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This Writing Life: The Lure of the Novella, Part 2

14 April, 2014

In my last post, I talked about why writing novellas has become so appealing to me personally in recent months. Today, I want to look at novellas more generally, and why I believe right now is an excellent time to be writing them.

In traditional publishing terms, novellas are something of a hard sell. Most short fiction markets – even exclusively online ones – won’t take them, whilst it’s virtually impossible to get a novella in print with a major publisher unless you’re already an established name. There are occasionally anthologies which will take novellas, but even with an open call for submissions, only a handful are likely to be bought at once (beyond four or five, you’re really getting above what can be comfortably printed in a single volume, after all).

So, if traditional publishing isn’t much interested in novellas, why would anyone bother to write them? These days, there’s usually just one answer when anything that trad. publishing doesn’t want is involved: self-publishing. I recently had a browse of the top free ebooks on Amazon, paying attention not to genre, author or cover art, but to page count. A surprising number fell well below the 300 pages that I would normally associate with the minimum for your average commercially published novel, with many significantly below – anywhere from 70 to 200 pages.

It appears, then, that publishers not wanting to publish novellas and readers not wanting to read them don’t actually correspond. I’d hazard a guess that it’s a case of cost per book versus what a slimmer volume can be sold for that puts off print publishers; for readers, if a story is appropriately priced (and by that, I don’t necessarily mean free), its length isn’t much of an issue. Self- and e-publishing has allowed everything from flash fiction to massive, 200k+ word, multi-volume series to flourish, creating a market where there really is something for everyone.

All of which leaves self-publishing writers and their novellas in a very strong position. Compared to novels, novellas are much quicker to write and edit, so you can produce them more quickly and potentially build up a series of stories with a much smaller investment of time and energy (and it seems to me that it’s frequently the authors who are producing long series, with even as many as a dozen volumes, who are often the most successful at building a loyal readership). That smaller investment also means that if a story isn’t successful, it’s much easier to walk away, to move onto the next project and try something new. There’s also a smaller risk for potential readers, as novellas are quicker to read and generally less expensive, meaning they might be more likely to take a chance on an author they’ve never come across before – vital in a publishing world where there’s such a vast amount of choice.

Much of this is conjecture, I’ll admit, but it’s theory that I’m soon going to be putting into practice. I have not one, but two series of novellas I want to self-publish in the near future – and I’ll be reporting my progress every step of the way!

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