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I alluded to it in a previous post, but thought that this might make a good topic for discussion.

“Booksplitting” is the process where a publisher will buy a manuscript for a single book, split it and publish it as 2 (or more) physical books. A good example here is Scott Westerfeld’s manuscript for a novel called Succession being split into The Risen Empire and The Killing of Worlds. (See the review of the latter for some insight of the process by the author’s wife – also an author.) Another example is John C. Wright’s whose Golden Age story was published as three separate volumes. (See our interview for Mr. Wright’s point of view on the subject.)

Earlier this week, Rick Kleffel wrote up a rant that talks about booksplitting (and, to the best of my knowledge, is the first to use that term). His piece was most recently addressed by Tor Books editor Patrick Nielson Hayden who defends the practice.

I’m of mixed mind here. I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of the publishing business or the book market, so I believe the usual arguments of publishers maximizing profit. Certainly, that’s sound business sense. More money for them means being able to publish more (hopefully) quality stories. As long as readers keep buying books at $25 a pop, the publishers will gladly sell them. Until consumers send the message that they are overpriced, they would be foolish to do otherwise.

At the same time, from a reader’s perspective, paying $50 (2 hardbacks @ $25 each) for something that could easily have been printed as a single book stinks. I’ve heard the argument that readers are unwilling to pay $50 for a bigger book from an unknown author. That is a weak argument in my opinion because Neal Stephenson’s 900-page System of the World doorstop sold for only $28. And he’s a well-known author. Are publishers expecting me to believe that Westerfeld’s Succession would not have been sellable as a single 635 page book? (And that’s if the large type of the split books was used – fewer pages required if a normal type size was used.) I’m not rich (or brazen) enough to support my biblioholism at $25 a hit. As I stated before, I was lucky enough to find both hardback Succession books at bookcloseouts for under $15. Maybe the occasional reader is willing to pay $25 every now and then for a 300-page book with a larger typeface, but this sf fan sees the practice of booksplitting as an impediment to getting crunchy sf goodness to the masses.

What do others think about booksplitting? Does it matter to you at all? Would you rather have the bigger single volume or multiple smaller ones?

Uh-oh. I think I feel a poll coming on. (As it were.)

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

3 Comments on Booksplitting

  1. As just a reader, I dislike the splitting. I’d rather read the story as the author intended in one sitting. As it is, I have to either read half the book, wait 6-12 months, then read the other have OR I have to wait and buy both books at once. Bleh.

    However, I certainly understand the publishers need to make money and, on the behalf of their shareholders, make the most money they can. Also, It might be that without booksplitting the authors would be forced to cut more so the books got down to the 300 or so pages that can reasonably printed by relatively unknown authors. Splitting might in fact spare the author this process.

    But yet, the fan in me sees the splitting as bad because the author is then sometimes asked to pad the work so it fits 2 books, and also doesn’t have to undergo the same scrutiny on the 2 books as they would on one. I wonder how many books would have benefited from tightening them up?

    In some ways this is academic for me. I no longer purchse books just as they are published, and I buy hardbacks only if the author is there to sign them. Otherwise I can’t stand hardbacks because 1) you overpay for them, and 2) they create a storage problem. After all, I’m not a library, I don’t need the book to last forever – just long enough to read a relatively few number of times (I happen to treat softback books well, so I can get 10+ readings out of them easily.)

    So, I can wait and purchase both halves of a split book and the splitting doesn’t really impact me all that much.

  2. Ditto!

    Although for hardbacks, you can’t beat BookCloseouts’ low, low prices. And I don’t get a commision. Yes they are larger than softbacks, which is why I let John buy them and store them at his house, and mooch off of him. It works well. :smiley2:

  3. The absolute worst thing is to have to wait for the rest of the story to be published.  Once I’m into a story, I’m addicted and want to keep barrelling through it.  

    But I also want the authors/publishers to make a profit so they can keep selling books.  I know the market is not that big and we want to keep that industry going.  The publisher needs to decide how much they charge versus the fame of the authors, and make some profit from established authors to subsize promoting new authors.

    So I say, split them up if you have to, but publish them all at once.  If the story is good, people will pay for it gladly.  A good book is a very good value in terms of how much entertainment you get for a dollar.  People who can’t afford it will still borrow books from friends or a library.  I read tons of science fiction as a kid when I had no money, so I don’t believe the cost will scare the true fans away.

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