On writing

The novella dilemma

Novellas are making a comback

I love a good novel. A place where I can lose myself in a well constructed plot. Where the subplots add spice and colour to the story. Where the protagonist has a chance to grow, where the secondary characters can become as important to me as the main protagonist. Where I can lose myself in a different world.

You can’t do that in a short story. A short story follows one incident and, usually, one character. If you do any more the story falls apart.

You can’t even do it in a novella. In a novella there isn’t the room for sub-plots or secondary characters. The story has to be about the protagonist, and unless the author is truly skilled—or it’s a very long novella—when an author tries to include sub-plots the story come comes off as being an unfinished novel.

Thus while I read the occasional short story and novella, they’re not my favourite stories. I want something I can immerse myself in.

With the advent of ePublishing the novella has made a comeback. The self-publishing boom has also increased the number of novellas out there. Some of my favourite authors are writing novellas now.

I can’t say I like the trend, but I can understand it.

Why readers buy novellas

I would imagine that if you asked ePublishers why they publish novellas they will say, “There’s a demand for them,” and one can infer from that that people like them.

I buy them, although I don’t like doing it much.

Sometimes I don’t know what I’m buying. One of my biggest frustrations with eBooks is not realising that a story I have purchased is not on novel. Particularly when I pay nearly novel price for it.

Sometimes I do know and I buy them on price point. I will pay $2.99-$3.99 for novellas by authors I know and like.

Sometimes I buy them simply to support the author.

Why writers write novellas

Some writers prefer the format, in much the same way as some writers prefer to short stories while others prefer to write novels. Even so, I’d venture to say that most people write them for another reason.

Because they can make more money out of novellas.

A novella runs somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000 words, give or take 10,000. The average length seems to be around 30,000 words. The average length of a modern novel runs to 80,000+ words, and in our genre starts at 100,000 words and goes up.

How many novellas can you write in the time it takes to write a novel?

At least three, probably four.

Let’s say your novella sells in the eStore for $3.99, while your novel sells for $7.99. Sell two novellas and you have made the same money as you have on your novel. But given that you can write four novellas in the time it takes to write that novel, you can theoretically make double the income.

Not to mention you are delivering a story every three months, which helps with marketing. You always have something new to sell, and you get up a backlist really fast.

The novella dilemma

When I find a writer I like, I buy their books. A growing number of my favourite authors—especially in the smaller niche markets—are turning to novellas. Which is a pity, because many of them write delightful novels.

What do I do?

If I—and other readers—keep buying their novellas then they’ll keep writing them, because it’s easier, faster and more lucrative than writing novels. But I don’t like their novellas much. They don’t have the depth, the characterisation or the story that a novel has. They leave me dissatisfied.

I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

Novellas aren’t going to go away. Sometimes a story even suits that particular form.  But for me, as a favourite author switches their output from novel to novella I eventually stop buying their books.

I go and find myself other authors who write in the longer length I prefer.

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