pages, they would add in a list of available books to get that 192. Earl Kemp once told me this was necessary for gang-running books — printing four at a time, all the same length, which saved on money; if books were more or less than 192 pages (later, 224 pages as Reed Nightstands), they would have to be printed separately from the gang-run.
Silverberg’s Beauchamp Midwoods were also the same length, with 12-5 chapters, reaching 158 pages in Midwood’s format and type front. Bigger font, the books reach 186-188 pages. Ditto on the Bedstand/Bedtime Books.
Other writers kept to the same — it was a matter of craft, of sketching out a story so that it would reach that length with that many chapters. This is not unlike writing for TV, when scripts need to be 45-50 pages, broken into a teaser and four acts that are 10-15 pages each.
I find this admirable, because I have a hard time writing that way. My Blue Moons varied from 120 pages to 260 pages, and I never plotted them out for x amount of chapters to reach x amount of words.
Such discipline, Silverg notes in his essay, helped him plot his SF novels in the 1970s-80s better.
Back then, the min. word length for a book was 50,000 words. The decade before they preferred 40,000 words (like the Ace Doubles). In the 1970s-80s, it was 60,000 words. Today, commercial publishers don’t want to see a genre novel less than 80K words, and like them up to 100,000.
Is more better? The end result, sometimes, is a lot of padding and unneccesary banter dialogue, dreams, or sub-plots.