12 July 2007

Slimming Down in The Game

Last October I wrote about how HarperCollins had expanded the heft of Diana Wynne Jones's The Pinhoe Egg with larger than usual type and generous leading. The result was a 500-page brick, the way we fantasy readers are supposed to want our books these days. Even Publishers Weekly has noticed how thick such books had become.

Now Jones has a new US publisher in Firebird, a Penguin imprint led by Sharyn November. Penguin brought out a new edition of her Tough Guide to Fantasyland, and it's the publisher of her latest fiction, The Game. (Presumably the firm will soon correct the spelling of Jones's middle name on its webpage for that book.)

Harper commissioned new cover art for its US edition of The Pinhoe Egg, and dropped the interior art. In contrast, the two Penguin editions of The Game are the same size--and a small size it is, too. This book represents a complete turnaround from Jones's last novel.

The typeface is small, the leading proportional, the margins slim. The Game comes in at well under 200 pages, even with a small trim.

The result looks like a young adult fantasy, not a middle-grade one, particularly with the cover art. The girl's face and neck are long, the light falling on her chest shows the start of breasts, and the image of a female holding out an apple in western culture carries connotations of Eve, the first fallen woman. Yet I think that's supposed to be Hayley, the protagonist. Although we never learn exactly how old Hayley is (which turns out to be significant), she behaves like a middle-grade child, and she's definitely one of the two smallest cousins in her family.

Of course, even with a different design, The Game couldn't be large. It's a small story, though full of magic. It doesn't have the two (or more) protagonists of The Pinhoe Egg. The plot is brief, without many turns. Hayley doesn't set out on a mission or accomplish much; her story mainly involves discovering who she is and where she belongs. In Jones's oeuvre, The Game seems like a minor work, fun and clever while it lasts but over awfully quick.

Indeed, in this story Jones *****SPOILERS IN SO MANY WAYS***** seems to be trying variations on a number of themes that she's explored before. Celestial objects embodied on Earth (Dogsbody). A pantheon of gods stomping around modern Europe (Eight Days of Luke). An immensely magical family that turns out to include the protagonist (Archer's Goon). A competition across multiple realities soured with a frightening glimpse of eternal punishment (The Homeward Bounders). And no doubt there are echoes of other books as well.


Mikalroy said...

You oversimplifly.

It could be that Harper/Greenwillow set the book larger and with a more generous leading because they deemed it more of a middle-grade book and didn't want to scare off readers, who, picking up a book with pages that are Walls of Type, may be dismayed. Less type means the reader has more of a sense of speeding through the book. Using smaller type, setting it densely, that's more of a teen and adult convention. All of which is to say that there may be more to it than simply that fantasy readers want heftier books.

Indeed, The Game is listed as grades 5-8 on Amazon, and The Pinhoe Egg as 4-8, which means that the publishers, at least, saw a younger (most likely 10-and-up) age range on the latter.

J. L. Bell said...

Harper chose a larger type size and thicker leading for The Pinhoe Egg than it had chosen for a reissue of The Lives of Christopher Chant just five years earlier. Those books are part of the same series, aimed at the same readers. The resulting difference in page count was considerable; I did the math here.

Did that produce a more open, possibly less intimidating look? Did it let readers flip more pages in the same amount of time? Yes, indeed. Did it indicate the publisher's willingness to spend more on Jones's printing, paper, and binding than before? Yup. Did it happen at a time when children's fantasy books are getting thicker in general? PW thinks so.

It would be interesting to know why Harper dropped the British art in Pinhoe Egg. Illustrations would clearly have positioned the book as for middle-grade instead of YA readers.

I agree that The Pinhoe Egg and The Game are really written for readers of about the same age. (A difference of one grade doesn't seem very meaningful, especially when Marketing is often involved in reading-level labels.) In Pinhoe there are two major young protagonists of different ages, spreading the appeal. In The Game the apparent youth of the protagonist is offset by the sophistication of the prose and the mystery of the story.

Again, that made the differences in package striking for me. The Game has the small type, small trim size, and cover art that seem most common in teen/adult books.

sdn said...

this cracks me up. there is actually a very simple explanation -- on my end, at least.

the game is the first of three novellas i commissioned to celebrate firebird's fifth year. no more, no less. the other two are by tanith lee (fall 2007) and charles de lint (spring 2008) and are roughly the same page count, and are jacketed hardcovers of the same size (5 x 7).

also note that firebird is a teen/adult imprint.

J. L. Bell said...

And will Penguin's webpage for the book still say "Diana Wynn Jones" next week?

sdn said...

even though i've told them to fix? probably. :)

J. L. Bell said...


My work here is done.

Lory said...

Thank goodness someone else is noticing this phenomenon! I find the padding out of The Pinhoe Egg terribly irritating. Young readers may need slightly larger type and more generous leading, but this was just egregious.