If you’ve read 11 novels or more last year, you’re in the minority—at least in the U.S.
The percentage of Americans reaching this reading plateau has declined from 43% in 1978 to 34% in 1990 to 28% in 2014. Nearly a quarter of Americans didn’t read a single novel last year (1). Possible reasons for this decline are many, but it sure isn’t due to a lack of supply. The number of new authors who pen their first work each year is in the tens of thousands, and quality books from both new and established authors continue to percolate to the top of best seller lists.
Reading takes time, and many activities compete for the time of potential readers. The average American spends an alarming 11 hours a day on electronic gadgets --TVs, smart phones, PCs/tablets, radios, DVD players or other devices (2). If you sleep eight hours, that leaves little time for family and other interests.
Avid readers have at least a couple things in common. They tend to make reading a priority, setting aside time each day to read. They also have typically been ardent readers most of their lives, becoming interested in books at a young age. This could have been the result of parents reading to them as toddlers, or becoming interested in a young adult series as a preteen or just having an active curiosity that reading satisfied.
I believe short stories and novellas provide a means to get more adults interested in reading. Short stories have a compact and pointed plot and typically can be read in one sitting. Novellas are works of fiction of intermediate length and complexity between a short story and a novel. In today’s electronic media world and consumers’ desire for immediate gratification, short stories and novellas are stepping stones back to reading.
I’ve written several novels, as well as a collection of short stories, and have recently decided to focus my time on shorter works. This decision was driven in part by a desire to target new readers. I talk to many people who are willing to invest the time required to read short stories, but are unlikely to ever read a 350+ page novel. I also enjoy writing short stories and have received literary contest recognition for several of them.
I’m a couple weeks into writing my first novella, and it’s progressing well. Unlike with novels, editing goes more quickly. Changes and improvements can be made without tearing through hundreds of pages. On the other hand, space is precious and words can’t be wasted. Character and plot development must be crisp, yet compelling.
In the coming months, I plan to release my first novella and then turn my attention to publishing my second collection of short stories. In the meantime, I hope both new and veteran readers check out the short story of the month here on my blog. And if you’re so inclined, go to Amazon and download IT GOES ON-A Collection of Short Stories. Hopefully, the dozen stories will inspire you to read a dozen novels next year.