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  • Donald J. Bingle, Writer on Demand

The Pros and Cons of Novellas


I'm a writer, but I confess I haven't written a book in a while. I've written a number of short stories recently and two novellas under pen names, but not a full-length book recently. (I'm working on a mystery thriller now, but I'm not absolutely positive it will end up long enough to be a book, rather than a longish novella. Since it is a speculative piece of work, rather than written to the specifications of a contract, I'm flexible on how long I make it.) Just so everyone knows what I'm talking about, here's how the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America defines categories by wordcount for the Nebulas: 1. Short Story: less than 7,500 words; 2. Novelette: at least 7,500 words but less than 17,500 words; 3. Novella: at least 17,500 words but less than 40,000 words; 4. Novel: 40,000 words or more. Pretty much everyone knows a short story or a novel when they read one (or write one), but novelettes and novellas are the oft-forgotten categories. To understand why and to see how things are changing in the industry, let's take a look at the pros and cons of novellas (many of these apply to novelettes, too, but mostly less so, as a novelette (especially one at the shorter end of the category) can easily just be viewed as a longish short story). Let's start with the cons: A. Large parts of the publishing industry are simply not set up to deal with novellas. They're that awkward length, not long enough to put out as a stand-alone dead tree version book by a traditional publisher, but too long to be dropped into a themed anthology with twelve to twenty other writers. When genre magazines were much bigger than they are now, there was more of a place for novellas in that format. Longer novellas could even be serialized to get readers to buy the next issue or subscribe to make sure they didn't miss the rest of the story. B. Readers may have less patience for a novella than for either a book or a short story. In genre fiction, readers of novels may be willing to go along with a storyline that takes awhile to develop. In science fiction and fantasy, learning about the nature of the world in which the story set is itself part of the attraction and, since no one wants a large info-dump at the beginning of the tale, readers are willing to wait for such information to be revealed. Conversely, in a short story, readers know they are likely only going to get the most salient features of the world in the format, so are content to let some blanks remain unfilled. Novellas, however, need to develop almost as quickly as a short story, but need to contain more information about the world-setting to be satisfying, which can be a challenge for the writer. C. Like short stories, novellas tend to be single story-line tales, with fewer subplots and timelines to juggle. So, the main plotline needs to be able to carry the length of the tale on its own. Some stories just don't have enough substance, twists and turns, events, beats, or whatever to justify the wordcount. Novels can (but don't need to) have more timelines and subplots and red herrings and ups and downs, which can make them easier to do for some writers. Pros: X. It may seem tacky to even say this, but given the fact that there are fewer novellas (and novelettes) written and published and, therefore, read by any sizeable number of people, the odds are somewhat better that something of such length may get recognized/nominated/mentioned for an award like the Nebulas. The short story category has huge numbers of possible entrants and the novel category has quite a few--many of them well-recognized names--but a strong novella from an unknown in even a small press publication can garner some recognition. Y. A novella can be stepping stone to a novel. Many novellas have been extended to novel length and gone on to great success. It can be a way of not only trying out a story, but trying out the audience for the story, and if things resonate, you can extend the tale (NOT just pad it) and put it out again with all of the knowledge about what the audience is, what parts they liked, and what they want to see more of. Z. The market for novellas is back on the upswing. Digital markets are replacing the pulp magazines of old, but e-publishing (both by self-publishing and by going to a reputable digital publisher) is also expanding the market. That's because, when you are using electrons instead of dead-trees, a novella does not compete for shelf-space with a full-scale novel which has a bigger absolute mark-up. In addition, Kindle and others have programs for "Singles" or "Serial" stories which can be attractive for authors. By giving away the beginning story of a serial free (or cheap), you can attract a lot of potential readers, then charge a more profitable rate for the continuations of the tale. Or groups of authors can join together under a pen name and put out related or similarly-themed stories on a very frequent basis, driving more readers. For example, check out T.S. Rhodes' The Pirate Empire Series or the new Schlock Zone Drive-In novellas for fans of classic horror and action movies or current fans of SyFy and Sharknado. Some writers adapt to different wordcounts well and some don't. You need to work in a format that works for you (but don't be afraid to TRY other formats). Don't pad your wordcount, but don't cut your story short, either. Give the story what it needs to be the best that it can. That's it for today. Read, write, and review! Aloha, Don

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