'Girls are reading shorter books these days.'
That's what someone told me just a few months ago. That someone was a publisher, and we were discussing whether I should shorten the Jane Blonde books for 'girls these days'.
I've been thinking about this a lot over recent weeks, as I've made the JBs available as SWAGG origin stories (unshortened) and also re-issued the mini-mission of The Perfect Spylet (short already). The more I ponder on it, the more I wish I could go back to that moment and ask the obvious question.
'Why? What's happened to girls?'
Have their brains been chipped with a cut-out button at 90 pages? Have their imaginations and creativity shrunk, so they can't involve themselves in a book that might take a week to read, on their phone under the bedclothes? Have girls lost their book attention span completely, and if so has something happened to their attention in general?
Of course not. Absolutely not.
Personally, I don't believe anything's happened to girls and their ability to read longer books. Every girl, boy, teenage or adult book-lover I've ever known (and I count myself among them) gets completely absorbed and lost in a book. They don't want it to end. They want it longer, not shorter. If it really has to end, they want to move swiftly on to the next one in series or, if that's not possible, they flick to the beginning and start over with the same book.
That's right. They themselves make it longer, voluntarily and deliberately.
The thing is, I'm pretty sure the truth is that nothing has happened to girls. It's happened to publishing.
I won't go into the whole ins and outs of the industry, but here are some key points. Publishers want to attract new readers, so they make the books shorter than for die-hard readers like me and you. They might also be thinking about the numbers of pages they'll need to print. On top of that, booksellers and sales algorhythms guide publishers in what they should be producing according to what seems to be selling.
Based on that they'll say: 'This is what girls are reading. Short books. Glittery. Preferably by a celebrity who probably hasn't actually written the book themselves but is hugely TikTok famous. If your book isn't like that, we won't show it off.'
And that's what then appears for sale, so that's what gets bought, by parents and teachers and eventually the readers themselves.
So if we boil it down, girls are reading shorter books these days ... because that's what they're being given. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Which is a bit depressing for authors like me. I write long books. There, I've admitted it. I'm Jill, and I'm a long book author. I'm afraid that's just how they come out. That's how they flow, bro. Not only do they come out long, they come out in series. It's how the stories build in my creative brain and pour out on the page.
(And by the way, 'long' is 2-300 pages, not 1000s of pages. Furthermore, I've never once had a fan write to me and ask if I could write LESS. Just saying.)
But what I think is even more depressing is what this is saying about girls - that they're not serious enough for a long read, or committed or capable or discerning enough. Haven't we come a long way past that? Aren't we in an age of encouraging girls (and boys) everywhere to push beyond expectations about their abilties, to jump into life on their own terms? To show they can do anything? I truly hope that we're getting there, at least.
Maybe it's time for girls (and boys) to take back their book-reading power. Luckily, we're also in an age - perhaps more than ever in the months of pandemic lockdowns - where the reader can choose for themselves. From the length of the books they like to read. To the format and style they want to 'read' it in. On the bookselling platform that works best for them.
The ebook revolution declared it would 'democratise' publishing. Well, the digital book world of 2020 democratises reading too.
So come on, girls (and boys, teens, adults). Read long books if you want to. Read short books if you want to. Read whatever books you want to! They're all out there, waiting to find someone just like you - a proud, confident, capable girl (or boy) book fan.